Issue 3.4: The Shadows We Cast
A Psychological and Narrative Survey of the Shadow Archetype in Video Games
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Game & Word Volume 3, Issue 4: Sunday, May 22, 2022
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Table of Contents
Summary & Housekeeping
Feature: “The Shadows We Cast” (~30 minute read)
Food for Talk: Discussion Prompts
Game & Word-of-Mouth
Today, we’ll get acquainted with the Shadow archetype, its role in human psychology, and how the protagonist’s Shadow is depicted in video games—particularly zooming in on EarthBound, Celeste, and The Legend of Zelda.
Book Giveaway Closes Tonight!
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Game & Word and Switch Weekly Talk About EarthBound
I know it seems like I’m plugging Switch Weekly a lot recently (and I’m sure Switch Weekly’s readers feel the same about Chris plugging me and Game & Word), but I promise it’s not intentional or planned.
There’s just so much overlap in our newsletters’ audience, chosen topics, and commitment to quality that collaborative opportunities inevitably pop up. And Chris is just such an awesome guy to collaborate with!
In any case, Chris was kind enough to invite me as a guest on Switch Weekly’s YouTube channel to talk about why “You need to play EarthBound on Switch.” And if you know anything about me, you know I never pass up a chance to talk about EarthBound! The end result is the following video:
Between the video you just saw and the fact that EarthBound has featured so prominently in this volume, I hope I’ve convinced you to pick up your Nintendo Switch (or procure one if you don’t currently own it), purchase a Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) membership, and boot up EarthBound.
It is one of the most compelling, whimsical, funny, bizarre, terrifying, joyful, heartrending, beautiful, earnest, moving, and genuinely life-changing stories ever told (and not just in gaming, but in any medium). I truly believe I’m a better person for having played this game, and I can’t wait to hear the impression it leaves on you.
I sincerely believe that everyone should play this game at least once in their lifetime. And now that it’s on NSO, it’s within easy reach of millions of potential fans—including, most likely, you. Seriously, minimize this tab and go play this game ASAP.
Sorry, I get carried away sometimes. Anyway, do any of you love this game as much as I do? If so, please let me know (and why) in the comments:
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Feature—The Shadows We Cast
🚨🚨🚨 SPOILER ALERT 🚨🚨🚨
This post contains visual and narrative spoilers for Celeste, EarthBound, and several games in The Legend of Zelda series. You've been warned!
💡💡💡 POINT OF CLARIFICATION 💡💡💡
For consistency’s sake, this article will refer to MOTHER 2 / EarthBound as simply EarthBound, as we’ll be examining the North American localization and not necessarily the original Japanese script (unless otherwise noted).
This also applies to any character/location names and dialogue that differ between the two releases (ie, “Pokey” instead of “Porky,” or “Evil Mani Mani” instead of “Mani Mani Devil.”)
CONTINUED FROM ISSUE 3.3
Time itself seemed to have frozen as my Shadow’s booming voice knocked me off balance. It must have taken half a second for my back to hit the shallow water, but as far as I knew, all of eternity had compressed into that single half-second.
As I endlessly waited for my body to finally land with a splash, an all-consuming fear—an unknown fear, one I’d never felt before—overtook my mind and body. It hit with the strength of a million panic attacks. I tried reaching for my smelling salts, but even moving my hand felt interminably slow.
My thoughts were moving at the speed of light, even as I kept falling at the speed of sloth. I observed my companions, who appeared to be moving at a normal pace.
Ness charged towards the statue. Without budging or moving an inch, the gilded devil nuked Ness with a deadly psychokinetic wave of intense, world-shattering concentration. Oh, and when I said “nuked,” I meant that literally:
Meanwhile, Link had engaged in what I could only describe as a swordfight stalemate. The shadowy copy of Link was mirroring him precisely—always making the same swings, thrusts, and jumps; it seemed impossible to get a hit in.
The worst part of it all? The lucky few times Link was able to land a hit on his dark twin, the apparition would simply fall beneath the surface of the water, only to re-emerge out of empty space right behind Link, who would just barely block Dark Link’s jab.
Then, as if to taunt the increasingly frustrated Link, he waited for Link to thrust his sword in an attempt to strike. Dark Link then quickly, yet nonchalantly, leapt onto the sword. Link tried to shake him off, but the powerful Shadow clung to his sword like a
zombie to zombie paper lazy orange cat to lasagna.
