I remember when I first laid eyes on Earthbound. I was eight-years-old and had returned home from a vacation with my family. My aunt—who was watching our house and is also a gamer–had left me a present on our kitchen counter. And that, my friends, was the first time I laid eyes on Earthbound.
At that time, all I really knew were platformers like Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. But Earthbound was like a game I had never played before. Thanks to its vast open world, snarky sense of humor and interactive characters, I was introduced to another side of the videogame spectrum I never knew existed. At a time when I didn’t have any real freedom (hell, I was only eight!), Earthbound allowed me to venture outside of my living room and into a virtual world where I could wander the city with my friends, purchase a cheeseburger, hit the shopping mall, and live a grown-up life through the eyes of a child.
And I would spend countless hours doing just that.
In fact, I’d create a story for Ness and his party; one that differed from the plot itself. I’d wake up at my house in Onett and visit my mother. Afterwards I’d catch the bus to Fourside—not before making a pit stop in Threed to buy lunch—so I could watch the Venus concert. If I had some extra cash, I’d visit Summers and stay in a fancy seaside resort. Later, I’d order a large Mach Pizza and roam the beach until the deliveryman caught up with me.
But Earthbound wasn’t all fun and games. For the first time in my life, a videogame had instilled fear in me, and for that reason alone Earthbound will always be significant. The city of Threed was probably the creepiest place I had ever ventured to in a videogame. The town was shrouded in constant darkness—a sharp contrast to previous towns Onett and Twoson–and the darkness was accompanied by gloomy music to boot. Did I mention it was also happened to be inhabited by ghouls, ghosts, zombies, zombie dogs and living puppets?
Every time I saw a zombie dog lurking behind a tree I’d run into the nearest building and take a breather. I felt safe inside the lit room of a department store or bakery. But I knew it would be a completely different story should I step back through that door and into the streets of Threed. When I finally mustered up the courage to venture outside, I’d take caution not to wander too deep into the woods and I’d stay clear of the cemetery, which is, you know, detrimental to plot progression.
Kudos to you, Earthbound, for being the first game to scare the you-know-what out of a poor eight-year-old girl.
Even with a minor case of PTSD that stemmed from my traumatizing experience in Threed, Earthbound still means the world to me. It was sixteen years ago that I allowed myself to become enveloped in a virtual world for the first time, and that I discovered a new medium in which I was able to let my childhood imagination run wild. Earthbound made me realize that videogames could instill emotions like fear, excitement and anxiousness in me. The idea that these little black and grey cartridges could do such a thing absolutely blew my mind.
And for that, Earthbound is a game I will always treasure.