Serialized specially for The Well-Red Mage, based on the podcast by Wesley Schantz
“The following is a contributor post by the Bookwarm Mage.”
Here we are at the end of the EarthBound series; on the one hand a final chapter, but also a part of something bigger.
Normally I’ve got my little script in front of me, reading and lecturing on segments of the game, but for the conclusion I wanted to try to make this more of a live conversation. I’ve done seven of those so far with friends and family; this conversation is a little different, of course, because I don’t have just one person that I’m talking to–instead I went with a broadcast, talking to anybody and everybody who’s interested. Thanks for joining me, even if it’s asynchronously. We’ll talk about such time-travel in a minute.
I wanted first to talk a little bit about the Apple of Enlightenment and its role in EarthBound. It’s spoken of from the very start of the game: Buzz Buzz mentions it when he arrives and confirms that you (Ness, the player’s avatar) are the hero spoken of in that prophecy. That’s his belief, and I believe that the game bears him out, because indeed, as we saw in our last episode, you defeat Giygas and save the universe from cosmic destruction–whatever that is. From the beginning of the game the Apple is invoked, and it appears time and again throughout your journey as characters refer to it, but never is it identified with anything in the game that you can actually access and use your Check command on. You never directly encounter the Apple of Enlightenment. There is of course the Apple Kid, and so that’s given rise to a certain amount of theorizing about whether Apple Kid might be actually the Apple of Enlightenment, or that he’s in some way related to it.
So like I usually do, I went and looked some of this up, and I’ll go ahead and share what I discovered. On Legends of Localization, besides the lovely book that I’ve been referring to a lot, there’s also a website version of much of the material, and so if you don’t have the book you can use that instead. Here’s the relevant part of the explanation:
After defeating the statue thingy, Ness is spoken to… by Ness!
In EarthBound, Meta-Ness tells you, “The Apple of Enlightenment has foretold that Giygas’ attempt will fail.”
In MOTHER 2, he literally says, “The ‘Apple of Wisdom’ prophecy-telling machine in Gyiyg’s possession has foretold that Gyiyg’s machinations will end in failure.”
There are several important pieces here for die-hard fans to take note of:
- The Apple of Enlightenment is called the “Apple of Wisdom” in MOTHER 2
- The Apple is currently in Gyiyg’s possession
- The Apple is a machine that gives prophecies
The English translation leaves out/changes this stuff, so hopefully this will shed some new light on what’s up with the Apple of Enlightenment. I think this kills those theories that Apple Kid is the Apple of Enlightenment at least 😛
cf. The “Predict This” section of the Giygas chapter
So the “Apple of Wisdom,” and to some extent the translation “Apple of Enlightenment,” too, makes me think much more, not of Apple Kid within the game, but of the story of the Garden of Eden in the Bible. Religion aside, it’s had a huge effect on subsequent art and literature. I know that it’s a little bit out there, but that’s kind of what I do in the series, so I’m going to read from this–it’s in Genesis 3. Here’s the King James Version:
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
8 And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
9 And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
13 And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
A longer reading, I guess, than is usual here, but I think that’s all super important for our project as a whole, as a way to connect EarthBound and other video games with great works of literature. The story of the fall is in the background of the English epic Paradise Lost. As Tolkien says in his long letter to Waldman, the publisher, “all stories are ultimately about the fall,” and Philip Pullman would probably agree. The Golden Compass takes the story of the fall and tells it in a fantasy setting with a heavy amount of attention to other retellings down through history: Blake’s and Milton’s and Kleist’s… and so in another series of this podcast I focus on Philip Pullman’s books, His Dark Materials.
