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The Evolution Of Maternal Relationships

So, it's Mothers' Day, which is kind of a big deal. Yesterday, I was thinking of doing a "Top Ten Mothers in Gaming" blog in celebration, but then I realized something: someone else is most likely going to do it too. Thus, I faced a dilemma, and was confused about how I should celebrate the holiday. I then thought about writing a more analysis-oriented piece about maternal relationships within the world of gaming, and how they have evolved over time. While I did manage to come up with several examples of how relationships between mothers and their offspring have grown more complex, I also realized something important: there is a noticeable lack of fully realized maternal relationships, though the ones I could think of/found prove to be good ones.

Yeah, that's probably one of the most famous quotes from a mother in a game.

SPOILERS FOR MOTHER 3, F.E.A.R., CHRONO TRIGGER, SILENT HILL, METAL GEAR SOLID 3, AND BIOSHOCK IFIINTE FOLLOW

Before I get into the whole "lack" aspect of the industry though, let's take a journey back through time to see how the relationships that do exist have evolved over time, becoming more and more complex. For a quick summary of what my focus is with "maternal relationships", it's there being some sort of interaction between a mother and her son/daughter, or, in gaming sense, something/someone that views something/someone else in a maternal sense. And maternal simply means "motherly", or related to a mother.

One of the earliest examples I could think of in our industry that had some sort of maternal relationship is Crono and his mother from the SNES classic Chrono Trigger. This static relationship between the two is not a main part of the storyline at all, and can be entirely bypassed by the player. Crono's mother is unaware of her son's time-traveling adventure(except in certain endings), and never even learns that at one point her son was deceased. While Crono is able to visit her during the adventure, she simply comments on any new party members in the group, but doesn't contribute anything new to them as characters. Sure, someone could say "ah Crono's drifting away from his mother by not telling her anything!", but that isn't built up over time, or really elaborated upon. Nor does it have an impact on how the characters interact with each other. This early maternal relationship can be interpreted as laying a groundwork for the future, but ultimately doesn't really stand out, besides that first "Good morning, Crono!"...which isn't part of the relationship really...

Another SNES title that had some sort of maternal relationship is the very famous Super Metroid(yes, I know, CT came out after SM, but I wanted an early example of how a maternal relationship wasn't really developed). The interaction in this game is between a baby Metroid, that hatched in front of Samus at the end of Metroid II, and Samus herself, as the baby believed Samus to be its mother. Although Super Metroid goes further than Chrono Trigger in exploring a maternal dynamic, it still doesn't do it to a large extend. Halfway through Samus' fight against Mother Brain, the baby comes out to save her, and sacrifices itself in the process. The development between the two of them is really just the baby remembering Samus is its "mother", and spares her with one unit of life instead of killing her prior to the fight, and then sacrificing itself for her. We see the relationship between the two reach new heights, and one taking acts on behalf of the other, but we're still in this area of having to infer things that happened.

I think I prefer the Dahlia from Shattered Memories...way more spunky...

Moving beyond the SNES, let's also take a much darker detour, to a town in Maine: Silent Hill. The original title was praised for its atmosphere and unique approach to survival horror, which was more exploration focused than Resident Evil. Not just only did it take survival horror in a new route, but it also did one of the earliest examples of a truly dynamic mother-daughter relationship, between Dahlia and Alessa Gillespie. Dahlia, Alessa's mother, and member of Silent Hill's local freak cult The Order, attempted to impregnate her daughter with the cult's deity through immolation, by trapping her in their burning home. This creates the conflict that later leads to the events of the game, and one of the first notable negative maternal relationships in gaming. Through this arc, we see Alessa work with Harry Mason, the protagonist of the game, against her own mother, who attempted to use her for her own personal gain. Because of there being an actual conflict that both the mother and the child are involved in, we see how their relationship changes over time, which is, to the extent of my knowledge, one of the first real times this happens in a video game.