Once he’d apparently grown bored of merely taunting and toying with Link, he stood up and—still balancing on the sword—laughed, struck Link, and leapt into the sky, vanishing. Link fell to his knees, which promptly gave way. His head hit the floor, his eyes closing as he—the Hero of Time—lost consciousness.
Right after witnessing everything, I felt my body hit the water, and time seemed to move normally again.
I was the only one left standing.
As I finished standing up, my Shadow glared even more intensely at me. His red eyes flashed. Shadowy tentacles spawned and multiplied from behind him, quickly growing to cover the sky and envelop the area around us, trapping me.
I saw one of these tentacles growing across the Sea’s surface, heading in my direction. Before I could even process and react to this horrifying sight, the tentacle had already coiled itself around me. It held me in a tight grip, and it only squeezed me tighter as the microseconds ticked by.
My companions have fallen. I’m the only one left. But our Shadows are too powerful. I’m too helpless to do anything that might defeat them, and I can’t even reach for my smelling salts. What am I to do? How will I ever overcome my Shadow, by far the fiercest adversary I’ve ever confronted?
What IS the Shadow, Anyway?
“The Shadow” is an archetype. Surely, you’ve noticed how much that word has popped up throughout this journey. That’s not because I particularly enjoy typing it out, but rather because archetypes are foundational to Jungian psychology.
We’ll explore the concept in more detail down the line. But to greatly simplify, let’s turn to Wikipedia for a brief, workable definition:
Jungian archetypes are defined as universal, primal symbols and images that derive from the collective unconscious, as proposed by Carl Jung. They are the psychic counterpart of instinct.1
There are archetypal events, archetypal figures, and archetypal motifs. There are more archetypes than we could possibly count. Today, however, we’ll stick with archetypal figures. You might be familiar with some of them:
The Hero, The Child, The Explorer, The Sage, The Outlaw, The Wizard, The Trickster, The Lover, The Everyman, The Caregiver, The Creator, and The Ruler.
But the archetype of today’s focus, the Shadow, is perhaps the most consequential and important archetype to wrap one’s head around. Predictably, it’s also the most misunderstood.
The Shadow comprises all the aspects of one’s personality that they consider shameful or undesirable. Thus, people never consciously reveal it to the outside world, and quite often actively try to suppress their Shadow.
This is a bad idea. Don’t do this!
For one, it’s a battle you cannot win. Your Shadow is as much a part of you as your Ego, or any of the Personas you display. Your own mind creates your Shadow. So as long as you’re alive, it’s alive. You might as well lop off your right arm—it’ll do you the same amount of good, and might even hurt less.
Second, the Shadow is persistent. It demands your time, energy, and attention. And the more you try to ignore it, repress it, or keep it hidden, the stronger it gets. If you keep your Shadow bottled up, then it’ll eventually grow strong enough to burst out of its prison, and the results are never pretty.
The Shadow Archetype in Video Games
Like every archetype, the Shadow’s proven a potent addition to stories throughout the ages. Think, for example, of Gollum as Smeagol’s Shadow. Or Luke Skywalker fighting that apparition in the swamp in The Empire Strikes Back. Or pretty much any doppelgänger story, which is how Jung first identified the archetype.
And it makes sense. Stories need conflict—and which conflict is more compelling and relatable than the conflict we each have with our own selves? It’s no wonder the Shadow has featured so prominently in stories throughout the ages.
Video games are no exception, and examples of player characters facing their Shadows abound. We’ll examine three examples, from the following games:
The Legend of Zelda (Series, 1986-Present)
Each approaches the Shadow differently, and each can tell us a lot about this shadowy figure.
We’ve been following Ness’ journey into his mind for two weeks now, and we last left him at the moment his Shadow appeared. So, what do we learn about Ness’ Shadow?
To start off with, he looks like this:
For those of you unfamiliar with EarthBound, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is, indeed, a horned statue—a golden horned statue, which Ness has repeatedly encountered throughout his quest.
You’re probably a bit confused. Sure, it looks vaguely threatening—the horns need no explanation, and he’s holding a sword or dagger. But the thing doesn’t seem to ever move. How can Ness fear an inanimate object enough to project it onto his very Shadow?
Well, let me bring you up to speed.
