Because I feel that, in the Heavens above
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love
None so devotional as that of ‘Mother’
-Edgar Allen Poe
Hey, so yesterday was Mother’s Day!
I love that day because mothers are such unsung heroes and mothers have done so much for humanity. They never cease to amaze me and they exemplify the sheer power of women. When my wife became a mother, I had never before seen a metamorphosis so captivating, so inspiring, so terrifying, so joyous, so powerful and complete. I chronicled part of that journey and what it meant for both of us here.
Video games have yet to develop a great selection of characters (playable especially) who exemplify the virtues and self-sacrificial nature of motherhood. Though I’m not going to phrase it as incriminatingly as Polygon (surprise), who said: “Why do we refuse to feature mothers in games?”, it’s apparent that there aren’t many great examples of mothers in games, certainly as center-stage characters. Creators of video games will come along who are motivated to tell the stories that involve powerful, playable mothers, rather than insinuate those telling the stories they want to right now are somehow doing something wrong and failing society. Who’s refusing? Besides, that’s not how entertainment works. It’s not about telling the stories that need to be told, but those that are free. That’s the difference between art and propaganda.
Anyway… there are mothers to be talked about in gaming, indeed. You just have to look. Here are a few of them and this is what they have to tell us about one of the world’s most thankless and most difficult jobs.
**WARNING that there are potential SPOILERS here for Super Metroid, Breath of Fire II, Breath of Fire III, Undertale, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Arkham City, and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. If you see an image of the game you don’t want spoiled, scroll down to the next one.**
This is the example of a mother in gaming that everyone seems to think of first, likely because she’s so famous and because she’s also the main character of her series, Metroid. In Super Metroid, intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran encounters a baby parasitic alien, a metroid, which hatches and believes her to be its mother. Samus is in no place, whether in lifestyle or disposition, to become some metroid’s mama so she hands it over to some space scientists.
The baby is soon metroid-napped and Samus pursues it through the game to an enemy planet where the baby eventually saves Samus’ life by sacrificing its own. This is one instance in which the child becomes the one that gives up everything for the parent but it is a poignant moment in what is a dreadful and lonely action game, highlighting the fact that many of us would do absolutely anything for our mothers.
The evolved form of Cubone, which is notable for wearing its dead mother’s skull as a helmet, Marowak has overcome the grief of the death of its mum and has learned to channel that pain into refined ferocity and raw power. Marowak wields its trauma and comes out all the stronger for it, but the catalyst of all that strength is still the memory of its mother. This Pokémon once literally wore the protection of its mother but now that protection has become so much more meaningful, and isn’t that exactly what mothers do for us?
We were under their protection and everything they taught us shaped us into the kind of people we have become.As writer Barbara Kingsolver said, “Kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.” We won’t always have our mothers but they will live on through us in the lives they’ve helped grow.
Crono’ s mom
The mum of the actual hero of time is never named in the game but apparently she’s known as Gina. She has the privilege of delivering the first dialogue in one of the greatest games of all time and according to one of the game’s many endings, she causes a temporal loop that triggers the chronology into repeat. Chrono Trigger literally could not have happened, could not have even begun, without good old Gina.
The most recurring portrayal of mothers in video games is as the housewife or homemaker that provides a good meal and some counseling impetus, pats the adventurer on the back as they head out the door. Now I know that some of you reading that automatically had a strong reaction to the word “homemaker” or “housewife” as antiquated and even puritan, but that very reaction plays into the reason why motherhood is such a thankless job in the first place. You can’t bemoan mothers being unsung in one breath while assailing a whole branch of them in the other. Somewhere in modern history, raising children in the home became a bad thing but really, women can do anything, folks. I believe that wholeheartedly and few things are as challenging, delightful, rewarding, and profound as the experience of raising children. Thank God for all kinds of mothers, working mothers, single mothers, homemaking mothers. All of them. They all deserve recognition. Mothers like humble Gina ensure that every story has its good morning. You can’t save all of space-time without waking up out of bed first.
Okami Amaterasu is a solar deity from Japanese mythology and in her game Okami she is referred to oftentimes by those who recognize her as the mother of us all. Her position in the Japanese pantheon guarantees this divine doggy all the honor and respect she could want, but when the world became embroiled in darkness and Orochi began to prowl, Amaterasu condescended from on high and came to Earth to help.
I can’t help but think about how much mess mothers have to clean up. Fathers (like me) could certainly stand to step up and help out a lot more, but mothers wipe a lot of butts and mothers put away a lot of toys. Maybe that’s why so many of them shine like the sun, because their selflessness beams with righteous virtue. The next time mom barks “clean up this mess”, recognize that she’s been through a lot. Mothers endure a lot. The things they undergo to ensure they care for their brood… the love that demonstrates is flat-out glorious.
Breath of Fire II opens with a boy finding his sister in front of a huge sleeping dragon at the foot of a mountain, its massive head blocking an ancient door. Turns out that this is the gate to a kind of underworld in the village of Gate. Turns out the gate leads to an army of demons. Turns out the dragon is the hero’s, Ryu’s, mother whose name was Valerie. Valerie sacrificed herself, becoming a dragon without ever being able to take human form again, in order to prevent evil from pouring into the world and destroying everything. She gave up all she had in order to protect her family and the world her children would live in. She can only speak to her children in their dreams.
