(This post is also available as a video here).
I always thought it would be simple: I would play Mother 3 frog by frog (that is, save point to save point) and chronicle my experiences each day. Seeing as each “save frog” in Mother 3 is usually anywhere from five to ten minutes apart, I could expect short, easy gameplay sessions. I would write about the game, would watch myself grow with the game, and would ultimately have something worthwhile to say about the game. Mother 3 is already so close to my heart, so I thought it would be easy. The blog would practically write itself.
The truth is, I’ve tried to start this blog a few times now, and it has never really worked out. As a daily project, I fell behind in posts within the first week. As a semi-daily (read: pretty much never) blog, I was finished before I even started. I could point to problems in my work ethic, or how it was simply a bad idea to attempt to run a blog during grad school, or how quickly I became frustrated with WordPress, but, at the end of the day, usually I’d convince myself that the idea was silly after all, and I should just put it aside for something more serious.
But I should have known better: Mother 3, and the Mother series as a whole, is made up of just as many silly ideas as it is serious ideas—if not more. Shigesato Itoi, the series’ creator, consistently emphasizes play and playfulness in his interviews, so much so that I’ve always been interested in how his conception of “playing a video game” can be understood. While technically the gameplay of Mother games, being RPGs, require the player to fight and win in turn-based battles, you could argue that the best moments of gameplay in any of the Mother games are when you get to chat with NPCs and walk about a town. Everywhere you go, Itoi has placed some character, has written some line of dialogue, that is probably going to make you laugh. “You dummy!” Itoi says in an interview, poking fun at the interviewer who missed out on a joke by selecting the “wrong” dialogue option. “You’re not even playing around in the world of Mother 3!” 1
That’s another truth to my past failures: I don’t think I was playing around enough! I thought I needed to use these posts, this project, as a way to get to the heart of the Mother series. I thought I needed to seek to answer some deep question, or, by the end of my playthrough, bring back a new way to view the series, to view gaming, to view life, or whatever. “If I’m going to run a blog about Mother 3,” I thought, “that blog needs to accomplish something Mother 3-worthy, right?”
What I was forgetting is that I wanted to write a blog called “Frog by Frog,” which already sounds like a game.Re-reading a bunch of Itoi interviews over the last few days, I’ve decided I needed to admit to myself the true purpose of the blog, which is this: I’m writing this blog so I have an excuse to play video games. I’m writing this blog so I have an excuse to play Mother 3. I’m writing this blog in hopes that, by the end of it, I don’t feel the need to find excuses anymore. No one should ever need excuses to play.
Don’t get me wrong: through this blog, I still hope to offer some fun and creative insights to the series. I still hope to find a greater appreciation for Itoi and his work, especially because I’ve always felt like many major gaming publications fail to give off the impression that they’ve actually played the Mother games. Look at any article about EarthBound and count how many times you come across the word zany and offbeat to describe any and every aspect of the game. Look at any article about Mother 3 and count how many times you come across the words heartbreaking, dark, or mature. Yes, EarthBound is zany and offbeat, and Mother 3 is heartbreaking, dark, and mature, but Mother 3 is also funny, hopeful, and harrowing, just as EarthBound can be dark, unsettling, and even disturbing.
But analysis aside, the word “play” is still what matters to me most. When writing about EarthBound (Mother 2, in Japan), Itoi offered these sentimental words:
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 inside a toolbox.
Little flowers and leaves in the backyard.
And they were all laid down on the carpet with everybody singing made-up songs.
Ready to talk all day about the world they just made.
That, I think was how EarthBound was made.2
To Itoi, the Mother games are whims founds in toy chests, sandboxes, instances of shared imaginations and invented playthings. Mother games are an afternoon spent seeing your backyard as an enchanted forest. The “play” comes not just from the fact that someone is pressing buttons on a controller as things happen on a screen, but from how the play is done, and what is shared in imagination.
And that’s part of it, too. I want to play Mother 3 in a specific way so that I am encouraged to write about it in a specific way. Video games and how we communicate about them is, to me, still developing in an exciting way. I have tried in the past to play through EarthBound or Mother 3 while taking notes so that I could write essays or article about the series. None of these essays ultimately came to fruition, either, again, out of my own laziness, or out of a lack of resolve, but I haven’t lost any sleep over it. The way we talk about games might be most fun when our methods account for the unique way games present themselves. If I truly want to play the game and write about it, why not play frog by frog? Why not play patiently and give myself time to explore, time to play?