This gilded, horned devil is the Mani Mani Statue. It’s a sinister, otherworldly device that:
Induces vivid, bizarre, and often terrifying hallucinations;
Breaks down the good in people’s hearts, while strengthening and influencing their evil sides;
Hijacks and overpowers suggestible minds;
Acts as a communication channel to Giygas (the game’s antagonist).
Throughout the first half of the game, Ness has to fix mess after mess made by people under the influence of this impious idol. Upon defeat, these people instantly “snap out of it” and return to normal, as if they’d woken up from hypnosis.
Mani Mani is also symbolic of the Christian idea of “the Devil.” Those horns on its head aren’t just for looks! This is further reinforced by street gossip about Fourside’s powerful Mayor, Geldegarde Monotoli, who at that point “owned” the statue. One Fourside resident speculates on how such a frail, timid, and otherwise unremarkable person could’ve gained so much influence so quickly:
“I heard he made a deal with a pure evil entity in exchange for power…”
And the original Japanese script is even more overt—the “evil entity” is literally “the devil”!!2
But wait, there’s more!
Because EarthBound is a JRPG, the laws of the universe dictate that it must have at least one subplot where the heroes save a damsel in distress. EarthBound ups the ante by having the baddies kidnap Paula—Ness’ girlfriend, and one of the four player characters—not once, but twice!
And each time, who kidnaps Paula? Someone in possession of, and acting on orders from, a certain evil effigy: the Mani Mani Statue! This means this infernal idol has directly threatened someone that Ness cared about—not once, but twice!
Finally, the Mani Mani Statue’s function as a line of communication lends it an interesting narrative role. Since we don’t actually see Giygas until the final battle, the statue acts as a proxy for Giygas. It allows Ness and Giygas to tussle without dropping the latter’s climactic reveal so early in the game.
What I’m trying to say is: the Mani Mani Statue represents Giygas. AKA, “The ultimate fount of all the pain, fear, anger, anxiety, and trauma that’s befallen Ness throughout this journey.”
When you look at it that way… then of course Ness projected Mani Mani onto his Shadow. It’s the closest thing to a visual representation of the entity responsible for setting him on such a difficult and traumatic path.
But what Ness sees is not Mani Mani—Ness destroyed the statue halfway through the game, and until now, hasn’t figured into Ness’ journey since. This statue3 is a projection of Ness’ dark side. Recall, from last week, what he tells Ness before they throw down:
“I am the evil part of your brain. You can’t beat me. Because you are the one who forced me into being…”
And just in case that wasn’t explicit enough, the Shadow’s name is Ness’ Nightmare.
EarthBound even leverages its mechanics to drive home the fact that Ness is battling himself. For instance, Ness’ Nightmare has access to Ness’ complete move set, including PSI Rockin’, one of the deadliest “spells”4 in the game.
As the game goes to great pains to point out, PSI Rockin’ is exclusive to Ness. Up until this point, near the end of the game, only Ness could cast PSI Rockin’. Not his allies, nor his enemies—just Ness, and Ness alone. In fact, just to drive this point home, at the beginning of the game, you name this spell after your favorite thing. I chose “Trance,” because I’m a sucker for terrible puns.5 But “Rockin’” is the default option.
So, imagine the surprise on a first-time player’s face when, all of the sudden, Ness’ Nightmare casts PSI Rockin’ Ω—the strongest tier for the spell,6 and one that most players haven’t even unlocked at this point—and deals 600-800 HP of mortal damage to Ness.
Ponder that! Ness’ Nightmare is mopping the floor with Ness, using Ness’ very-specifically-described-as-unique-to-him power, at ridiculously strong level that Ness hasn’t even attained yet!
I’m going to let you in on something.
This is very important, so pay attention! If a video game character has a unique moveset, and another character comes along and uses that same moveset, they’re both the same character. One of them might be a clone of the other, or from a parallel universe, or they could both be different facets of one personality. But just as often, you’re looking at a Hero with her Shadow.
This is such an easy and effective way to communicate this to the audience—and one unique to games, to boot—that it’s practically become a trope at this point. In fact, you’ll see this in each game we’re examining this week.
Mind you, I’m not criticizing the developers for using it! As I said, it works! It’s a very effective way to deliver exposition without loads of dialogue or, even worse, the bane of gamers everywhere: cutscenes.
Even when actual clones and parallel universe twins appear, these are often stand-ins or metaphors for the mirrored character’s Shadow. See if you can spot this the next time your favorite show does it. Hopefully, this illustrates just how diverse portrayals of the Shadow can be.
