The Super Nintendo looks like a pallid tank. The early video game consoles look undeniably utilitarian, as if the rush to get them to market provided time for nothing more than plastic housing and functional controllers.
The Austrian architect Adolf Loos—a recipient of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s patronage—gave a lecture in 1910 titled Ornament and Crime. It’s a wild text, narcissistic and riled and preachy, delivered by an architect-gone-ideologue in love with America. There’s a line from the speech that went on to majorly impact architecture: The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects. In the Villa Moller, a house Adolf designed in 1927, I see the blocky origins of the Super Nintendo.
Eleven seconds into EarthBound’s opening, a high-pitched whine fades in. Red and yellow static fills the screen—a glitchy bloodstream.
In 1987, Nintendo took a pitch from Shigesato Itoi because of his copywriting work and, arguably, his fame. He brought his first written video game proposal to Shigeru Miyamoto—who had already created Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda—but Miyamoto’s neutral reaction left Itoi in tears on the bullet train back to Tokyo. The next day, though, Miyamoto abruptly came around and development began on Mother, a peculiar game for Nintendo’s Famicom.
Its title borrowed from the John Lennon song, Mother was released in Japan on July 27, 1989, twelve days before I was born.
Nintendo’s decision to push Mother 2 to the Super Famicom was wise: The console attracted such a frenzy of consumers upon its release that the Japanese government asked Nintendo to schedule future console releases on the weekend in order to avert major dips in productivity, and the first shipments of Super Famicom systems to retailers were performed at night, warded from rumored Yakuza hijackers.
Mother is not an enjoyable game, really, but it founded the working relationships necessary for Shigesato to get EarthBound made. I respect the game for that, but from a distance.
Mother also marked the beginning of the collaboration between Itoi and his composer Keiichi Suzuki, frontman for the eccentric and innovative Japanese rock band, Moonriders. Oddly enough, I’d unknowingly listened to Keiichi Suzuki’s other band, The Beatniks, but probably ten years after playing EarthBound by way of an Aphex Twin remix of the song “Une Femme N’est Pas Un Homme.”
Starmen.net is the fifteen-year-old hub of EarthBound fandom. It’s a staggering networked monument to communal love. Innumerable angles of appreciation for the game are found within its digital walls.
From Nick Paumgarten’s excellent profile on the creator of Princess Zelda and the Mario brothers: “Miyamoto explored a bamboo forest behind the town’s ancient Shinto shrine and bushwhacked through the cedars and pines on a small mountain near the junior high school. One day, when he was seven or eight, he came across a hole in the ground. He peered inside and saw nothing but darkness. He came back the next day with a lantern and shimmied through the hole and found himself in a small cavern. He could see that passageways led to other chambers. Over the summer, he kept returning to the cave to marvel at the dance of the shadows on the walls.”
EarthBound is a story about a world invaded and manipulated by evil, but like boogeymen hiding underneath the bed, it’s an evil that has been designed to be defeated by children.
EarthBound’s official soundtrack—only released in Japan—contains an hour of music split into 24 tracks. But EarthBound actually contains 170 tracks that take up a third of its 24-megabit cartridge. Though the complete in-game soundtrack takes up 183.5 megabytes on my computer, which is weird to consider, because 24 megabits—the largest storage capacity for Super Nintendo cartridges—is equivalent to just 3 megabytes.
If we were to take EarthBound’s early hours as material evidence of Shigesato Itoi’s impressions of American culture, we would have to consider cruel parents, small-town gangs, abusive cops, weak-willed politicians, usurious property owners, and murderous religious cults as the case.
EarthBound’s score could serve as a textbook example of how to smuggle eclectic, diverse musical styles into a piece of popular entertainment. Its biggest influence is the idiosyncratic and wide-band ethos of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Following that trail, EarthBound analysts have linked the score to other classics of late-60s and early-70s American rock, but also to music as disparate as Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, pre-Great Depression era ragtime, heavy metal, and Chuck Berry’s poodle-skirt twirling rock and roll.
If Dadaism, waterlogged funhouse music, neon lighting, and creepy black velvet paintings all fucked and had a child, it would be Moonside.
Styled after a resort town like Cannes or Nice, Summers quickly becomes the source of my favorite lines in the game. I took so many photos of my screen. Some favorites include: From a supine male sunbather, one arm up as if holding an invisible tray: “Only a tanning pro like me is able to get an actual suntan on the palms of his hands!”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”
A Brief and Impressionistic History of My Video Game Playing, With Many Experiences Omitted for Everyone’s Sake: EarthBound: See entire book. Impenetrable mush of various early DOS and Atari games: I remember colors, shapes, and movement without definitive forms or objectives.
Shigesato Itoi said: “Everyone would get together to watch shows like Lucy, Gunsmoke, Flipper, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Twilight Zone. That was our picture of America—Father Knows Best and Leave It To Beaver. I love to think of America as a place like that.”
The fight begins. Your threshold for pain decided by the work you have done before.
In the age of cultural abundance, you never have to finish a game.