Anyway, the Apple of Enlightenment or Wisdom forms the bridge between the end of this essay series on EarthBound and the start of the next one I’m putting together for The Well-Red Mage, where I’ll be looking in more detail at the mythological elements of Final Fantasy VII. It is in the background of many if not all stories which deal with the battle between good and evil, which takes place not only in the transition between innocence and experience there in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of time, mythologically speaking, but in some sense in every person’s life growing up. Every individual, and perhaps even every institution or community, also undergoes such a process of growth and development, of realization, of awakening…
And that is what the word “Enlightenment” is also used to translate in a Buddhist context. I’m not real literate when it comes to Buddhism, but I went to my go-to source for things that I don’t know about, Wikipedia, and so I’ll just read a little bit from the start of that short article here:
Enlightenment in Buddhism
The English term enlightenment is the western translation of the abstract noun bodhi, (/ˈboʊdi/; Sanskrit: बोधि; Pali: bodhi), the knowledge or wisdom, or awakened intellect, of a Buddha. The verbal root budh- means “to awaken,” and its literal meaning is closer to “awakening.” Although its most common usage is in the context of Buddhism, the term buddhi is also used in other Indian philosophies and traditions. The term “enlightenment” was popularised in the Western world through the 19th century translations of Max Müller [Tolkien’s great frenemy in “On Fairy Stories”]. It has the western connotation of a sudden insight into a transcendental truth or reality.
The term is also being used to translate several other Buddhist terms and concepts, which are used to denote insight (prajna, kensho and satori); knowledge (vidhya); the “blowing out” (Nirvana) of disturbing emotions and desires and the subsequent freedom or release (vimutti); and the attainment of Buddhahood, as exemplified by Gautama Buddha.The English term enlightenment is the western translation of the abstract noun bodhi, (/ˈboʊdi/; Sanskrit: बोधि; Pali: bodhi), the knowledge or wisdom, or awakened intellect, of a Buddha. The verbal root budh- means “to awaken,” and its literal meaning is closer to “awakening.” Although its most common usage is in the context of Buddhism, the term buddhi is also used in other Indian philosophies and traditions. The term “enlightenment” was popularised in the Western world through the 19th century translations of Max Müller. It has the western connotation of a sudden insight into a transcendental truth or reality.
What exactly constituted the Buddha’s awakening is unknown. It may probably have involved the knowledge that liberation was attained by the combination of mindfulness and dhyāna, applied to the understanding of the arising and ceasing of craving. The relation between dhyana and insight is a core problem in the study of Buddhism, and is one of the fundamentals of Buddhist practice.
In the western world the concept of (spiritual) enlightenment has taken on a romantic meaning. It has become synonymous with self-realization and the true self and false self, being regarded as a substantial essence being covered over by social conditioning.[page needed], [page needed], [page needed], [page needed]
One other thing I’d note here is in the image for Wikipedia’s series on Buddhism you’ve got the eight-spoked wheel, which reminds me a lot of the image of the Sound Stone in EarthBound, actually, with its eight directional points around it, and the eight images which the light of attention or spirit or whatever it is bounces among around the wheel clockwise while the the melody plays.
The Apple of Enlightenment in EarthBound, then, is this prophecy-telling machine, putting the entire adventure into motion. It seems to have some resonance with the Garden of Eden story, the temptation and fall of mankind, which is so central to the Christian myth and the very notion of consciousness and of story in the West, but it also connects to the Eastern, Buddhist traditions of overcoming false sensory inputs by delusions, dreams, and desires, and acquiring insight-knowledge and the attainment of buddhahood. (This is where I’d hoped to talk to someone like my brother, who’s a little more versed in meditation: I’d wanted to ask him about some of some of those things around the time in the game when we were getting to meet Prince Poo and saw his experience at the Place of Mu, where he’s meditating and has to overcome temptation and face the nothingness, the specter of death, of losing senses, power, and ultimately his life, his mind, even. But I couldn’t get him to join me for recording a conversation just yet, so that will have to remain ineffable for now…)
Asking then for any further thoughts on the Apple of Enlightenment, its role as a bridge between video games and books, between Western and Eastern mythology and all of that, these comments came from Stephanie, my wife, who also joined me for an earlier episode–thanks!–
I want to know more about Pokey. Are his motivations realistic? Did you suspect he would have such a big role?
If Apple Kid is related to the Apple of Enlightenment, what role does Orange Kid play?
OK, some awesome questions. To the first one, I didn’t suspect Pokey would play such a big role. As far as I can remember, the first time that I played this game I didn’t really have much idea about anything that was going on, much less tracking a relatively minor character from the very beginning of the game. He would sort of annoyingly pop up from time to time and accost me on my adventures, but I definitely didn’t foresee that he would become so formidable in the final battle against Giygas. And I had really no idea what was going on in that battle as a kid playing this game; it’s only much later now that I have been able to think through some of the incredible, dramatic events surrounding that that climactic fight against Giygas and Pokey, about how it is a kind of meditation on the nature of evil.