Ness’ Shadow takes the form of the source of all his fear, anxiety, anger, and trauma.7 But that’s far from the only form a character’s Shadow can take, as our next two games adeptly demonstrate.
The Legend of Zelda
This series almost needs no introduction. Not only do gamers universally consider it an essential part of the gaming canon, it’s also one of the few gaming franchises that are instantly recognizable to mainstream audiences.
It’s hard to single out any particular reason for the series’ success, as it does so many things, so well, all at once. But a large part of the appeal is its uncanny knack for fully immersing players in the world of Hyrule. And this stems, in large part, from the series’ protagonist, Link.
Link is an interesting protagonist, but not because of anything Nintendo imbued him with. As far as protagonists go, he’s fairly unremarkable—a fairly standard fantasy Hero archetype. But this unremarkability holds the key to his appeal: because the developers imbue him with the least personality possible, this allows the player to project her personality onto Link to the greatest degree possible.
In fact, his very name alludes to this. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto has long since confirmed that the character is meant to be a bridge—or a “link,” if you will—between the player and the game. He was designed to act as the player’s avatar, to the point that until very recently, the player was always able to name Link. He provides only the archetypal framework of the Hero, leaving the player to fill in the details of his personality.
A Hero as archetypal as Link practically requires a Shadow to face on his quest. But given a Hero with as much of a blank slate as Link is, how could you possibly depict his Shadow?
The answer? As literally as you can:
The Zelda series has given us not one, but two recurring portrayals of Link’s Shadow: Dark Link, and Shadow Link. And while the two are similar enough—and serve the same function—that people regularly confuse them, they are not (canonically speaking) the same.
Shadow Link made his debut in The Legend of Zelda: Four Sword Adventures (2004), where he was created by an external entity (albeit through Link, presumably from his darker side). He’s more outwardly malicious and is explicitly in the service of the game’s antagonist (Vaati), which conflicts with the archetypal Shadow.
Why? Well, since a Shadow is part of the mind that created it, it shares the mind’s desire for self-preservation. So while it may not seem like it, any person’s Shadow is ultimately on their side—and this includes Link’s Shadow. Also, one’s Shadow need not be detrimental to their host. Keep this in mind for later.
So while Shadow Link has “Shadow” in his name, at the end of the day, he’s not Link’s Shadow.
Dark Link, on the other hand, is a much stronger contender.
For one, the lore more overtly frames Dark Link as a part of Link. Going back to first appearance in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987) was basically a palette-swapped Link with the same moves.
Hmmm… where have we seen that before?
So, Dark Link mirrors Link’s moveset. Check. Exhibit B: He also mirrors Link’s actual movement. As in, if Link swings his sword, Dark Link will also swing his sword, at the same time. Same if Link strafes sideways, or steps back, or whatnot.
This serves a mechanical and a narrative purpose. Mechanically, it makes for a satisfying and challenging boss fight. The Zelda series has always cooked up fun and creative ways to challenge players. Gamers worldwide speak with fondness of their favorite Zelda dungeon, Zelda puzzles, and Zelda bosses. And the battles with Dark Link are some of the best in the series.
Narratively, of course, it further drives home the point that you are, indeed, fighting your Shadow. Which, remember, is a part of you. And as if that wasn’t subtle enough, let’s have a look at the battle against Dark Link from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), perhaps the most iconic such battle in the series.
In this game, if you’re having trouble defeating an enemy or a boss, you can call on your fairy companion, Navi, for help. Usually, she’ll point out their weak spots or suggest strategies. But for Dark Link, she has only this to say:
~Navi, to Link; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Oh, look! There you have it: Dark Link is Link’s Shadow. And if you’re still not convinced, keep in mind that—unlike Shadow Link—Dark Link is never implied to be in the employ of any external villain.
But wait… Link’s actually fighting his Shadow. So, that means that after defeating Dark Link, it’s all good? Link will never face himself again, and furthermore, this means we should all battle our Shadows, right?
Remember what we said about fighting our Shadows? Media loves to portray the Heroes’ struggles with their Shadows as literal battles, but as we’ve gone over, this is not an effective strategy IRL. I get why they do it—combat unambiguously stands for struggle (both literally and figuratively) And for a struggle as abstract as an internal reckoning with the Shadow, it’s a handy visual shorthand for the Hero conquering her darker side.