At this point, I feel like I’m getting too close to taking myself seriously again.
Honestly, I think writing this blog will simply help me play the game. I played and finished Mother 3 as soon as the official fan translation came out in 2008—I remember waiting for it for months and checking in on the website all the time. After the game cam out, I even uploaded a walkthrough to my little YouTube channel, hoping to be one of the first people on the site with footage of the game. However, since then, I don’t think I’ve ever finished Mother 3. I’ve started it a few times, and I’ve played EarthBound pretty consistently, but I always find excuses to not play Mother 3.
While I haven’t been able to find the interview again (but I will keep scouring the internet for it), I recall Itoi saying once that he wanted Mother 3 to be playable in short sessions so anyone could finish the game. Whether you played it for five minutes on the subway, or for an hour after school, anyone could eventually finish the game because there was always a save frog nearby. His intent for this, also, came from the fact that fans of EarthBound wouldn’t be kids anymore (EarthBound was released in 1994 in Japan), and would not be able to devote entire days to playing an RPG.
Again, I’ve been reading Itoi interviews over the past week or so (which mostly involves me digging around the lead translator for Mother 3, Clyde Mandelin’s, website), and somehow I have not come across this statement again in any of them. If anyone knows where he said this, or if he actually said this, please let me know. Whether or not it is true, I still hold the design of Mother 3, in regard to the save frogs, close to my heart. Like Itoi himself said:
The meaning behind a game changes a lot between players. Players add more than half of the meaning and value to games, which is more than any other mode of expression. So I feel like that half that you’ve added is entirely your own… My personal feelings steer me to want to affirm everything the player thinks about the game. I want to make Mother 3 a mirror. One that reflects the heart of the player off the screen.3
I understand there is an inherent unfairness in using this quote, in that I can now use it to prove any and all of my opinions and theories about Mother 3, but man, this is why I respect Itoi so much as a creator. While I can think of limitations and flaws that each of the Mother games has on a technical level, I can’t think of any time the games have ever felt limiting in their imaginative scope. They are eager to share. And I honestly believe that of all the fan communities that exist on the internet, the most inspired and dedicated fans are Mother fans. They have been producing all forms of art, inspired by the series, for nearly 30 years, and they have never slowed down. Another reason I was nervous to begin this blog for a while is because I didn’t think it could live up to half of the standard, or muster half the effort, that the passion projects of the Mother community have required. (Poking around http://starmen.net/ and its forums is a good place to start if you want to check out the work of the Mother community).
But the truth is that I never finish games anymore. Or at least, I rarely do. I tend to play games feverishly, in weekend-long bursts, dedicated to either finishing the game quickly and efficiently, or not finishing it at all. Where is the fun in that? Where is the play?
I want to finish Mother 3 for the first time in years. I want to take my time and play frog by frog. So that’s what I’ll be doing here for the next year or so. I’m not sure how many frogs are in the game. I don’t think I’ll attempt to post every day, but I’ll post more often than not, and I think I know pretty much how often I’d like to play, and pretty much how often I’d like to write.
So if you like Mother 3, follow the blog, and if you like playing Mother 3, try it frog by frog.
On Itoi interviews: if I ever cite Itoi, I am citing an English translation of one of his interviews. I cannot state enough how lucky I feel to even have access to these, as most of the translations have been done by fans (like Tomato, Chewy, and others) so that other fans can read and enjoy Itoi’s words. If you have ever read an interview and didn’t know who translated it, these are the people who have made it possible. I am going to cite every and any instance of an interview that I use on this blog, but if anyone ever notices me miss a citation or slip up, please let me know. The Mother community is full of so many talented, hardworking, and amazing people, and the last thing I want to do is take their work for granted.
For now, I am marking citations in the text, and including them below in a Citations section.
On the blog: this is the first WordPress site I have ever made, and I know it is fairly barebones. Please don’t hesitate to critique my site and let me know how I can make it better. I want the site and its blog posts to be as readable and non-abrasive as possible. If there’s something I can fix, something I can change, or something I’m doing that I can learn from, hop over to the Contact page or my Twitter to tell me. I am open to criticism and critique.
Clyde Mandelin, who with his team translated Mother 3 into English:
Lindsey Moore (aka, Chewy) who has translated Itoi’s words and shared them with everyone else for years: