Every so often, I hear the question being thrown around, "What is the Citizen Kane of video games?" I'm sure plenty of people have tried to answer the question. I read one article saying that Metroid Prime Trilogy for the Wii was the closest to being compared to what is often considered the best film of all time. I've also read an article that briefly mentioned The Last of Us as being the best game for the comparison.
I've always viewed Citizen Kane as a movie that wasn't just very good but also very innovative and very influential. Although I can't pick a single game that BEST fits these three features, I'm pretty sure it would have to be something from Shigeru Miyamoto. I think where video game developers are concerned, he's the guy who's released, on average, the best, most innovative, and most influential games in history. So if you want a Citizen Kane of the video game world, just go through his library of games and pick your favorite. Chances are it's either a Mario game or a Legend of Zelda game, honestly.
It's not as often that I hear, "What is the 2001: A Space Odyssey of video games?" Well, I'm here to ask AND answer that question, with the help of some images and videos I pulled off the Internet.
What IS the 2001: A Space Odyssey of video games? I'm going to say it's Earthbound.
WARNING: This is a deep analysis so spoilers should be expected for the Mother games, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Stephen King's It.
I'm probably not the first one to make this claim. I'm sure others have. But here is my reasoning for the comparison.
The first thing that will come to your mind is the obvious: 2001 was an acid trip and Earthbound was an acid trip. So, naturally, they go together. That point IS in my argument but there's a lot more to it. I've divided up my argument into 4 main points:
I. Similar overall sense of WTF
II. HAL Laboratory
III. Hidden meanings/references
IV. Conflicting reports
My argument will be focusing more on #3, with a few extra points to be made in the other categories. So, let's get to it.
I. Similar overall sense of WTF
This is my acid trip point. As everyone who has played the game knows, Earthbound has its incredibly weird moments. Just looking at the background during battles shows not a shot of the environment around the characters or even a simple black backdrop but a completely warbled mess.
No, I don't mean the creature. Those weird lines behind it!
Sometimes, the backgrounds are part of the creature itself, like with the Boogey Tent.
Every so often, particularly during Your Sanctuary battles, the background will have a circular design, looking somewhat like a target.
Interestingly, you can also find circular designs in the ships of 2001.
It may very well just be coincidence. I'm not necessarily trying to say that the designs in Earthbound are some kind of reference to 2001. I'm just saying that the images above look similar, to me anyway.
Earthbound's backgrounds were sometimes very random and sometimes followed some kind of pattern or fit some kind of shape. This imagery is part of what we remember about the game. Imagery is also part of what we remember about 2001. Apparently, circles are an ongoing theme throughout the movie.
The imagery in the movie gets REALLY crazy near the end, when David Bowman enters the monolith near Jupiter and sees this:
This is crazy stuff, right? Some of it is comparable to the zany backgrounds in Earthbound's battles, particularly during the fight against Giygas.
The craziness doesn't stop with the imagery. Sometimes the dialog gets weird. In 2001, HAL's dialog becomes quite unsettling when Bowman tries to deactivate it. You can watch the scene here:
The villain in Earthbound, Giygas, has similarly unsettling dialog when Ness and his friends are close to beating him. He says things like "...I'm h...a...p...p...y," "It's not right... not right... not right," "I feel... g... o... o...d," "...friends..." "...go... b... a... c...k..." "...It hurts, ...it hurts..." "Argh... Yaaagh!..." "It hurts, Ness..." "Ah, Grrr, Ohhh..." "...I'm so sad... .....Ness," "...Ness..." "Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness, Ness ....."
The music itself can be weird, too. In 2001, every time the monolith made its appearance, this eerie tune would play:
Yes, 2001 used it before the 2014 Godzilla trailer.
In Earthbound, the weirdest music plays during the final battle:
Also, we can joke about Earthbound being an acid trip of a game, but it definitely seems like Ness is indeed on some kind of substance when he enters Moonside. As it turns out, that whole world is an illusion. Though I suppose it could be more influence of the Mani Mani Statue rather than any actual substance.
Magicant is also weird in its own way.
II. HAL Laboratory
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the HAL 9000 is a sentient computer that supposedly malfunctions and decides to kill the astronauts when they plan to deactivate it. In Earthbound, HAL is... one of the actual developers of the game. Now, this is actually a weak point to make in my argument but I thought it was something worth covering.
Personally, I think that the name of the developer, HAL Laboratory, is truly a reference to 2001. This belief of mine is part of the reason why I don't visit the site didyouknowgaming.com anymore. Back in February of 2013, they posted this article:
In short, the article says that the name "HAL" was used because each letter is one place ahead of the letters in "IBM." They site a comment Satoru Iwata, one of Earthbound's programmers back in the 90's, made during an Iwata Asks interview with another developer.
In my opinion, the comment really only tells half the story. DYKG really should have put in a little more effort and done some more research to fill in the rest. The rest being that the name HAL was inspired by the movie 2001.
Iwata states in the interview that they named their company HAL because each letter put them one step ahead of IBM. After he makes this comment in the interview, he laughs (along with everyone else in the room).
Keep in mind that HAL Laboratory was founded in 1980. 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in theaters in 1968. In that same year, Stanley Kubrick, the director of 2001, in an interview said, "Just to show you how interpretations can sometimes be bewildering: A cryptographer went to see the film, and he said, 'Oh, I get it. Each letter of HAL's name is one letter ahead of IBM...' It would have taken a cryptographer to notice that."
So the concept of naming something HAL based on the letters coming before IBM predates the founding of HAL Laboratory by 12 years and was initially brought up in reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I bet that the naming of HAL and its relation to IBM was a subject people talked about back when the movie first came out.
So the reasoning behind HAL Laboratory being given their name cannot simply be that the game developer wanted to be "one step ahead" of IBM. This is a concept that was taken from conversations that were being held around the time of 2001's release by people questioning the naming of the film's evil computer. This must be a reference to the movie, even if it's a somewhat indirect one.
Anyway, moving on.
III. Hidden meanings/references
Here's the real meat of my argument.
Stanley Kubrick loaded his movies with little details, often by using imagery and sometimes by using dialog that gave his movies more meaning than what was on the surface. 2001 is definitely no exception.
I'm NOT going to get into specifics with 2001 as someone else has done a much better job and I would just be echoing his analyses. All that I've learned about 2001's hidden themes I've learned by watching Rob Ager's film analyses on Youtube. You can find much of his work on Youtube at and his other Youtube channels.
Recommended videos include "2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY meaning of the monolith revealed" and "How Stanley Kubrick used HAL to depict IBM in 2001: A Space Odyssey," if they're still on Youtube anyway.
For more on 2001, you can read his in-depth analysis on his site at
Just click on Film Analysis and then click on the first 2001: A Space Odyssey link.
The Stanley Kubrick of Earthbound was Shigesato Itoi. He has stated that he is a fan of mind-bending works of fiction, like the TV shows Lost and Twin Peaks, the latter being huge in Japan during the early '90s. These shows had loads of hidden themes under the surface.
It's no wonder that hidden themes can be found in Earthbound as well. I've grouped them into four main categories: Mother, Giygas, the human body, and the 4th wall. I'd cover music as well and all the references to The Beatles and real life events at the time, but that would enter territory that, while interesting, would take way too long to cover (this game is LOADED with references) and wouldn't directly add to my main argument.
If you're a fan of Earthbound, you should know that the game was originally called Mother 2 in Japan. Mothers appear to be an ongoing theme throughout the series. In the first Mother game, often called Earthbound 0 by Western fans, the town of Podunk was originally called Mother's Day. Additionally, the character of Maria, Ninten's great-grandmother, loved the alien creature and main antagonist Giegue, or Giygas, (Gyiyg in Japan) as if he were her own child. Although Giegue loved Maria like a mother, he
still carried out the plan set forth by his people to invade Earth. It's not until Ninten and his friends sing Maria's lullaby during a final confrontation that Giegue is defeated and retreats.