He is, of course, your next-door neighbor. I’ve always had a real fascination with the concept of neighbors and the neighborhood. My closest friends growing up were my neighbors, older kids; I really looked up to them and they got me into playing video games in the first place. My next-door neighbors lived there with their grandma for a while and got me playing Super Mario World and Final Fantasy II on the Super Nintendo. Along with the neighbors around the corner who would play Tetris and the original Final Fantasy on the NES, they were the ones who got me into playing video games and reading books, for that matter, and telling stories when we would ride the bus to school, and playing hide and seek. So I looked up to them, and in that respect you could say that I would identify most with Picky, the younger brother of Pokey, who seems to look up to Ness quite a bit and to be kind of like him.
As far as Pokey’s motivations, again, the comments on the translation that Clyde Mandelin gives are pretty helpful. Apparently in the Japanese text there are a lot more references to how abusive Pokey’s parents actually are and how badly they treat him and Picky. So from a certain perspective, that trauma could be a kind of explanation for why he is the way he is. Although he lives right next door to Ness, who is the hero, the person everyone looks up to and wants to be like, Pokey’s home situation is really different. In place of the love that Ness’s parents show him–his dad over the phone, of course, but his mom right there all the time, and his dog and his sister–in place of all that, Pokey gets verbal and physical abuse. He develops as a compensation that smarmy way about him; he tries to sweet-talk people. You see this from the very start of the game. But then underneath that he has a real mean streak: he threatens to say something cutting if you don’t help him with finding his brother. So while I think the trauma literature is generally a little overblown, perhaps his motivations are pretty well grounded. He’s obviously a bit over-the-top in how amusingly evil he is–stealing helicopters and crashing them in rainforests and whatnot–but on a metaphorical level he’s extremely realistic. I certainly have a voice like that in my head that I have to deal with…
As far as the Apple Kid and Orange Kid question, Orange Kid is another sort of comic-relief character. Primarily he’s a red (or orange) herring. He seems like the obvious choice when you’re given the option of which of the two inventor kids to fund when you first get to Twoson because he seems to have his house in order–literally. It’s all clean, and he has these girls who hang out outside and talk about how great he is and seem to really admire him, as opposed to Apple Kid, who they call gross and dweeby. Orange Kid even looks a bit like your your future friend Jeff, who you haven’t met yet at that point in the game, but there’s a kind of resemblance between the two characters which is interesting. I would say he appears to be just what you would want in an inventor, and yet it turns out that it’s all a facade. Whereas Apple Kid, for all his slovenliness and unkemptness and neediness, turns out to be a truly brilliant inventor, very curious, very interested in learning about new people, as we see when he’s kidnapped and meets the Mr Saturn. He’s over there in the first place trying to learn from Dr Andonuts, Jeff’s father in Winters, by where Stonehenge is located… I would stress again it’s not that he is explicitly related to the Apple of Enlightenment, but there’s a kind of weird play on words there where his name certainly would make you think of it. I tend to think those things are kind of important. Whereas it seems like Clyde Mandelin wants to point out that in terms of the plot Apple Kid is not related to that Apple of Enlightenment, I would say, well, because of his name at least in the player’s mind he’s got to be related, there’s got to be some association there which is worth thinking about…
Steph’s got another question here:
Yeah that’s neat, the eight pegs on the wheel and Sound Stone. In the end, after the eighth melody, you ultimately time travel and become a robot. How is that related to reincarnation?
OK, so there’s a teaching in the Hindu religion, from which Buddhism emerged in terms of historical religious movements and things–I guess in Hinduism there’s a belief in reincarnation; and in the West the Pythagoreans had a similar or maybe the same belief, if you trace it all the way back it’d be rooted in the same thing… The reincarnation idea seems to be evoked there at the end of the game as you’re challenged to travel back in time to defeat Giygas before it’s too late. You have to leave your body behind; your characters’ minds, their spirits are transferred into robotic bodies which can travel back in time. At the very end after you defeat Giygas and the robot bodies are lying prone, little spirit orbs emerge from them and then fly back to the bodies in the future (or in the present), and so it’s a kind of reincarnation.
