One of the earliest pieces of “serious” games criticism that I can remember reading on the internet was a sprawl of text from Tim Rogers about Earthbound, a role-playing game released for the Super Nintendo in 1995. Pinballing wildly from one observation to the next, Tim Rogers stakes out an assertion of Earthbound as Shigesato Itoi’s commentary on video gaming as a medium, emphasizing placement and arrangement as the meaningful storytelling within the video game form rather than the shapes and rhythms of conventional narratives.
Earthbound’s status as a funhouse mirror of video games — and on the Dragon Quest lineage of Japanese role-playing games in particular — is so entrenched in our collective understanding of video games criticism that the game (along with Metal Gear Solid 2) is frequently cited as a touchstone for post-modern gestures in contemporary games like Undertale or countless other self-aware indie games. But that lofty perch can also make it hard to see the finer details about both Earthbound and the hegemonic expectations of game narrative that it turns and twists.
If Earthbound is a game that is a commentary on games, how much does it rely on literacy of gaming tropes and structures to deliver its message? How much do you have to steady your heart and believe in Earthbound, even when its brighter moments are consumed by darkness, to find deeper meaning in its play? How cool is it to fight melting Dali clocks as enemy encounters in Moonside? We will get to discuss it all over a long coffee break on Skype this Thursday at 8:30pm EDT / 5:30pm PDT.
- An extensive collection of Earthbound criticism at Critical Distance, compiled by Michel McBride-Charpentier.
- A Youtube video of the final battle and ending of Earthbound, which will absolutely earn some time in our discussion.
- An archive.org scavenged copy of the original Earthbound essay by Tim Rogers, “The Literacy of the Moment“