Shigesato Itoi Elegantly Explains What EarthBound Means to Him
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"What is the video game, Earthbound?"
While we normally open any article with an introduction setting context, in this case we're going to keep it brief and say that Nintendo's Official EarthBound webpage has a wonderful piece of writing from the game's creator, Shigesato Itoi. It should be mandatory reading for fans of the game, and perhaps those that aren't, as it surely expresses the best of what creating a game can mean to its creator and audience. The full text is below.
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 found inside a toolbox.
Little flowers and leaves from the backyard.
And they were all laid down on the carpet with everybody singing made-up songs.
Ready to talk all day about that world they just made.
That, I think was how Earthbound was made.
Well, I’m a grown-up too,
so I didn’t hold back in adding things here and there,
like putting more angles here,
hiding a secret there,
and sometimes slipping in little mean things.
Then a whole lot of friends came over to play.
And they helped it grow as they were having fun as they pleased.
They gave it branches, leaves and flowers,
to what was once a simple story of just root and trunk.
For every person that played, there are that many iterations of Earthbound.
As I met different people on unrelated occasions,
they told me “I found out about you by playing Earthbound.”
This was not only right after the game was out.
People were telling me this after it’s been out for quite some time.
All sorts of people tell me about their memories,
about all the things I left in the playground called Earthbound.
From the tiny safety pins, broken pieces of colored glass to the withering leaves.
When I ask them, “how do you remember so much?”
With their eyes gleaming, they say,
“I love that world so much I remember everything about it.”
I reply right away saying “me too.”
Ah hah! That may be it.
Maybe I wanted to make a playground.
A playground filled with things no matter how small or unwanted,
they would all be kept dear in people’s hearts.
It looks like all my friends from around the world have discovered the theme to the game as they were playing – even though I didn’t think I gave it one.
That’s right, that’s something I also wanted to do all along.
I was already a grown-up at the time I was making Earthbound,
but now that thirty years have been added to my life, I’ve grown up even more.
I think about things that I didn’t back then.
Things like, “what kind of a person do I want to be when I die?”
I already know the answer to this one.
It’s “someone with a lively wake*.”
The person who passed away has to be in all sorts of different people’s memories.
What they’ve done, how stupid they were, what kind of things they did for fun,
and how kind that person was sometimes.
All the people who are still alive are laughing,
wanting to be the first one to bring up those things to everyone around them.
The life I want to live is something that can be concluded with that kind of a party-like wake.
Fame and fortune, setting records and accomplishments are all meaningless.
That person is inside those stories that are told,
where people talk about their episodes, casually and sincerely.
Well, it’s not dead, and it’s not even human,
but to me Earthbound is a game that’s kind of like that guy.
Now that you’ll be able to play Earthbound to your heart’s content,
I hope you’ll play it with someone and create all kinds of great, happy memories.
I’m glad that this day has come.
And I think everyone who had a part in making this game is very excited too.
Thank you for everything.
*The Japanese word Mr. Itoi used here is “otsuya”. Similar to a wake, an otsuya is a Japanese tradition where relatives and friends are invited the night before the funeral ceremony to talk about their memories of the departed, and to mourn the loss over dinner and drinks in addition to prayer.