But while Dark Link simply vanishes, IRL Shadows do not just go away. And remember, they don’t quit.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Dark Link, and the way he mirrors Link so much, falls within another Shadow trope; he is a doppelgänger. And one in the truest sense in the world, save for the fact that he looks more “evil” and thus would be hard to mistake for the real Link.8 But “pure” or “exact” doppelgängers (the kind that mirrors the Hero in every way) aren’t the only kind you’ll encounter…
Extremely OK Games, Ltd.’s retro-styled indie hit Celeste (2008) might well be the most definitive 2D platformer9 since Super Mario Bros (can’t wait to see the comments from this one!). Gamers and critics alike have sung this game’s praises to infinity, citing some combination of these three things:
The pixel graphics and sound design are both superb,
The protagonist is highly relatable, and you want to see her accomplish her goal.
The entire game is one big metaphor for overcoming our insecurities. Take our protagonist, Madeline. Her goal—her only goal, to which she is singularly focused and determined to reach, no matter what—is to summit the titular Mt. Celeste.
At first, we have no idea why she wants to do this—and doesn’t look like she knows, either. Still, something in her presses forward. A wise old
Sage Archetype grandma that lives at the foot of the mountain tries to warn Madeline. The mountain does… strange things to people, and Madeline doesn’t have what it takes to make it to the top. Naturally, this makes Madeline even more determined to scale the mountain.
But it turns out that Granny was right. Almost immediately, Madeline sees and hears strange things. Nothing too crazy at first. Just things like receiving a call at an abandoned payphone on a remote and treacherous mountain.
But these illusions get increasingly intense and bizarre as Madeline climbs higher and pushes farther. And, as we soon find out, Madeline isn’t quite mentally stable—she suffers from a crippling anxiety disorder, is in the midst of a full-blown identity crisis, and is carrying a lot of unresolved trauma around.
Three guesses as to what happens next.
Yup, you guessed it! Her Shadow, Badeline,10 first appears as Madeline’s reflection in a mirror. Then she breaks out of the mirror and into the world. But it was all a dream. But then she still appears IRL! Wait, whatever is “real” anymore, anyway? Now Madeline’s losing it, and so am I, and…
Ah, sorry about that. Anyway, Badeline, like any good doppelgänger, is a carbon copy of Madeline’s shape and form. But like Dark Link, she’s colored with shadowy hues—her hair and vest are purple, her skin is vampire-level pale, and her eyes are always red.
And how do Madeline and Badeline reckon with each other?
Madeline, as we’ve seen, is singularly focused on summiting the mountain. Badeline thinks this is a bad idea, and tries to dissuade Madeline from continuing. Badeline tries playing on Madeline’s insecurities, playing up the (to be fair, very real) danger she’s putting herself (and, by extension, Badeline) in, and generally sowing the seeds of doubt about both Madeline’s ability to summit the mountain, as well as the overall futility of the whole endeavor.
Madeline, obstinate as ever, dismisses Badeline’s suggestion to call it quits. But Badeline persists. So Madeline tries to ignore her. Badeline sometimes starts chasing Madeline, it’s to no avail—Madeline simply runs, and runs faster.
But the more Madeline tries to ignore, flee from, or shut out her Shadow, the more agitated and angry Badeline becomes, trying her hardest to sabotage Madeline’s progress. Which makes Madeline flee faster. This cycle continues and escalates throughout the game, until at one point, Madeline—fresh off a philosophical epiphany—flat out tells Badeline that she (the self) doesn’t need her (the Shadow), and will simply continue, on her own.
Badeline’s reaction is… well, why not see it for yourself?
[WARNING: This video contains a jump scare! Play at your own risk.]
Ooof… bad move, Madeline! …No pun intended.
Terrifying as she is in this scene, however, Badeline’s right. Madeline can never be rid of her. As Madeline’s Shadow, Badeline is not only a part of Madeline; at this juncture, she’s the part Madeline needs to listen to the most.
Badeline tries to discourage Madeline not because she’s trying to be mean—she’s acting out of a sense of self-preservation. Remember, Madeline has an anxiety disorder. Badeline, as the Shadow, is acting out of fear—for Madeline’s physical safety, or her mental stability, or for the crushing disappointment which would follow failure to achieve her goal (for similar reasons, Madeline’s insecurities inform Badeline’s behavior to an equal degree).
