[Grime/Glitter] EarthBound Isn’t Videogaming

My writing ambitions sprouted from playing EarthBound at a young age. There is no other form of entertainment I have returned to more, and yet, I don’t consider it a videogame. There are no objectives or high scores. You’re playing it wrong if you’re merely trying to rush through to the ending credits. The more effort you invest into exploring the world and characters, the more you learn about yourself. Earthbound is a digital novel.

This thought came about while showing someone EarthBound.

This friend was curious after hearing my praise. After the third play session, it was painful to watch how he was playing. This seasoned videogame player of many genres and generations could not get into it at all. “There’s too much grinding to do anything.[1]” “I don’t like the humor I’ve read.[1]” I am not the sort of person to push things on someone if they’ve given it sufficient time, so we dropped it and moved on.

This is probably where people approached EarthBound in the 90s.

I like videogames more for their exploratory nature than any other experience. Give me 8 hours, a videogame with a large level to explore or an objective like “get this item,” and that time is instantly zapped. If I can channel that extreme, borderline dangerous, focus into something halfway constructive, all the better. EarthBound is probably where I honed that focus. It’s certainly where I became interested in writing.

EarthBound is all about the vignettes.

“There’s this scene in this videogame called EarthBound where there’s this hippy village and there’s a store where you set the price. You can pay whatever you want for items and it’s a great way to quickly get some money. If you do that, when you come back later, there’s a sign saying the store is closed due to theft. If you don’t, then the store closes for more innocent reasons. That scene has always stuck with me.[1]”

It’s like cheat-coding through Breath of the Wild.

I don’t mean speedrunning, wherein you try to understand the game as much as possible to play through a timed version of the game as quickly as you can. That’s closer to soaking up all of the elements of a videogame that I prefer from the games I love the most. The videogames where I can appreciate all aspects of their writing, design, visual presentation, music, sound, and everything. The games where I want to go explore around them both in my real life and in my imagination.

Those are the sorts of experiences I enjoy more than skill competitions.

There are certain places for competition-based games, and I still appreciate a good puzzle game or fighter or multiplayer, but the ones that resonate with me are the ones where a line of dialogue can change my perspective of reality in some kind of casually significant way. I try to find these lines of dialogue while watching videos online, reading books especially, but I can find them everywhere, even in real life.

This introspective aspect is the most under-appreciated aspect of videogames.

Currently, I’m playing through FF7 in that same sort of way. I’m not looking to “beat” it as I would other games on my list. I’m not interested in the setting that lets everyone get to level 99 instantly so you can just experience the story. For me, the gameplay is a valid part of the narrative design of the videogame, where if I’m playing a particularly difficult part, just as long as it doesn’t because “cheap” in the same way that a novel breaks continuity and suddenly falls apart, or a television show jumping the shark, then I’ll stick through it. I’m not adverse to challenge nor to rewards, but I do want to avoid gameplay where I have to conform to certain lifestyle choices to achieve them, like only playing the latest games, or only enjoying the Top 10 games, or whatever.

For me, videogames can have deeper sensations than we give them credit for.

It’s just that it’s easier to say that here is a game that is a silly-looking roleplaying game that has some kind of weird things about it. When I played EarthBound all those years ago, the scenes that struck out at me most weren’t the gameplay elements or even major story arcs. They were the elements like the character interactions in the Happy Happy Village, or talking to random characters as they were going about their lives.

Ness wasn’t this big heroic character to them.

Ness wasn’t their celebrity hero. He was just some kid and that sort of set the stage for my perspective that, sure, I am the protagonist of my own life and so I see everything from my perspective, but I’m not the main character of this world. Nor are you. We are just explorers of this weird planet, and so we should focus on our missions, whether it’s saving the world in our own right or just hanging out and enjoying life. These are the sorts of things I appreciate most from games like EarthBound and FF7 or novels or movies or shows.

We need more worldliness in our entertainment.

We need more of the sense that we aren’t limiting our scope to just the perspectives of those in our immediate geopolitical landscapes. We need to think more about those who offend us and let them speak, tell us their perspectives so that we may consider them, and then either ignore them to go talk to someone else, or let their thoughts linger in a way where we might be able to say, yah know, it’s creepy that some dude wants an autograph so bad that he’ll accept the autograph on a banana peel, but people are much creepier in person. Anecdotes like that help us experience life in controlled media like novels or videogames so we can consider whether something like that is creepy.

Yet, until we consider videogames a valid storytelling medium, they’ll be perceivably creepy.

Quotes: [1] The aforementioned buddy of mine. [2] [2] My explanation.
Sources: My opinions.
Inspirations: I wrote the first part some years ago, then when I was talking to a friend of mine about different playstyles, I had the inspiration to jam on the rest of this essay. It gets a little weird, but that’s just me.
Related: Not much else. This Grime/Glitter was an old essay format where I’d underline the focus of the essay. This was when I was still ironing out my writing style, so this is a throwback to my beginnings… I guess…
Picture: I redrew the EarthBound Beginnings with the title.
Written On: 2018 May 04 [Unknown minutes. This part ended at “this scene has always stuck with me” and I began editing part of this section before deciding to leave it alone. WordPress] ——– 2020 January 01 [25 minutes. From 5:56am to 6:21am. WordPress.]
Last Edited: 2020 January 01 [Other than doing that edit from the first part, this is a first draft; final draft kinda situation.]
My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.