This is also highlighted by Buzz Buzz from the very start of the game pointing out that he is not a bee–I take that to mean he’s in a machine bee or beetle body; I think you can understand this as his way of getting through the time-travel problem. If he is a human, he has put himself in the body of a bee, and then when Pokey’s mom smashes the bee machine, if that’s the case, then Buzz Buzz’s spirit may well recover itself in his original body… in Buzz Buzz’s future…
This starts to make my head hurt because then you’ve got to wonder also: does Buzz Buzz’s future change as a result of Ness and his friends and the player being successful in their quest to defeat Giygas, which is inspired by Buzz Buzz in the first place. Then you start to worry about time paradoxes of the kind that the EarthBound players guide warns that it is not going to be responsible for. In whichever timeline, perhaps he is also reincarnated in his original body if he has such a thing. Whether that timeline is rescued as well is a mystery to me.
This is another topic connected with the idea of the Apple of Enlightenment, actually. Because the Apple of Enlightenment is a kind of prophecy machine, according to that text that we read a bit ago, it’s capable of doing some kind of calculation whereby it accesses (let’s suppose as a thought experiment) where every particle in the universe is at a given time and what velocity it’s got. That’s impossible, but somehow this machine can do that and can then calculate all of the future movements of all the particles everywhere, and so it can tell you the future. That’s how I would imagine a prophecy machine working, at one extreme. I guess the other extreme is like a Magic 8-Ball, or more like those fortune tellers that you make out of paper with your friends at school, or a Ouija board–something like that, which is reliant on the observer, so to speak. We impart to them a meaning which in terms of physics they really ought not deserve. In some kind of way the Apple of Enlightenment is tasked with telling the future, making it the counterpart to traveling in time: it would be a way out of the paradox if you can tell the future for certain, for then you don’t have to worry too much about other timelines, other possibilities, other parallel universes and so forth.
Moreover, in this case as in so many cases it seems like it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When Pokey tries to act on it, to go against it and turns off the Devil’s Machine, it makes Giygas vulnerable to your attacks, then to your prayers, and thus progresses you towards that foreseen end, foretold by the Apple of Enlightenment. Confusing stuff. I don’t claim to have a final answer on that, but I think that the game invites you to imagine those possibilities without giving hard and fast answers about what the Apple of Enlightenment really is or how it works…
I want to read just one other really interesting passage that the word Enlightenment brings to mind. The term also connotes that historical period in Western Europe when there’s a kind of rediscovery of human reason, of logic, and it’s applied to all sorts of everyday problems–sanitation, history, you know, things that have been taken for granted as being just the way things are. Suddenly people decide they’re going to think about and try to improve them, and that’s the Enlightenment… That’s probably not a very good overview (I’m sure Wikipedia will give you a better one if you look it up), but anyway there’s an essay by a major philosopher, Immanuel Kant, very little of whose work I have read, but this portion of it I have to urge you to consider. It’s called “What is Enlightenment?” He says:
Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.
Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on–then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me. Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind–among them the entire fair sex–should consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous. First, these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leading-strings to which they have fastened them. Then they show them the danger that would threaten them if they should try to walk by themselves. Now this danger is really not very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at last, learn to walk. However, examples of such failures intimidate and generally discourage all further attempts.
This enlightenment requires nothing but freedom–and the most innocent of all that may be called “freedom”: freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters. Now I hear the cry from all sides: “Do not argue!” The officer says: “Do not argue–drill!” The tax collector: “Do not argue–pay!” The pastor: “Do not argue–believe!” Only one ruler in the world says: “Argue as much as you please, but obey!” We find restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which restriction is harmful to enlightenment? Which restriction is innocent, and which advances enlightenment? I reply: the public use of one’s reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind.