But more than anything, Badeline is acting out of fear for her—as in, Badeline’s, not Madeline’s—self-preservation. Badeline’s worst fear is Madeline telling her exactly what she’d just told her. That there’s no need for Badeline. No use for Badeline. No “life” for Badeline, save for in the darkest recesses of Madeline’s psyche.
In other words, Badeline is afraid of being alone. Which means that Madeline, by extension, is also afraid of being alone. But Madeline tries to keep these fears close to her chest, hiding them from the world (almost out of shame), and climbing dangerous mountains to distract herself. Badeline, by contrast, expresses these fears much more bluntly, directly, and indiscriminately—even when the circumstances call for a more tactful approach.
Badeline is trying to get Madeline to—or at least acknowledge—these fears, and ideally, to listen to those fears before she does reckless things like trying to summit this mountain. And since this is an existential matter for Badeline, she becomes increasingly desperate to break through to Madeline, and her efforts likewise become increasingly disruptive. It’s as if Badeline’s shouting, desperate to be heard, without actually shouting (though she does do plenty of shouting, anyway).
Badeline isn’t a “pure” or “typical” doppelgänger, like Dark Link. If she were, then yes, Madeline running as far away as she could, as fast as she could, would likely be the best strategy. But although she’s described as one in-universe, Badeline is not your typical doppelgänger.
For one, Badeline isn’t an external entity—she’s not an evil twin, or evil clone, or Evil Madeline From a Parallel Universe, or anyone who “might be identical in every way, but is ultimately a separate consciousness.”
And just as importantly, she bears no malicious intent toward Madeline. As we’ve just gone over, it’s the opposite. Because Badeline is Madeline—or rather, a part of Madeline—any harm that befalls Madeline will also harm Badeline. She even explicitly tells Madeline that she’s just trying to protect them both.
A more accurate analogy for these two, then, would be the trope of multiple/split personalities inhabiting a single body.11 And although this comparison still doesn’t quite hit the mark, I don’t have the space or time to go over all its nuances. For now, it’ll have to do.
But in any case, regardless of categorization, we can see how Celeste presents a much more nuanced depiction of the Shadow—and a more realistic one. Sure, you won’t ever see your own Shadow bust out of a mirror and start chasing you. But in playing the game, you’ll gain a more accurate and productive—not to mention healthier—understanding of what your Shadow is, and the role it plays in your life. It’s also very clear about the Shadow’s three hard facts:
You can’t get rid of it,
You can’t hide it (or hide from it) forever,
You need to reckon with it, at some point—whether on your terms, or on your Shadow’s.
So… how should you face your Shadow, if neither fight nor flight are effective responses?
Let’s put a save point on that question. For now, let’s check in on our heroes’ tussles with their Shadows in the Sea of Eden.
The Shadow Means Business
I was really at the end of my rope. As I looked at the unmoving, damaged bodies that had once been my tour companions, and back again at that grotesque, shadowy mockery of myself and its infinite tentacle-like appendages—one of which still gripped me like a squish ball—I finally gave in.
“I don’t get it…”, I said. “Just… How?! Why?! What did I do? What are you angry about?”
No response. Just silence. Only his Medusa-like glare of boundless rage seemed to create any sound remotely resembling speech. Those crimson eyes—which never blinked—looked and sounded like a raging, infinite wildfire. I thought I also perceived the faint, muffled, and barely audible screams of people consumed by the fire.
It was too much. Finally, I snapped.
“What the hell do you want from me?!”
Finally, he turned his head slowly, as if trying to get a bigger read on me. He then took his Sword of Insults and slammed its tip into the ground twice. Like a cosmic stereo system, the screams from the fire grew louder.
I knew I’d made a mistake. I shouldn’t have asked. I recognized the voices. Everyone I ever loved or cared for—my parents, siblings, best friends, spouse, child, mentors, exes, even pets—shouted for help. My help, specifically. Yet this damned tentacle still had me in a constrictor hold.
“No!”, my Shadow finally exclaimed, as if he’d read my mind as I tried to distract myself with plans to break free of the tentacle’s hold. “You LISTEN.”
One by one, the voices admonished me for each (real or perceived) mistake, screwup, and failure—along with all my deepest insecurities and cringiest memories—that I’d been trying to ignore and forget.
I shouted, screamed, begged to be awoken from this nightmare, desperately wailed into the void, in case someone—anyone—out there would hear my pleas.