During the events of Earthbound, Giegue, now known as Giygas, makes his return. This time, however, he's battling Ness, Earthbound's protagonist, from the past, possibly to avoid his impending doom as prophesized by the Apple of Enlightenment. The mother theme does not appear to be as prevalent in this game. However, when the heroes finally travel to the past to face Giygas, he seems to have gone through some kind of metamorphosis. There will be more on that later.
I personally felt there was a more ongoing father figure theme present throughout Earthbound. Ness saves his game by calling his dad, who is ever present as a phone (Ninten's dad was similar). You never see him in person and I wonder if Ness himself has ever seen him in person. When Ness travels around the globe, he encounters several characters who serve as temporary father figures, such as Franky, Everdred, and Dr. Andonuts, the actual father of Jeff, one of Ness's friends. Additionally, you don't get to see the father or mother of Poo, another of Ness's friends, so you're left to assume that he was raised by his master. Unlike Ness, Pokey, the other main antagonist in the game, does get to see his father, but he is not a good guy at all. Paula gets to see her father but, although he is present, he's all but worthless.
The mother and father are important to the plot in Mother 3. Hinawa, the mother of the game's protagonist, Lucas, and his brother Claus, dies during an invasion of the Pigmask Army. This occurs during the first chapter of the game where you're in control of the boys' father, Flint. It is the words of Hinawa's spirit that bring Claus to his senses during the final battle in Mother 3, at least long enough for him to cast lightning at Lucas, knowing it would be deflected back onto himself by Lucas's Franklin Badge, thus ending his own life. In this way, the final battle is won in a thematically similar fashion to the first Mother game, where the memories of the antagonist's mother are what ultimately lead to that villain's defeat.
The final battle in Earthbound is different in this regard... with an exception I'll cover in a bit.
There are a few things going on with Giygas in Earthbound. Earlier, I had made a comparison of Giygas to HAL from 2001, specifically his weird dialog with Ness during their final battle. But I would say that overall, Giygas actually has more in common with Pennywise the Dancing Clown from Stephen King's It.
Wait, I'm serious!
Both appear to come from outer space. Both use mental powers and fight protagonists who have their own mental powers. Both use people to commit evil acts. Both have true appearances that cannot be fully comprehended. Both terrorize children. Additionally, for both characters, the protagonists must travel to the past for the final confrontation, figuratively in It and literally in Earthbound. Also, in the book It, the evil creature appears as a giant spider to the heroes who fight it.
Still with me? GOOD.
Giygas does not actually take this form during the final encounter, but he is accompanied by Pokey, who has encased himself inside a spider-like machine.
A major difference between these two villains is that while Pennywise is revealed to be a mother, carrying hundreds if not thousands of little creatures inside itself, Giygas is arguably a being that has been returned to a fetus-like state.
It probably would've been more fitting for Giygas to have revealed itself to be a mother as well, considering the original name of the game, but then the character would've lost all ties to his previous incarnation in the first game. Some serious retcons would've had to take place. Plus, his appearance, which I'll go over next, does lend to the ongoing mother theme but in a different way.
When Ness finally encounters Giygas in the past, he appears to be a being of pure power contained inside an organic-looking machine. I'm not entirely sure what happened to his body or why he is trapped inside of a machine but there are a few possible explanations. It is mentioned during the events of Earthbound that time travel can potentially destroy living things, which is why the consciousness of Ness and his friends are transferred into mechanical bodies when they travel to the past. So one possibility is that when Giygas traveled to the past, his body became damaged and he had to keep his essence inside of a machine. Or it could simply be the case that his body was destroyed by the accumulation of so much power and that time-travel wasn't what placed him in that condition. It's also possible that Giygas transferred his consciousness into a machine in order to survive time-traveling and that his real body is somewhere else in time.
