Mother Is Mothering: Grief, Queerness, and Softness in Mother 3

Games Features Mother 3
Mother Is Mothering: Grief, Queerness, and Softness in Mother 3

Like with many games before it, I arrived late to the party with Mother 3, just finishing it as Nintendo announced a re-release in Japan last week, and I am full of thoughts. Initially released in Japan in 2006 and then translated by dedicated fans into English in 2008, the game was met with praise as well as an air of mystery due to its lack of an American release. Even with the cult popularity of  Mother 2 in the US, where it’s known as Earthbound, the sequel has never been officially released here, in spite of regular rumors that it will finally happen. Despite its unavailability in North America, its critical success and rabid fan base helped immortalize the game, but it’s the narrative of Mother 3 that cemented its legendary reputation. It’s a story of greed, grief, narcissism, and most importantly queerness and softness as rebellion.

The queerness of Mother 3 is a complicated thing. It’s ever present but just how much is supposed to be played for jokes and just how much is to be taken sincerely remains unclear. At the center of this is our protagonist, Lucas. Lucas is an absolute softy, a total mama’s boy. He is not fast, strong, or brave. All of those qualities are held by his adventurous twin brother, Claus. When their mother, Hinawa, dies, Claus swears revenge and embarks on a journey, but Lucas just cries. He visits his mother’s grave daily. He’s not looking for adventure or vengeance, he’s just sad. 

It’s through these early sections of grief that Lucas’s queerness begins to appear. He’s incredibly close with his mother. His father, Flint, is generally absent and when he is present seems more concerned with finding Claus than raising Lucas. Lucas is sensitive to a fault and in opposition with the world around him, one where boys play outside trying to tackle dinosaurs all day. As his village, Tazmily, leaves behind its early idealism in favor of a more commercial existence, its citizens become darker, more sinister. They’re meaner, harder, and also apathetic to the changes around them. The more they change the more it highlights how different Lucas is. He stays soft, he cares so much, he just wants to help.

Throughout the game, villagers become dependent on a new substance: money. They’re also given computers called “happiness” to distract and opiate them as main villain Porky’s plan unfolds. In a world like this, difference is a threat. Lucas’s refusal to accept Porky’s offerings is an act of rebellion, albeit a soft one. By not participating, he implies that there may be something wrong with the system as it’s rising. Because of that Lucas becomes a target. Luckily he’s not alone in this. He’s joined on his quest by a cast of equally odd and endearing friends: his cheese-hating dog Boney, the tomboy pink-haired pixie-cut princess Kumatora, and the disabled bass-playing thief Duster. Each one stands in opposition with the cultural standards of this world (maybe Boney least of all) and that becomes their strength. They’re at the margins, and that’s what allows them to see how bad things are getting.

Lucas’s aid doesn’t end there. Besides his companions he’s also assisted by a group of ageless magical nonbinary drag queens (who’s name is… not great so we’ll avoid it). Imagine fairy god mothers but more fabulous and with five o’clock shadow. The magic drag queens help Lucas awaken the magic within himself. They open him to a world of possibility and arm him with a power that can help him fight Porky’s regime, the power of Love. Lucas’s strongest attack is, quite literally, a love beam. Not only that, but as each drag queen leaves the world, they pass on a memento to Lucas in the form of a tube of lipstick and a razor. While it remains uncertain if Lucas will ever wear the lipstick, the option is certainly given to him, as well as the idea that identity can be flexible. Materially these items automatically resurrect the player if their HP falls to zero, as if transformation represents a second chance, the ability to continue on. The lipstick/razor may be a gag, like many in Mother 3, but I think there’s something beautiful about arming Lucas with the ability to be whoever he wants to be. They’re not putting lipstick on him, but they are giving him the option to put it on himself if he wants. Lucas’s mom is dead, his father is off chasing his missing brother, the town grows more foreign to him every day, but the queens are there for Lucas. They believe in him. They tell him to trust his heart.

To be queer and to be soft are not the same thing, but in Lucas I do see a gentleness in strength that I recognize in the queer people in my life. Lucas’s greatest strength is his softness, his kindness. The journey he goes on makes him strong, but it never makes him tough. In the final battle of the game we see him, alone, fighting a brainwashed Claus with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Claus launches attack after attack, but Lucas will not hit him back no matter what the player does. Instead Lucas can guard, he can heal himself, and he can believe in his brother. He can even cry a little. Ultimately, this proves the right choice as Claus breaks down, unable to keep fighting. It becomes clear that Lucas has always been the strong one. When his father and brother lashed out and ran from the death of Hinawa, Lucas stayed home. He let himself cry. He spent three years grieving. His journey began after taking that time, and because of that he’s able to handle this situation in ways that Flint and Claus simply cannot. He’s able to save the world.

Lucas, Boney, Kumatora, and Duster’s differences from the world are what allows them to save it. They do not get in line with everyone else to dull their senses, instead they shut down a lightning factory, they visit a chimera lab, they kiss several mermen (I mean oxygen machines), and even briefly have part time jobs. I can’t help but think of where we are at this moment in our world, with endless barrages of content as well as horrific events happening daily. Queerness and differences of all kinds can make you a target. It’s enough to make anyone shutdown, tune out, clam up. I don’t think Mother 3 predicted these events, nor do I think it provides solid answers on how to deal with them, but I do know that I’d like to try to be a bit more like Lucas. I’d like to find the strength in staying soft.

Dave Tomaine is a comic writer and musician from Philadelphia. You can find him at @cavedomain and @FFBedtime on Twitter.

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