He makes a call for for free speech, essentially, and towards the end comes this other great quotation:
Caesar non est supra grammaticos–
“Caesar is not above grammarians.” How’s that for a motto? Although the other one is pretty good too, “dare to know,” I just love this. It’s a seminal statement on Enlightenment. This particular valence or meaning of that term, which is so rich and so manifold, is one we get in the translation Apple of Enlightenment, instead of Apple of Wisdom. The Apple of Wisdom choice by the grammaticus would make me think instead of Zelda games, with the Triforce of wisdom. A topic for another time might be in what sense friendship, in Buzz Buzz’s trio of “wisdom, courage, and friendship,” represents or takes the place that the Triforce of power holds in the world of Zelda.
On those topics of enlightenment and time-travel, another work that I’d recommend to you is Homestuck. It’s extremely long–I never got to the end of it; I don’t know if there is an end to it, or if it’s still going–but it’s a really interesting story. It seems to draw on EarthBound to an extent in some of the humor at least, and the creator of Undertale, who does directly reference EarthBound and talks about how formative it was for him, also contributed to the Homestuck project. It’s full of time-travel paradoxes, saving the world, all that good stuff, so if you’re looking for another work after EarthBound to check out, that’s worth a visit.
A musician-poet friend of mine, whom I’d also wanted to have on the show at some point, was asking me if I could talk a little bit about what EarthBound is and what this podcast is about… I think my audio quality scandalized him, and I guess I never did a very good job of just explaining it to him well enough to get him on the show, but maybe in the future… So I’ll try again now, and the way I’ll do this first of all is by appealing to a little–I guess it’s kind of a poem. It’s a message from the creator of EarthBound, Shigesato Itoi, called “What EarthBound means to me.” You can find this on the Nintendo website (internet archive). I think it’s very beautiful, so I’ll just read it:
What is the video game, Earthbound?
Even today, it’s so hard to answer that question.
It was like a group of children taking dolls from a toy chest.
Old dishes no longer used in the kitchen.
Nuts and bolts found inside a toolbox.
Little flowers and leaves from the backyard.
And they were all laid down on the carpet with everybody singing made-up songs.
Ready to talk all day about that world they just made.
That, I think was how Earthbound was made.
Well, I’m a grown-up too,
so I didn’t hold back in adding things here and there,
like putting more angles here,
hiding a secret there,
and sometimes slipping in little mean things.
Then a whole lot of friends came over to play.
And they helped it grow as they were having fun as they pleased.
They gave it branches, leaves and flowers,
to what was once a simple story of just root and trunk.
For every person that played, there are that many iterations of Earthbound.
As I met different people on unrelated occasions,
they told me “I found out about you by playing Earthbound.”
This was not only right after the game was out.
People were telling me this after it’s been out for quite some time.
All sorts of people tell me about their memories,
about all the things I left in the playground called Earthbound.
From the tiny safety pins, broken pieces of colored glass to the withering leaves.
When I ask them, “how do you remember so much?”
With their eyes gleaming, they say,
“I love that world so much I remember everything about it.”
I reply right away saying “me too.”
Ah hah! That may be it.
Maybe I wanted to make a playground.
A playground filled with things no matter how small or unwanted,
they would all be kept dear in people’s hearts.
It looks like all my friends from around the world have discovered the theme to the game as they were playing – even though I didn’t think I gave it one.
That’s right, that’s something I also wanted to do all along.
I was already a grown-up at the time I was making Earthbound,
but now that thirty years have been added to my life, I’ve grown up even more.
I think about things that I didn’t back then.
Things like, “what kind of a person do I want to be when I die?”
I already know the answer to this one.
It’s “someone with a lively wake*.”
The person who passed away has to be in all sorts of different people’s memories.
What they’ve done, how stupid they were, what kind of things they did for fun,
and how kind that person was sometimes.
All the people who are still alive are laughing,
wanting to be the first one to bring up those things to everyone around them.
The life I want to live is something that can be concluded with that kind of a party-like wake.
Fame and fortune, setting records and accomplishments are all meaningless.
That person is inside those stories that are told,
where people talk about their episodes, casually and sincerely.
Well, it’s not dead, and it’s not even human,
but to me Earthbound is a game that’s kind of like that guy.
Now that you’ll be able to play Earthbound to your heart’s content,
I hope you’ll play it with someone and create all kinds of great, happy memories.
I’m glad that this day has come.
And I think everyone who had a part in making this game is very excited too.
Thank you for everything.