Either way, when Ness and his friends encounter him, it looks as if he's undergoing some kind of change. In a way, Giygas is being reborn into something much more powerful and awful than what he was before. He might not LITERALLY be a fetus, but his final appearance suggests that he's at least symbolically a fetus. This imagery shows that when you face Giygas's true form, you're clearly not facing him at his strongest. He still has potential to become something even greater and more horrific, if that's possible. Below is an image of Giygas in his final form with the shape of a fetus outlined.
You may have seen this image before. It looks like the distorted ultrasound of a fetus, copy-and-pasted over and over.
Here is another image I found online that highlights the shape of a fetus.
Here is an image of an actual ultrasound.
And here is Mickey.
Some people have tossed around the idea that Ness and his friends are trying to induce an abortion. While there is clear imagery that suggests that Giygas is some kind of fetus, I don't think an abortion is part of the symbolism. I think the purpose of the imagery was to show that Giygas, in his final form, was a new being in its infancy. Going back to 2001, it's similar to Bowman's transformation into the Starchild you see at the end of the film.
Both are even presented in fetus form, though I suppose the fetus imagery for Giygas is a little more ambiguous.
By now, people already know that Giygas's presentation in the game was inspired by the memories Itoi had of a scene from the Japanese film "The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty." In the same interview where Itoi mentioned this film (one done on his 1101.com website back in 2003), he added, "Basically, Giygas is something you can't make sense of, you know? But there's also a part to him that's like a living being that deserves love." This line perfectly describes Giygas's final appearance in Earthbound. At first glance, he's a distorted being you can't make any sense of, but on closer inspection, he's just a baby, a "living being that deserves love."
C. The Human Body
Certain functions of the human body, particularly a woman's body, are used as representations of the unique changes that occur with some of the characters in the Mother series.
In a translated interview with Itoi from Nintendo Dream magazine, when asked about how Lucas learns his PSI powers in Mother 3, Itoi said, "It's like menstruation." He continues, "A character will start sweating while realizing PSI, almost like with a teething fever." He even flat out states in the interview, "One of my themes is representing the physiology of the human body."
Imagery that uses human physiology is also found in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The ships throughout the movie have been described as sperm-like and egg-like in shape. Thus, Bowman's journey through space in the Discovery 1 could be viewed as a sperm cell traveling through the womb. Bowman's rebirth at the end is the outcome of this odyssey.
This brings me back to Giygas's metamorphosis into a new being at the end of Earthbound. This change he is going through is symbolized by his fetus-like appearance during the final stages of the battle. But there is other imagery that suggests that Giygas is going through almost a literal rebirth. The "Devil's Machine" itself, which is containing Giygas during this transformation, looks like a cervix.
I don't think seeing a fetus when looking at Giygas or seeing a cervix when looking at the Devil's Machine requires any stretch of the imagination.
There's also the entrance to Giygas's lair... but that's a bit of a stretch.
I also don't think that the appearance of Giygas and the Devil's Machine are just coincidence as that claim would have to be applied to not only the imagery itself but to their relationship to each other. Plus, considering the mother themes present throughout these games, why WOULDN'T there be at least some symbolic visual references to childbirth?
There is similar symbolism present with the villain in Mother 3 as well. During the end of the game, Pokey's ongoing pursuit for eternal youth ends with him entering the Absolutely Safe Capsule. This serves as a symbolic return to the womb for him. Though he can never escape from this device, he remains happy throughout the game's ending.
This next point is not related to the topic of the human body, but I thought I'd mention the final battle in Mother 3 between Lucas and Claus. At one point in that battle, Claus takes off his helmet and since the brothers are identical twins, it appears as if Lucas is fighting himself.
A similar scene happens when you first battle Giygas at the end of Earthbound. A face protrudes from the center of the Devil's Machine that resembles Ness's own face.
What this exactly means, I don't know. Ness is, at the time, inside the body of a robot so Giygas must have picked up his appearances through telepathy. As for why he took on this appearance, maybe it was a way to communicate. Maybe it was Giygas imitating Ness in a childlike way. It could be like something out of the movie The Abyss.