The lengths that mothers go to to protect their children is beyond understanding. When I became a parent, I came to the eventual realization that my life is no longer just my own and I would give my life for my children if need be, but I have seen and heard of bravery from mothers that would cause even a knight in shining armor to turn tail and retreat. It seems that the hearts of mothers know no limit and that is the truest demonstration of love: self-sacrifice. No greater love…
Lest we paint too perfect a picture, there are also examples of… rather poor mothers in gaming. Some of them are downright evil, some of them twisted and terrifying (indicative of the masculine fear of childbirth and female anatomy), some of the samplings of the darker side of the human spirit. Case in point, the second reference to this series, take Breath of Fire III with its series villain: Myria/Tyr. This was an ancient goddess that granted wishes while instigating wars between clans that sought her favor.
Breath of Fire III is about independence and maturity. In it, Myria has successfully wiped out almost the entire Dragon Clan, the ancestors of the hero, who is again called Ryu, and she manages the fate of the planet from a distance, affecting all the minutiae of civilization and crushing anything mercilessly that interferes with her master plan. She is literally coddling the world into frailty. She is the picture of an over-protective mother that doesn’t allow their child to take risks, doesn’t trust them with independence, doesn’t believe the best in them, doesn’t give them the opportunity to learn what it means to fall and pick themselves back up. No wonder she appears like a monster.
Speaking of over-protective, there’s Toriel from Undertale. While she’s not the main characters actual mother, she sure behaves like she is, holding your hand through every puzzle, doing her best to make you fat and happy, even going so far as to lie and threaten in order to keep you from harm in the outside world. That’s not good parenting in the least. Neither is baking snail pies. Mothers, don’t be Toriel.
Woo, this mom is a doozy. While not the central antagonist of the story, Final Fantasy VII’s Jenova is an alien cataclysm, a poison to the planet, the destroyer of the ancient Cetra people, and the genetic mother of the game’s villain, Sephiroth, the ultimate SOLDIER who was directly infused with her cells while in the fetal stage. Yeah, that would pretty much make a villain out of anyone.
When I think of Jenova, I think of legacy. FFVII doesn’t really describe the personality of Jenova too much. She (it?) is portrayed as having brought about calamity but it is not as directly malicious as other characters featured more prominently in the story. That said, Jenova certainly paved the way for the death and chaos that would be enacted by her “son” in her name and in her memory. The legacy a mother leaves for their child can make or break them.
Princess Garnet’s mother in Final Fantasy IX is a real freakshow and probably the origins of “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings”. This power-obsessed Wagnerian monarch treats her own daughter as an object to further her own Kuja-controlled aspirations and when Garnet is no longer of use to her, the Queen of Alexandria orders her execution without a second thought.
I’ve spent a lot of time praising mothers here and I feel good about that, but that fact of the matter is that not everyone was blessed with a mother or with a good one. I hope that no one has had to endure the kind of parenting that came courtesy of Queen Brahne, that treats a child like a disposable tissue. Unfortunately, that’s a potential reality for some folks and I am really sorry for them.
Super Mario Galaxy introduces us to Rosalina, a little girl who traveled the stars with a Luma star-like entity and returned to Earth eventually to find that her own mother had passed away. This is one of those surprisingly poignant moments in what is otherwise a hyper-cheerful Super Mario game. Rosalina eventually grew up and continued to explore the cosmos, taking in other Lumas and becoming a mother figure to them.
So, fortunately, while some of us may not have had the best mothers or maybe don’t have our mothers anymore, we can still find loving people around us who can become motherly stand-ins. Step-moms, adoptive moms, motherly figures are all around.
No list of motherly figures would be complete without a bit about single mothers. If motherhood could possibly get any harder, it would have to be because of single motherhood, a recurring issue in society due to any number of factors. It’s not my intention to outline those factors so I’ll just mention single motherhood itself. Mothers that find themselves raising children alone, for whatever reason, have a monumental task before them. My own mother was a single mother for some time when I was growing up.
So anyway, there’s Harley Quinn. In Arkham City, there’s an Easter Egg that seems to indicate she’s pregnant and obviously we know who the father is. Harley’s obsessive relationship with the abusive Joker is one of the ugliest “romances” in comic book history and it’s sadly played out in real life more frequently than it should be, but clearly it means that Harley would have to raise this child alone. No other spoilers forthcoming on that. The point here though is that it takes dedication, it takes parents, heck it’s been said it takes a village to raise children and the more support that mothers can have the better.
And dead-beat (or insane) dads can go stub their toe on the front of a steamroller.
The lengths that mothers will go to guarantee the safety of their children, even when unborn, is nothing short of miraculous. Take it from the facehugger who goes to the lengths of incapacitating a host, implanting its egg into this host, and then dying before the chestburster makes a big mess of things… Probably not the best example of a mother, I admit. But the more you think of it, the more horrifying it all is. Actually, that highlights a lot of the themes in video games (and entertainment at large) in which motherhood is depicted as monstrous. Anyone who’s gone through it knows it can be a scary time!
Ending on a high note is what’s best here. When I think about motherhood, I think about self-sacrifice. Mothers give up sleep and sanity to screaming babies and butt wipes, but some mothers have had to give up even their lives so that their children may live. Part of the emotional impact of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the sacrifice that Oliver’s mom makes when she saves her son. It’s the heart of the entire story and there are few things as magnificent. Video games lean toward the ham-fisted and on the nose when it comes to delivering emotional stories but this one is pretty tender.
Well, thanks for reading! For more jaw about parents and gaming, check out the post “What I Learned from the Best and Worst Video Game Parents“.
In your service,
-The Well-Red Mage
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