EarthBound: A flying metal tube
EarthBound does not begin with a plane ride. This, to me, right now, is the one place where the game feels wrong. In 1995, a 10-year-old would have been able to get on an airplane alone. (I did, as a 10-year-old, and while I don’t remember specifically, chances are that I did as a 16-year-old in 1995 as well.) I’m not totally sure whether Ness should get on a plane at the very beginning, or whether he should start abroad, and then take a plane home after discovering a mysterious meteor. Ness starts the game at home, and a plane ride feels like it would be the perfect vehicle for the sense of dislocation that seems to drive EarthBound.
Ness starts his quest walking around the local town of Onett (yes, I’m still talking about the beginning, I’ll come back to that), a normal-ish place with a hotel, a bank, shops, and an arcade. Ness can buy hamburgers, a hat. It all seems perfectly natural, except that the player is seeing all this for the very first time. I don’t know the streets. I’ve never seen the people behind the counter before. And the hamburgers don’t just make you feel good, they restore your health. The hat is armor. The tough-looking kids at the arcade aren’t just up to no good, they attack you. It’s all perfectly normal, and perfectly strange.
At the beginning of this week, I got on a plane. A meteor just fell, and my family and I are looking for a new place to live. It feels a bit like we have super powers. We call people and they take us up unfamiliar stairways and unlock new doors. I’m driving a different car, listening to different sounds beamed in from space. Peanut butter doesn’t just make me feel good, it keeps me going.
I’ve been having a hard time distinguishing between my life and the game. I’m finding myself in places with names like Onett, Found Stone, Happy Happy, Sour Cherry. I’m looking at the same apartments in different colors. I’m looking at the same monsters in different colors. I’m doing things again and again.
At the beginning of this week, I got on a plane. Everything had changed already, but stepping into a pressurized metal tube and bouncing through the air gave me a transition, like a loading screen. I had to wait and look at things. There were stores, but the prices were different. A baseball hat was armor. I talk to people and they say the same things again and again. Things look similar, fall into the same patterns, but everything is totally different.
And there’s a light beneath everything. I’ve only caught a glimpse of it, and I have a long way to go, but I’m still chasing after it.
Next week: Back to the game, if I can start telling it apart from my life again.
Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.