Or it could be something more nefarious. Whatever the reason, it's interesting to see that Mother 3's final battle contains moments that call back to similar events that occurred at the end of the two previous games. It truly is a fitting third, and most likely final, entry in the series.
D. The Fourth Wall
Rob Ager's analysis of the monolith in 2001 reveals that the characters touched the 4th wall several times throughout the film, with lasting effects on the story.
The imagery makes more sense when you view the monolith as a symbolic representation of the theater screen.
The fourth wall isn't fully broken until Bowman, as the Starchild, actually looks at the audience.
Earthbound, and the other games in the Mother series, also broke the 4th wall a few times. Once the game's story begins, you first notice instances of the 4th wall being broken when you you're being told how certain game mechanics work. It's expected in video games for the 4th wall to be broken for such purposes.
But later in the story, you, the player, are contacted twice by characters in the game to enter your own personal name. The same thing happens in Mother 3 and in both games, the name that's inputted is used during endgame events.
In Earthbound, according to in-game text, the player is one of the people who pray with Paula to put an end to Giygas. This is where the player's name is used. So the player actually has a direct, lasting impact on the game's story, though you don't necessarily have to pray in real life for Ness and his friends to win.
IV. Conflicting Reports
Considering how disturbing a concept like fighting a fetus is, even a symbolic one, I doubt Itoi would ever flat out state that what you are seeing at the end of Earthbound is a distorted image of a fetus. Especially since this is a Nintendo game and Nintendo is as family friendly as they come. But just because Itoi would never state it doesn't mean it can't be the case. Besides, sometimes artists don't want to reveal too much as they prefer that others interpret their work on their own.
Such was the case with Stanley Kubrick, though he had other reasons for keeping certain themes and narratives secret. I won't get into too many details because, again, you can find those on Rob Ager's site. However, I will refer you back to the HAL/IBM point from earlier. Rob Ager makes the argument that the reference to IBM isn't limited to the letters in HAL being one step ahead of IBM but that HAL actually represents IBM in the film. Just one example of this is HAL singing Daisy Bell when being shut down by Bowman. The first demonstration of synthesized speech in history was actually done by an IBM computer and it involved singing the song Daisy Bell.
But making this comparison public, especially when IBM helped fund the movie, would probably make it difficult for Kubrick to receive backing for future films.
Some of these themes, such as the HAL and IBM comparison, were written off as mere coincidence by others who worked with Kubrick, including Arthur Clark, who wrote the novelization of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In his book, The Lost Worlds of 2001, Clark says, "As is clearly stated in the novel (Chapter 16), HAL stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer. However, about once a week some character spots the fact that HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, and promptly assumes that Stanley and I were taking a crack at the estimable institution..."
It should be noted that the novelization contains story elements and descriptions that are very different from the film version.
Regarding Earthbound, I believe that Marcus Lindblom could be considered the Arthur Clarke of the game. Lindblom was the man who worked on the English translation of Earthbound for Western gamers. Regarding the abortion theory, Lindblom has said, "I think that this is a great instance of people reading in stuff that was probably never really intended... There's certainly nothing wrong with people doing that kind of thing. In reality, as far as we were ever concerned, nothing like that ever came up." While I could understand dismissing the abortion part, I don't think the fetus imagery can be so easily dismissed as just reading into something that wasn't intended. So, just as 2001's novelization cannot be used as a reliable source for understanding the themes from the movie, neither can Lindblom's word be used to understand Earthbound's themes. To be fair to Lindblom, though, he was simply stating his opinion and only worked on the localization of the game.
Well, I've made all the points I was planning on making. To clarify, this isn't an overall analysis of Earthbound. It's just a lengthy persuasive essay I typed up with some analyses thrown in to back up my point. I truly do believe that Earthbound is the 2001: A Space Odyssey of video games and, in a way, is the 2001: A Space Odyssey to a generation of kids and teens who played this game in the mid-90s.
Let me know if there are any points you'd like to add or if you think I made an error or whatever.
*Edit: I have no idea how to effectively post images with this comment system so I had to make some heavy edits to more or less retain the layout I had envisioned for this post.