by Ken Baumann, Foreword by Marcus Lindblom
Boss Fight Books, 2014
191 pages / $14.95 Buy from Boss Fight Books
1. This past December found me at several Christmas parties and office get-togethers (mostly with my wife’s coworkers and friends). Because I’m kind of self-absorbed and, even if I wasn’t, I’ve been spending the past five months with my newborn son, I don’t have much to contribute by way of conversation, so I turned to talking about Earthbound.
2. My parents never bought me a Super Nintendo or any of the other 90’s child indulgences (although I was a member of the Burger King Kid’s Club and was allowed to watch hour upon hour of Nickelodeon), so I had no point of reference for the cult-hit video game.
3. I had trouble finding anyone who knew what I was talking about. They had never heard of the game, and cared even less about Ken Baumann’s book.
4. The few times that I actually found someone who played Earthbound our conversations were hauntingly simple.
5. Me: Have you ever played Earthbound?
Partygoer: You need to go home tonight and play it right now. [End of conversation.]
6. I never got around to it. Blah-blah work. Blah-blah new parent. Blah-blah smartphone.
7. But the real reason why I didn’t play it was because of how purely pleasurable Baumann’s book is.
8. Ken Baumann’s Earthbound is a charming intermingling of videogame history, walkthrough, memoir, and philosophy. He serves as Virgil to the reader’s Dante as he guides us through the “total inverse of Dante’s Hell” that is Twoson, Threed, Summers, and the other locales of the game while drawing on everything from Straw Dogs and Jung to Gak’s role in 90’s gross-out culture and House.
9. Baumann depicts the “irretrievable beauty in video games…” as a Romantic would depict vernal wood. As sacred: “Ephemeral glitches that point to the sublime. Randomized variables that are made more poetic in their expression by their adjacency to the rote and the banal.”
10. The strongest of Baumann’s threads are the biographical ones. Earthbound [the book] is a study of how Earthbound [the game] impacts lives, especially the lives of little Kenny in Texas, his estranged brother Scott, and the support of Ms. Baumann, and the loving Aviva.
11. I really appreciate his honesty as he opens up about his career, his illness, and his relationships within the larger context of Earthbound, paralleling his story with Ness’s.
12. Ness is the main character of Earthbound, btw.
13. But the book is first and foremost about the game.
14. “I want you to play Earthbound,” Baumann says.
15. He urges us to play. “When we give ourselves over to someone or something … we do so out of the feeling that we’ve found a perfectly inevitable opportunity.”
16. I was rapt with this book. I never thought I would be. (I was even afraid to donate to the press’s Kickstarter because I didn’t think it would succeed.)
17. He makes a great case for playing the game, too, as he describes the, albeit harried, process of replaying the game as an adult while trying to recreate his childhood experience with the game. “As I slide further into this book, I slide further into the childlike desire to play.”
18. At the core of Earthbound is its creator Shigesato Itoi, an adman who rose to the height of Japanese fame and entrances a wide audience of fans. Baumann posits that it is perhaps Itoi’s use of relatable material such as absentee fathers, gangs, and power corrupt police that make Earthbound such a success.
19. When Baumann announced that he was going to take a break from tumblr there was a flood of anonymous posts in his ask box lamenting his absence.
20. I thought that was kind of weird, but then I read Earthbound. Baumann has a knack for establishing rapport with his readers. I felt as if I knew him intimately after I read the book.
21. How does someone become so popular? Maybe the key to success is to be easily recognizable. That sense of being relatable. Shigesato Itoi did this with Earthbound. Ken Baumann does, too.
22. William Wordsworth says “We murder to dissect,” and Ken Baumann is deeply aware of this while writing this project. “Why risk irrevocably dissipating [Earthbound] with analysis,” he asks.
23. Because it’s worth it.
24. Ken Baumann writes that “some video games will outlive us. I hope Earthbound lives to be played after I’m gone.”
25. I hope this book lives to be read after we’re gone.
Quincy Rhoads lives in Clarksville, TN with his wife and their son. His writing has appeared in Thought Catalog, Everyday Genius, and Unicorn Knife Fight. He teaches English composition and introductory literature courses.