Real talk: There is no job in the world harder than being a mother. Fatherhood certainly has its challenges from time to time, but there are some critical differences between the roles where it is strictly no contest. First of all, men have almost a year to prepare for a new child while women have to carry that little bundle of joy right from the start. Second, that connection from carrying a baby (as well as breastfeeding and such) creates a bond that transcends any other kind of relationship in this world. Being a mom is a thankless, tough, and stressful thing to go through. It’s also arguably the most beautiful thing nature can produce.
So I’m a paragraph in and by this point you’re probably thinking, “What the hell does this have to do with video games?” Well, here’s the thing. It’s Mother’s Day and I’m sure sites like ours are putting out content all about the best and worst mothers in video games, or something like that. Here I am, capitalizing on the same thing too. To be honest, this started off as a list article about the worst mothers in video games, but I changed gears because that’s all been done before. Also, I kind of hit a wall at four examples and that does not a list article make. It did get me thinking however about the perception of strong mothers in video games and how this role is portrayed within.
One thing I’ve noticed while doing research for this article (i.e. searching Google and stuff) is that what in other articles about ‘bad’ mothers, they’re not necessarily bad people. A character like Brenda St. John from The Walking Dead Episode 2 is terrifying and dangerous, but she is by definition a good mother.
St. John’s Farm is an increasingly rare safe spot for the team of zombie apocalypse survivors, with abundant food and security. As with everything in this universe, people are not what they seem to be and every promise of something helpful comes at a cost. As the matriarch of this farm, Brenda lulls the game’s characters into a false sense of security with her sweetness and promises of a nice hot meal. The way Brenda chooses to support her family is … unconventional, but completely understandable from the perspective of someone who would do anything for her family. Hey, the world is overrun with zombies. This is a time for people with ideas to step forward. You may not agree with Brenda’s methods, but her priorities are clear and it’s hard to judge her for that.
Mother Brain is another example of someone who, whether you agree or not, has a plan. She oversees the goings-on of her extended ‘family’ — Space Pirates, Bosses, and of course metroids. At the climactic moment in Super Metroid however, there is a reversal to this idea. When she is about to kill Samus and the baby metroid attacks her, it is essentially the nature versus nurture debate playing out in 16-bit glory. I wrote above about the unbreakable bond between mother and child, and that’s exactly what happens here. Even though the baby metroid is hard-wired to be a predator, it recognizes Samus as the first living being it encountered (AKA: ‘mommy’).
When Samus is wounded and about to be destroyed, the metroid strikes at Mother Brain and ends up being killed as a result. This event causes lashing out by the two conflicting parties; Samus regains her energy and relentlessly kicks the crap out of her nemesis. Faced with the destruction of her family and partly out of fury, partly out of grief, Mother Brain activates a self-destruct timer that is set to destroy not just the facility where the game takes place, but the entire planet of Zebes.
It is a natural instinct for any parent to lash out after suffering the loss of a child, and it’s something only a parent can really understand. Depending on your perspective, Mrs. Chu in Sleeping Dogs is a vicious and vindictive monster or a grieving parent of a lost child. As a parent, I can say with absolute confidence (and I know some out there will get this) that there is NOTHING I would not do to protect my child. Faced with a child’s loss, would I go so far as to butcher one of the perpetrators and feed him to the other one? Honestly, I don’t know….but I might. Mrs. Chu is not a tattooed and muscley young gang-banger like many others in Sleeping Dogs. She is far more terrifying because she isn’t constrained by the rules and mores of the society in the game. More importantly, her grief at losing her son erases any boundaries of how far retribution should go.
And so, that leaves Sarah — the mother in The Binding of Isaac. Here we have a mother who is willing to kill her own child to appease her fundamentalist religious beliefs. She’s probably the scariest of them all simply because she’s the one who is actively acting against her child. Around the world, we are led to believe that motherhood is synonymous with safety and security. It’s the betrayal of the most basic layer of trust that exists in nature; mother and child, which makes this situation so unsettling.
Today on Mother’s Day, please remember that your mom would do anything…ANYTHING…to make sure you are safe, comfortable, and loved. Give her a hug, buy her some flowers, and remember that if you push her far enough, she can be scarier than anything a video game can come up with.