I was hoping to wrap up EarthBound tonight or tomorrow – I was on the final leg, so only a few hours away. I’ve heard the ending is especially great. I was hoping to sit down afterward and write my first blog in ages about it; rarely do I pull out my SNES to start a game I’ve never played before, rarer still do I finish it, and rarest of all does it live up to 16 years of hype. (Actually, rarest of all do I blog – rimshot!)
But instead, I’m writing from a place of quiet devastation, of a “what do we do now” moment. Granted, one that probably belongs on whitewhine.com as much as here, but if you’re reading this I’d like to think that you’ll sympathize. Earlier this evening, I fired up the game for a session, excited to tackle the Major Psychic Psycho that killed me last night in the lava dungeon. I was down in the Lost Underworld, you see, where your party of characters appears super tiny on the map while huge dinosaurs stomp around you. It’s awesome.
So awesome in fact that I made a point of showing my girlfriend, who was standing to the right of the TV at the time. And then she walked left, accidentally tripping over the SNES controller cord and yanking the unit out of its resting place by an inch or two. The screen went black, and I let out an annoyed grumble. I went over to reset the system, which oddly took a few tries to get going (I have a sturdy model 2 SNES that had never failed me before). After finally getting it to the title screen, instead of the usual three save files displayed (the first two, lvl. 82 and lvl. 25, from whomever mysterious persons(s) owned the cart years before me, and the last one, mine, at lvl. 68) I was greeted with this:
Like I said, quiet devastation. 30+ hours of progress, gone. But more much importantly, my characters – with their own names, levels, items, and experience(s) – and their adventure, gone. Erased from time, and tucked back under the bed of the child-like spirit that was compelled to pick the game up after missing it the first time around. I know that I could probably find an approximated save file and replay it on an emulator, but we both know that it’s not the same. And that’s what’s special about video games. They’re so fucking inseparable from the personal experiences and interactions that you have with them. Defined by their interactivity, even. I could restart a movie, or find another copy of a book. But this feels like someone tore the book out of my hands 30 pages from the end and burned every copy on the planet. I had relationships with those characters, I was invested in that world. It was MY experience. And even if you tell me how it ends (and please don’t), MY experience didn’t end that way. MY world just…disappeared.
And that’s also what’s special about EarthBound. That it can create such a world where you’re a kid destined to save the galaxy, but one who has to call his mom from time to time lest he get homesick (actual status effect). My kid was named Arpee (as in Arpee-G, har har), but it’s the first RPG I’ve ever played where you didn’t have to erase the characters’ default names to substitute your own in. You’re encouraged to put your own stamp on it at every turn, and for the first time ever, I did. Arpee, Ladee, Buddo and Otail were having a grand adventure, and I was at the helm. It’s a small touch, but a very forward-thinking one in a very forward-thinking game. I was shocked at the innovation around every corner, and perplexed why so much of it hasn’t been carried forward into modern RPGs.
Another story: I was outside of Best Buy at 6am in line for the PS2 launch, and missed one by six people. It was three months after that that I finally got one, and only two weeks after that when my mom tripped over the cord, pulling it out of its nesting place and breaking the fan. But that was only time and money. This was the investment of adventure.
So I bid you adieu, Arpee; you were close to my heart, and your game is and was phenomenal. I know that you had it in you to save the world. If I can bring myself to start things over with another kid, weeks from now, I might…but I probably won’t. I’ll likely move on to a new game after I finish this post, and I imagine that I’ll like it just fine. But you won’t be there, and neither will the others, and everyone will be a little sadder for it.