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Mother Lover: The need for more strong mothers in gaming
by Andrew Testerman

It’s early May, and you know what that means: Marvel is releasing a new movie based on one of its many comic book properties. Apart from that, the end of spring marks a time when we Americans gather around our mothers, take them out to the Outback Steakhouse, and say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for not letting me buy that Atari Jaguar when I was twelve.” And since I’m a mother lover, I thought it might be fun to compile a list of the most memorable video game moms.

After about a half-hour, I gave up in frustration.

Granted, there must be several “Top X Best Moms in Video Games” lists (generated by more creative folks than I, because after fifteen minutes of thinking, the only thing I could come up with was Mother Brain), but mothers are still a relatively unexplored character archetype in gaming. After over 30 years, you’d think there might be at least one definitive motherly character, but to my recollection (and it is rather incomplete), there are fewer moms in gaming than cowboys and pirates. Everyone has a mom, but not everyone has a cowboy or pirate. Something’s backwards.

Fathers, by contrast, have seen quite a bit of exposure in video games. Fathers are played from a multitude of angles: someone for the protagonist to follow in the footsteps of (Dante and Sparda, Fox McCloud and James McCloud, Ezio Auditore and Giovanni Auditore, etc.) or someone to pit the protagonist against (Solid Snake and Big Boss, Tidus and Jecht, Alucard and Dracula, etc.). Lately, several game characters have even explored the protective, paternal instincts of fatherhood, such as Sazh, Nier, and John Marston.

Why, then, are there so few mothers in gaming today? Where is my video game equivalent of Mrs. Brisby? Perhaps being maternal is a weakness, and surrenders any levels of badass the woman may have had beforehand? Bullcrap; tell that to a mother grizzly while you’re trying to sneak away with her cubs. Perhaps it’s because of the dearth of overtly married characters in gaming? This makes a bit more sense. Coupled with the lack of female lead protagonists in general, there’s almost no place for a strong, motherly figure in the world of gaming.

But, like the Lost Boys, the video game world needs strong, motherly figures if it wants achieve a multitude of diverse experiences — there are only so many times someone can play as a grizzled space marine or silent, world-saving protagonist. The bond between a mother and her child carries a strong emotional resonance, and there are many more avenues for maternal-themed storytelling than “Have fun on your grand adventure, dear.”

Let’s invent a game right now, and incorporate a strong mother as a major element; let’s say it’s a sidescroller, to keep it simple. One option is to cast her as Mario: her children have been captured and are being held by some great demon. With this option, she could face many setbacks on her way to find her children, becoming weary or discouraged, but never losing hope. Another option is to cast the mother as a nurturing character, either as an NPC who assists the player, or if the player is supposed to use her to nurture a companion through the environment. Heck, if the game’s protagonist is female, there are many opportunities for mother-daughter bonding, helping establish character moments between the two. Several of these scenarios have been done in other games, but having the character as a mother adds a different, more maternal context that could be potentially affecting.

My two favorite examples of strong, motherly figures in gaming come from the same game series: the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Olga Gurlukovich from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is the perfect example of a mother who can completely kick ass while staying true to her maternal nature. Olga goes to unfathomable lengths to ensure the safety of her daughter, disguising herself as Grey Fox and fighting against friends and family members in order to keep her daughter, Sunny, alive. On a more metaphorical (but no less impactful) side is The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. During the early 1940s, The Boss founded a special forces group called Cobra Unit, and nurtured the group until its strength was great enough to contribute heavily to the Allied victory. At the end of the game, The Boss sacrifices herself and her reputation as a patriot in order to prevent the United States from going to war against Russia — like many good moms, she is willing to be the bad guy if it means her baby will grow up making the right decisions.

The masculine-centric landscape of today’s AAA risk-free franchises make it difficult to find a new, compelling way to write a motherly character, but perhaps the downloadable space will provide additional takes on this important character archetype. Certainly with all of the brothers, sisters, fathers, sons, daughters, and grandparents featured in games today, there could be room at the table for dear old mum.

...cause moms are tough.

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- Andrew Testerman

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