Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Earthbound Cult

Within Fangamer, there's a common thread with many of the workers: we are Earthbound fans, and have been for a long time. To an outside observer, I'm sure that the Mr. Saturns and Starmen all over the place must look strange.

If you've never played Earthbound, very likely we'll recommend that you do. It was a game that was very important to us, affecting our lives so deeply that I'm sometimes afraid it might frighten people, as if we're part of a cult or something. I'm sure it confuses a few people, so I'll try to explain it as best I can.

I joined Earthbound.Net sometime in late 1999, I think.

I remember clearly taking some of my first steps into the wide world of the Internet. I didn't know where to even begin. Eventually I know I typed in, which lead to a website about gardens or something. Now it's a website that I guess will build a Wordpress site for you? Huh.

Anyway, I knew just enough about the Internet to try .net instead (and, failing that, .org). Sure enough, my persistence paid off: I found a community that had artwork, writing, and all sorts of stuff about Earthbound. I think it was around that time I started trying to figure out a way to contribute--by writing a fanfiction about Buzz Buzz's origin story. Eventually I joined the forums, and that was that: Earthbound.Net became Starmen.Net, my home on the Internet for years to come.

I wasn't sure at the time why Earthbound stood out over the other games I had played. I definitely had a Playstation by that time, and I had played plenty of RPGs. I didn't even own the game, and none of my friends had it. I probably hadn't played it in years.

And although I eventually played through it, my first memories of Earthbound weren't terribly pleasant: I liked the style, but I had never played RPGs before and couldn't beat Frank. Yet, for some reason I kept going back to the game, especially after I learned how to properly play RPGs thanks to Chrono Trigger. I just kept renting it until I beat it. Or maybe I first beat it on a friend's copy? I don't recall.

Regardless, that friend who bought the game had moved away by 1999. Funny enough, it wasn't until I was a part of the EB community that I really started noticing the brilliance of the game: its funny characters and dialogue, the weird mythology, the horrors these kids faced, and of course the game's irreverent self-awareness. I don't know for sure if Earthbound was the first game to do what it did as well as it did, but it was the first one I experienced.

I honestly think the game aged very well, and many RPGs still have some lessons to learn from it. I'm not a fan of nostalgia; rather than looking back at the glory days of the past, I prefer to look forward and figure out how to improve things. To that end, I think Earthbound is a font of ideas on how to move forward, imparting life lessons that you can take with you an use for the rest of your life.

In its own way, I think the game influenced my sense of humor, my patience, and my drive to be a thoughtful person, whether or not I'm successful in those areas. It also inspired no small amount of irreverence in me. It was not the only thing that shaped who I grew up to be, but I would be remiss if I didn't give it some credit for shaping parts of my personality.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the game brought together many people and gave me a sense of community I'm pretty sure I never felt before. As a quiet, shy outcast who was perpetually unsure of himself and had relatively few friends growing up, I lacked much connection to the world around me. I had no community that shared my interests, and I was too shy and slow to speak to talk about it with anyone anyway.

A forum was different. I could think out what I wanted to say, and I had something to actually talk to people about. While I was slow to post at first, I eventually gained the confidence to participate more and more in my relatively quiet way. Starmen.Net was a training ground for an adolescent mind that needed to figure out what it thought.

In the end, it led to many of my current friendships, not to mention my job and my girlfriend. It's strange to think I owe that much to a video game, but I don't even want to think about where I'd be today without it.

So, if you ever wonder why some of us are as obsessed with Earthbound as we are... well, I can't speak for everyone, but for myself there have been few things that have affected my life this much. Even though there are other games I've enjoyed more, I can't say that any of them have affected my life in such a profound manner.

Is it really any wonder I love the game?

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