*The Japanese word Mr. Itoi used here is “otsuya”. Similar to a wake, an otsuya is a Japanese tradition where relatives and friends are invited the night before the funeral ceremony to talk about their memories of the departed, and to mourn the loss over dinner and drinks in addition to prayer.
The occasion for this message must have been when EarthBound was finally released on one of the virtual systems or new consoles, I guess. Which is cool, because now you can play it legally without having to go through the rigmarole of trying to get one of the old cartridges. The SNES mini is how I played EarthBound anew as I’ve been working on this project.
So Itoi starts out by saying it’s hard to answer that question, and the rest of the answer he comes up with rings true, too. EarthBound, for me, is mostly about memory, and the transition from being a kid playing games to being an adult playing and creating games, sharing ideas about them. Perhaps seeing how people play with the things that you created and how much they mean to other people would bring some kind of further realization to the creator Itoi himself. I find all that really interesting, though I don’t mean to say that he as creator has a necessarily privileged understanding of his own creation. I’m sure that there’s limitations to his own understanding of what he’s made, as for any poet or artist–they’re not necessarily the most trustworthy or deepest commentator on their own work. The interpretation should be free for anyone playing the game, however much or however little they know about what went into making it, the biography of the maker any of that stuff. In some sense, every work of art has got to stand on its own and be accessible and speak to anyone coming up to it, or else it isn’t it isn’t truly great, it is somehow contingent.
I hope some of that comes through in his answer. In how poetic it is, it represents a little bit of what playing the game feels like, since Itoi’s narrative voice is so big a part of EarthBound. I hope that’s the beginning of an answer. What I’ve been trying to do on this program is to share my thoughts about the game as I played through it, reflecting on it, and to encourage and inspire other people to do the same: to play the game, that’s the main thing, and you can sort of make up your own mind about it when you do. Maybe it’ll be a spark to other thoughts, other experiences and memories.
Part of this project has been about getting in touch with a lot of my friends and family, to start conversations with them about the game but also about other things that they’re interested in these days, about things they think about and care about. Part of it has been me realizing I should really learn more about Eastern culture, and Japanese language in particular, to get a deeper understanding. That’s something my friend Steve has said to me, and I agree with him. (Clyde Mandelin has put out a little booklet that teaches you Japanese through items and things in Mother 2!)
Still, I feel like I’ve learned a lot from it, and I hope it’s the point of entry to a wider project of sharing and to an extent teaching video games and books. For those who, like Steph, like multiplayer games, here’s the way that I think EarthBound works as a multiplayer game: it’s in the way that reading a book as part of a reading group or a class works. Each individual person reads the book as much or as little as they want and are able to, and then the class, the group comes together and each person shares their thoughts, what they learned, what they struggled with, and their questions. As I’ve referenced a lot, there’s already the online community at starmen.net; there’s Corey Olsen and his team’s work at Mythgard Institute and Signum University; and of course, there’s The Well-Red Mage, which has graciously hosted my essay transcriptions of the Bookwarm Games podcast.
Anyone out there who might want to contribute, we want to hear your ideas for future series, future discussions: what games or what books would you want to delve into? For now Final Fantasy VII, The Golden Compass, and Xenogears are all at the top of my list, continuing with this kind of philosophical discussion of the fall, and exploring that insight from The Brothers Karamazov, how one good memory is the best education. As I jump from book to book, from game to game, I don’t want to lose sight of that sense that, whatever that memory might be, it’s something each person has at the bottom of their formation, capable of countervailing any amount of trauma with its gleam of hope.
One last comment here before we close. The PSI Farewell gift boxes are descending from the sky right now and I should spin around real fast and disappear in a puff of smoke, but in those boxes if you open them you will find letters from your friends and family. So do that, and then you will be able to explore the world freely. Giygas is defeated, and you can always send Itoi and me your questions and comments, things you love and things you don’t get about EarthBound. I’ll be glad to hear them, and to respond as far as possible. For now I’ll close with one of those things Ness’ mom says sometimes when you call her: “your teacher stopped by looking for you, but don’t worry, I covered for you.” Only in my case I covered for the teacher. I hope a better one will turn up soon, but till then, I’ll look forward to it. Take care. Thanks for tuning in!
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