Finding Humanism: Earthbound

This is a new series where I find Humanist themes in pieces of media. Chances are the themes I extract were unintentionally placed, but art is meant to be interpreted by the individual. This is what I see in these pieces, and to me that makes the themes valid.


In nearly twenty years of playing video games there is only one game that can, without fail, stir emotions within me. No, it’s not Kingdom Hearts (and it never will be), it’s Mother 2– the alternative title for Earthbound I used to throw you off since I mentioned it was Earthbound twice already!

In 1995 a game was released for the Super Nintendo with charming graphics and an amazing soundtrack. It takes places in a 90’s America-esque world where four kids try to stop an alien invasion with baseball bats, frying pans, and psychic powers.

How’d it do at the time?

image from real magazine. Clipping found at

Image from Video Games & Computer Entertainment magazine. Clipping found at

Everybody hated it.

That’s because almost everyone, including myself, couldn’t stand Earthbound the first time they played it.

It just seemed boring. I hated the first person view battle style. The gameplay seemed to drag. The story never felt like it was going anywhere because the main characters hardly ever talked (I now realize what a blessing this is).

But a few months after I played it I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I pictured that kid in the red hat walking through town on a summer evening and it encouraged such a warm feeling that I had to play again.

I fell in love.

But I’m not going through that entire spiel. You can google search Earthbound and hear this same story from every person who’s played it. I’m here to get into things that you can’t find 1000 times over on the internet: Humanist themes in Earthbound.


Earthbound is a game that plays heavily on nostalgia. The beginning, in particular, is meant to remind you of childhood days running around town and having adventures. Memories even play an integral part of the plot. As the main character, Ness, travels the world he reaches “sanctuaries” that flash a memorable event in his mind that strengthens his psychic abilities. Yeah yeah, supernaturalism, not very Humanistic, but nonetheless his strength comes from life experience. These memories remind him of the beauty and value of life which strengthens his resolve to protect it.

We find strength in what we’ve done. We find value in the people we’ve done it with.

This leads us to the game’s ending.

The endgame villain is an alien that- in order to overcome empathy- destroyed its intellect and became a pure manifestation of evil and chaos.

Anyone who’s played the game knows that the only way to win is to use a commandone character has that’s been mostly useless the entire game: Pray.

Now how could I, an atheist who strongly values self-reliance and independence, be an advocate of a game that requires prayer to win?

Well it’s all about who answers that prayer.


It’s people that respond to that cry for help. If you haven’t played you may not realize (but hopefully picked up from the context) the people answering the cry for help are people met in the game- stressing value on human interaction and unity. I realize their method of helping is “praying for success,” but it’s established that psychics exist in this reality, so there’s actual reason for why their prayer works.

Some of you may consider my reasoning a stretch. I’m a strong proponent of video games as art, and art is about interpretation. This is how I choose to interpret it: To overcome evil and chaos we have to band together, to treat each other with decency and respect. How do atheists have moral values without a god? Because many of us strive for a harmonious world. No one wants murder and strife. We want a peaceful planet where we can look back and smile as we sink into nostalgic reverie.

It wasn’t a supernatural force that overcame evil incarnate- it was four kids and the decency they inspired in the people they met.


Also consider the villain. Earthbound is actually a sequel to a game called Mother. In Mother the main villain, Giygas (the same villain EB has) is an alien invader who is defeated when the hero sings a lullaby the Giygas’ mother used to sing to him when he was a baby. Giygas is so overcome with empathy that he retreats.

To overcome that weakness Giygas destroyed his intelligence and became an unfeeling monster: “The Almighty idiot” (actual quote). When Giygas returns to earth his presence influences people to act violently.

“You’ll be fighting enemies sent by Giygas, as well as humans… due to Giygas’ influence over the evil in their minds.”

Hmmm, sound familiar?

Maybe you think that’s more the devil; however, I don’t know many instances of people claiming they were motivated to do something atrocious because of the devil. God on the other hand…

I also see significance in the fact that it is losing intelligence that makes Gigyas even more chaotic and evil. Humanists promote intelligence and science. It’s only natural that with greater understanding of the world around us that we develop more empathy. Think of how callous a child can be until life experience and understanding of people better forms his/her sensitivity.

Obstinately closing eyes and ears to the universe so one can focus only on their goal will easily make them the chaotic force they need to be.

As I said, it’s about interpretation. Those are just a few of the themes I extract from Earthbound. This is a widely loved game, and I’m sure it’s inspired all kinds of things for people. I love hearing what those are, and sometimes putting my own Humanist spin in them.


2 thoughts on “Finding Humanism: Earthbound

  1. Finding humanist themes in media and computer gaming is intriguing. I’ve not played Earthbound. It seems less violent and less adrenaline-rushed than most of the popular games now out. I’ve also been observing the media, including gaming, movies, and TV, for “spiritual” or supernatural themes. I hadn’t thought as much about “humanist” themes in the media.

    It might help readers if you define what you mean by “humanist”. We can then try to get on same page with the term and your theme. Humanism is not well understood and can mean many things to different people.

    You may be interested in this article about popular culture and media I was reading yesterday along the same lines- The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the media as agents of religious change.

    I’ll be curious to read what else you discover in humanist themes in popular culture and the media. You picked up on an original angle. Nicely done.

  2. Earthbound is a wonderful, mellow game full of awesome cultural references that make it fun for everyone. Give it a try if you have the opportunity.

    I’ve detailed what I believe Humanism is a few times in previous posts, and I know I’m supposed to write blogs without the presumption that people have read every prior topic, but the word count was getting high. It’s a very open ended kind of philosophy, hopefully what I’ve detailed isn’t too vague or off track.

    I’ll definitely give that article a read. That’s for the link and the feedback.

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