The first article I remember reading about EarthBound–in the sense of seeking out more information about the game, not just seeing it written up in Nintendo Power–bears the unforgettable title “It’s Not Bokista.” In it, the author, Tomato, explains the audio clip that plays several times in the opening naming sequence for a new game. He corrects misconceptions and lays out the facts in a way that has its own shorthand now in internet parlance: a Well, actually, but a gentle one.
For the first time in what has turned out to be a long history of learning about EarthBound, reading Tomato’s little article I would encounter the future author of Legends of Localization, also known as Clyde Mandelin, and would take the tiniest step towards understanding the game’s origins in the person of its creator, Shigesato Itoi, and the culture he lives in.
All these years later, I’m still learning about the game, its creator, and the wider culture–which makes sense, if learning about a game entails learning about other things, too, like people and languages, oneself and one’s own and others. I’m playing MOTHER and MOTHER 3 in translation, and little by little playing through MOTHER 2 in Japanese. I’m still talking about the games with friends near and far, still recording and writing about the experience, and for me that’s the mark of a classic: still making new connections, learning more, and with each new idea finding new questions that arise.
And just recently, the game has begun to reach a new audience once more. “These facts don’t stink!” runs Nintendo of America’s tweet on the Switch release of EarthBound Beginnings (MOTHER) and its sequel, self-referencing the ad campaign for the original US release of EarthBound. Interesting to note here: the shift from “This game” to “these facts” foregrounds the extent to which the game persists in meme form. Rather than experiencing it as a game to play, most people just know about it. The more psuedo-arcane the knowledge, the better.
The Video Game History Foundation, which made a splash recently with the discovery of text files from the game’s translation team, pushes the focus on facts farther into the realm of trivia, unapologetically featuring podcast conversations with professionals and experts on the most minute details of games like Pokemon and Final Fantasy V. Clyde Mandelin’s article on the EarthBound find further establishes him as the foremost expert on the games and their localization, while leaving plenty of room for players themselves to fill in the all important question of significance: So what?
As Itoi says about the John Lennon song behind the MOTHER name, “His voice made tears gush out… I decided to make others feel the same way.” And the interviewer responds, “That’s deep.” I love that. I love that I’m just now recovering this piece of the story for myself and getting to share it with others. If I could make others feel the same way–and what kind of power would that be, tyrannical or freeing?–I’d teach about EarthBound in the classes I teach everyday. As it stands, I’ll keep teaching it only every other day, when our video game studies wellness elective meets, and meanwhile studying it outside of school as long as I can.
In response to all those facts and explainers, well-actuallies well-meaning or meanspirited, here at the Video Game Academy we aim to provide a space for the so what. The EarthBound course page has been updated with a few new discussions, with more coming soon, and we encourage everyone to join in on twitch and discord if you’d like. But more importantly, play the games and decide for yourself.