Wild MOTHER Party – Part 2

This is part two of Wild MOTHER Party – a round table discussion on the MOTHER/EarthBound series of video games with series creator Shigesato Itoi, musician Maximum the Ryokun (of Maximum the Hormone) and Kenny Omega.

You’ll probably want to start with Part 1 if you’re just joining in.

An Unnameable Discomfort

Nagata: Mr. Itoi, you often say that creating MOTHER has led you to meet all sorts of people. Do you mean that there’s something different and unique about MOTHER that brings you into situations like this?

Itoi: Yes.

Nagata: I’m sure everyone here plays all sorts of other games. What do you think is special about MOTHER that draws people in?

Itoi: I think what it is, is that MOTHER is kind of uncomfortable.

Nagata: Uncomfortable.

Itoi: Other games make players uncomfortable, too, but they use discomfort as a way to make sure players understand, “oh, look how scary this is.” To really spell it out. I wanted to make the discomfort in MOTHER something undefinable.

Let’s say for example you’re at a flea market, and you come across a stall that doesn’t have anyone working at it. You could steal anything you wanted and probably get away with it. Even if you got found out, they wouldn’t forcefully arrest you or anything. But everyone would know what you did, and they’d let you know they know. That’s the sort of discomfort I wanted in MOTHER.

For instance, in MOTHER there are characters called the Flying Men…

Omega: Yeah, yeah, the Flying Men!

Itoi: The Flying Men tell you they’ll give their lives to protect you – and when they join you and fight alongside you, they actually do it. And over time, that sits more and more uneasily.

You start thinking about it. “How different is this from me killing the Flying Men myself, really?”

Children tend to see them as a free resource in the game. “They help protect me, and it doesn’t cost anything, so I should use them all!” But I wanted to make them feel a little bad about that. Every time a Flying Man dies for you, you can find their grave.

Omega: I’ve played through MOTHER eight times at this point, and I always try to keep as many Flying Men alive as I can.

Itoi: Part of me wants players to react like that. To try and keep their conscience clean, or keep themselves from feeling bad. Feelings of happiness or guilt that you can’t describe – that’s what I tried to put into the game as “discomfort.” So no matter how many times you complete the game, it never feels finished, because it hits you in the heart every time.

Omega: Yes, that’s it, exactly.

Nagata: Ryokun, what was it that drew you into MOTHER?

Ryokun: It had to be all the pointless dialogue!

Nagata: Oh?

Ryokun: I like Dragon Quest, too, and I take a lot of notes while I’m playing games. I write down what you can find in each town, and what all the characters tell you, so that I don’t forget anything.

MOTHER was no different, so I habitually took notes on everything… And so much of it turned out to be completely irrelevant! [Everyone laughs.]

Nagata: But there’s some important stuff hidden in there, too.

Ryokun: That’s true!

Itoi: In Magicant [a place in MOTHER 2], there’s a snowman who reminisces with you about playing together in the wintertime. It has nothing to do with your gameplay goals, but it does affect your impression of the game – whether that gets an emotional response or not.

There’s not much point to playing MOTHER if you just rush through it to the end. It’s more meaningful to play together with the game. I think that gives it a lot of replay value. The novelist Hiromi Kawakami says she’s played through it 30 times.

Omega: Really, I can’t get enough of it.
Other RPGs are set in fantasy worlds that don’t always make sense. MOTHER isn’t. How can I put it… When you level up, it feels like you’re actually growing. So, you know, to sum it up… Sorry, my Japanese isn’t up to it.

Itoi: No, no, you’re doing fine.

Omega: Sorry, I’m going to speak English for a bit. [Omega speaks through an interpreter for the next few comments.]
The MOTHER series is filled with the goings-on of the world that we all live in. A lot of what happens in MOTHER is relatable to the point that you can learn from it, and apply the things you learn to your own life.

I think the experiences I have playing MOTHER have helped me make sense of things that’ve happened around me in the real world, and of my own childhood.

Itoi: Oh, I’m so happy to hear that!

Omega: MOTHER 2 in particular taught me that there’s something good, or something cute, or something fun to be found in everything.

For example, towards the beginning of MOTHER 2, you fight a bully named Frank. Frank’s this bad guy who’s got a robot hidden behind the video arcade in your town. But eventually, he comes to respect you and helps you out in the end.

Back when I played MOTHER 2 for the first time, I’d go to school and run into real-world bullies. Real life isn’t as simple as games, so making friends with them wasn’t as easy as it is with Frank, of course.

But, again, MOTHER 2 taught me that there’s a good side to everything. Even if things never get all the way to good, even if the kids who picked on me never end up on my side, at least things get a little better. I feel like MOTHER taught me to see that.

Of course, Porky’s a different story.

Itoi: Oh, Porky…

Omega: Porky’s the ultimate heel. He’s soft, he’s dirty, and it doesn’t matter whether people laugh at him or try to get along with him – he’s just cruel, pure and simple. Like I said, the ultimate heel.

You think you can change him for the better, or try and find some weakness in him, but there isn’t any. He’s just bad. And you can’t beat Porky. He always manages to run away. You never get to pay him back for what he does.

But I like Porky. I can’t even say why, but I like him. That’s when you know you’ve got a great villain.

Itoi: Like Batman and the Joker.

Omega: [Returning to Japanese] Exactly. He’s absolutely like the Joker. As a villain, Porky is an amazing character.

To be continued…