Fuzzy Pickles: A Book Report on EarthBound by Ken Baumann

earthbound-coverI don’t think I would love videogames half as much as I do if it weren’t for nostalgia.

It’s almost like a drug — it warms you over with pleasurable feelings and you tend to miss it the moment it’s gone. Luckily it’s not harmful, supply is plentiful and the only side effect is that it can cloud your judgement when it comes to how you perceive things.

I’m a very associative person by nature; I link things to moments in time that give me that warm, fuzzy feeling. Everybody does it to an extent; I just find that I do it way too much.

I can remember Christmas Eve 1995 being slightly off-put by getting Secret of Evermore, not because it’s a terrible game (on the contrary, I wish Square would re-release it) but because I was confused that I was granted the chance to open such a big present that was usually reserved for the actual holiday. Turns out my parents appreciated all my help tending to their little store that year, so they also got me Donkey Kong Country 2 as a kind of reward. Back in those days, getting two games was a monumental treat.

I can remember saving lawn-mowing money for a copy of Star Fox that I never ended up getting or selling my entire comic book collection to buy a Nintendo 64 or when my wife told me she would never buy me anything videogame related yet gave me a wireless Guitar Hero controller. I could go on and on.

The point isn’t that I could wistfully recall my past via videogames all day, but that I derive stories worth telling from them. Sometimes there’s more to games than just the games themselves. They’re just a launching point.

“To say this more clearly: The more I examine EarthBound, the more I want to examine it. The more I want to keep using it as a portal, a lever by which I can lift my childhood and the bacterial growth of my aesthetic tastes into a better, truer light.” – Ken Baumann, EarthBound

I like Baumann’s book because he writes a lot like I do. He wants to find some kind of enlightenment by looking in the nooks and crannies most people would rather gloss over. He gets from point A to point B like everybody else, but the path in between is windy and hard and listless. It opens with him recalling spending time with his brother playing EarthBound and how he’d like to replay it to see why he deemed it so important. He loses focus on just enjoying the game proper and realizes that he’d just as much like to look behind the big green curtain as he would just going through the motions.

While I’ll use a game as a whole as this jumping off point to life stories, Baumann uses specific moments of a game as allegories for his life thus far. From a quirky family life to attempting to make a name for himself as a child actor and everything in between, he starts to not only scrutinize EarthBound, but his own life story up to that point. What starts out as a dissertation on a videogame turns into a full-blown psychoanalysis under the guise of one.

I can appreciate a good, clinical approach to games writing, but Baumann’s EarthBound is the kind of thing that reminds you that you’re human. Viewing life from a different perspective is refreshing, and sometimes even eye-opening.

That’s kind of the beauty of what Boss Fight Books, the publisher of this and many other similar works in the series is doing: telling the stories of a writer through the lens of a videogame. Whether you’re familiar with the game in question or not is irrelevant; you’ll find that the person behind the words is a far more interesting study than the subject matter at hand. If a book can be this transcendental, it’s a book worth reading.