Jumping past the PS1/N64 era, we start to see more complex and notable relationships appear. While not exactly super noteworthy, one that can be seen is the relationship between Link and his grandmother in The Wind Waker. Although someone could write this off as being the same as Crono and his mother, there is the fact that Link's grandmother knows about her grandson's quest, and thus grows as a character, and the relationship between them is different; she begins to treat him as a more capable, mature grandson, which reflects how most real maternal relationships happen over time.

The Boss is...well, The Boss.

Finally, with the third Metal Gear Solid title, we see a real, amazingly well developed maternal relationship; that of The Boss, and Naked Snake. While The Boss wasn't Snake's real mother, and was also known as "The Mother of Special Forces" to the United States, she was foremost a maternal mentor to Snake in life, and combat. Their relationship is one that isn't really seen anywhere else I can think of, and would doubt any other truly like it exists in any form of fiction. It's so compelling and unique. The Boss and Snake developed combat methods together, as well as becoming "more than friends, soldiers, or lovers". When EVA asks Snake about The Boss during Snake Eater, he talks about her like she was his mother, and refers to her as a mother figure to himself. While this relationship is hard for me to understand, as well as some others, the sheer fact of how well executed it was stands testament to how much this relationship can evolve, into something so deep and well crafted.

The lovely Hinawa...forever in the hearts of Lucas, Claus, and Flint...

One major driver of some conflicts in video games is revenge, or the death of a loved one spurring some sort of action. The never-localized Mother 3 stands as one of these games, with the death of Lucas' mother, Hinawa. While this may not technically be a maternal relationship between a mother and son who are both alive and experiencing new developments as mother and son, it does highlight how strong a motherly bond can be. The early death of her has a profound effect on Lucas, even three years after, when the main part of the game takes place, to the point where he chases what he thinks to be her ghost in a field of sunflowers. While those of us who experience loss in the real world know how gut-wrenching it can be, seeing it displayed in a game does two things: one, it allows the player to relate to the character, and two, it shows how strong this relationship can be built up in game between two characters. 

Getting into the modern era of gaming, I have a couple more examples left that, while maybe not as well done as The Boss, do demonstrate how far games have come. The first is from the FPS series F.E.A.R., which features an interesting dynamic of the mother being one of the antagonists, similar to Silent Hill. Although, the relationship changes over time, with the Point Man and Paxton Fettel both having dynamic interactions with their mother, Alma Wade. Even though I don't feel like the confusing narrative of F.E.A.R. contributes much overall to how well a maternal relationship can be built in a game, I think it does show how complex and deep the capabilities for storytelling have come, along with the willingness of developers to explore this sot of relationship.

Not the best boss, but at least a display of how far we've come.

Finally, my last, and most recent example, is the acclaimed title BioShock Infinite. The maternal part of this game is from Lady Comstock and Elizabeth's fight towards the latter half of the game. Although many people seemed to not understand what it was about, I got it pretty much immediately, and wasn't really dissatisfied with it, except for the actual boss fight itself. In the conflict between Lady Comstock and Elizabeth, the problem is them both hating one another for feeling like the other one ruined their lives. However, they're both able to find a common ground in hating Zachary Hale Comstock, and thus, their conflict ends with Lady Comstock finally resting in peace in the afterlife. Like I note above-this last example is here because it shows some of the experimentation that developers have been willing to take with maternal conflicts. 

So, overall, there has been a nice progression of how the gaming industry has experimented with maternal relationships and conflicts. The main transition has been from placeholder mothers, like in the Pokemon series, to more dynamic characters who the player cares about a lot, like The Boss and Hinawa. Though, I still think that we've yet to see real dynamics examined between mothers and their children. For example, a game that involved the player as the mother in some function, and having to deal with making story choices that could affect their in-game child. Or, vice versa, with seeing how a character's mother responded to GTA like actions. In any case, despite how far we've come...we've got a long ways to go. I look forward to seeing how Wii U, PS4, and Xbox Whatever-its-name-is explore this dynamic.

That's all for from me-Happy Mothers' Day to you mothers out there, and I hope you enjoyed this! Please comment below!

Oh, and blog number 75! Yay.

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