Earthbound was an RPG for the Super Nintendo released around 1994. It remains to be one of the few games that has stuck in my mind for years for a multiplicative of reasons, and upon replaying for this assignment I was awestruck by how amazing the game presented itself to me. This game offers to it's audience, a brilliantly and vividly portrayed world for the audience to explore, which Johan Huizinga states as a core aspect of play: "We found that one of the most important characteristics of was it's spatial separation from ordinary life. A closed space is marked out for it" (Huizinga 113). Earthbound uses this element of play to attempt to parody many aspects of American culture within the world it represents. Instead of defeating hardened enemies to collect powerful weapons, we find Ness our protagonist buying supplies at the local supermarket, department store, or super mall complex, in much the same way a suburban mother does her family shopping during the course of a day. This is not only a humorous representation of Americans, but the comical portrayal of a young elementary school boy buying a baseball bat and cheeseburgers to supply himself to fight the greatest evil the world has ever seen seems like a preposterous idea.
However as Huizinga states, "play is not "ordinary" or "real" life. It is rather a stepping out of "real" life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition of it's own (Huizinga 103). Earthbound models itself after real life, using American culture in particular as its base, but pushes the bounds of the imagination to present to us the audience a world in which a child with his infinite faith in the universe can save all mankind from an impending doom, while having a sense of humorous irony. We giggle as Ness' capitalistic pig of a neighbor, in their luxurious house, mocks Ness' family and their home, while we see visually how Ness' house is smaller than the one next door. We enter his house to realize what it means to be home as Ness' mother states, "You look tired Ness, I'll fix you a steak and then you go straight up to bed, a mother knows these things." Though these are only a few examples of the vivid world induced through mimicry, as Roger Caillois stated, "All play presupposes the temporary acceptance, if not of an illusion, then at least of a closed, conventional, and, in certain respects, imaginary universe" (Caillois 135). The universe of Earthbound as fake as it may be mimics the real world to the point, I felt an emotional attachment to it.
Earthbound shines brightest at the end as the player faces the final boss. The traditional rules they have followed up to this point become uncertain and the player's own intuition must be utilized to find the solution to the goal. Normal attacks prove fruitless, and as the boss in a roar of confusion constantly wails on your party, all seems hopeless. In this hopelessness the player realizes they must pray to succeed and ask for the prayers of the world to ensure their safe return home. As the player does this the boss is vanquished and one realizes the true power play has to offer.