And then, right as I was about to pass out, I saw a figure approaching. Both myself and my Shadow turned to face it. As it grew steadily closer, I started to make out some features: short, round, female, getting old but not excessively wrinkled, and only half her hair was grey. The other half was a striking auburn red.
Wait a minute… Madeline?! But… she looks so… old! How long have I been in here?
Before I could even open my mouth when she stopped in front of us, she started laughing heartily at my predicament, like Granny would. She had Granny’s laugh, too. What was even going on here?!
“My, my, my. You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”, she said after she stopped laughing.
“Yes, and I could use some help escaping it,” I said. “Please?”
She laughed some more. “There’s no going back, traveler,” she eventually replied. “You can only go through.”
“But… how?”, I snapped. “If I so much as look at him, it takes all my energy just to hold myself together!”
“Hmmm. Indeed,” she casually said, as if talking to the wind. “You’re trying to beat your Shadow through a show of willpower. That’ll never work, sweatie. No matter how fast you run, no matter how hard you fight, no matter how long you ignore it, your Shadow will always match your efforts. And he’ll still have energy left over to scramble your feelings some more.”
“But then… how am I supposed to overcome… that—” I started to ask, pointing at my Shadow, “if running won’t work, and fighting won’t work?”
At that point, Granny Madeline closed her eyes and started glowing bright as a star for a couple of seconds, before another figure broke off from her and started orbiting around her. The apparition gradually slowed down to a stop next to Madeline, and both their glows started to fade.
This was no ordinary apparition—it was Granny Badeline! She and Granny Madeline glanced at each other briefly, nodded, then turned back to look at me.
“I can’t tell you how to overcome your Shadow,” Granny Badeline told me, before wrapping her arm around Granny Madeline’s shoulders. They looked at each other, laughed heartily, then turned back around to face me.
“But…”, Granny Badeline told me, “we can tell you what worked for us!”
To Be Continued…
Wow! Things were looking bleak for our brave explorers, weren’t they? But now, it appears that Celete’s Madeline—now older and wiser after a lifetime of facing, integrating, and coexisting with her Shadow, Badeline—has arrived to save the day!
What will the older and wiser “Granny” Madeline and Badeline advise our adventurers to do?
Will their advice actually help the group to successfully face and overcome their Shadows?
If our heroes succeed, what lies beyond, at the Sea of Eden’s very center?
And if they don’t, are they doomed to spend an eternity of time-dilated torment inside the darkest recesses of Ness’ mind, suffering at the hands of their Shadows and all the painful memories, shameful feelings, and super cringe moments they’ll mercilessly wield?
Stay tuned until Issue 1.5 to find out!
Food for Talk: Discussion Prompts
While you wait for the next issue, I invite you to mull over the following discussion prompts. Please reply to this email with your answers, or post them in the comments—I'd love to hear your thoughts!
What do you think your Shadow “looks” like?
Is there a particular event or trauma that you feel solidified or strengthened your Shadow?
What do you think it means to face one’s Shadow?
Describe a time where your Shadow “took over” once ignoring and repressing it no longer worked?
Have you ever consciously tried to repress your Shadow, or parts of it? How did that go?
Which are your favorite portrayals of the Shadow archetype in media?
What are some ways you think your Shadow could be useful to you? Does one’s Shadow always have to be violent, antisocial, or generally negative?
How do you think one can “face” their Shadow effectively (ie, non-violently)?
What does Badeline’s character tell you about the depth and nuance of the Shadow archetype?
Why should one even go through the grueling (and possibly traumatic) experience of facing their Shadow?
Oh, so many to choose from. Here’s just a sample.
From The Psychology of Zelda, edited by Anthony M. Bean, Ph.D.— A highly illuminating and accessible collection of essays analyzing the Zelda series through various psychological paradigms. One of the books we’re giving away this month.
The Nocturne of (Personal) Shadow by Louise Grann
The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy edited by Luke Cuddy
Legends of Localization Book 2: EarthBound by Clyde “Tomato” Mandelin — An invaluable resource for EarthBound fans and neophytes alike, this is an almost impossibly thorough compendium of EarthBound’s localization from Japanese to English. Written by a professional translator who’s perhaps THE single most knowledgeable EarthBound fan on… well, Earth.
EarthBound by Ken Baumann — A wonderful little overview of EarthBound and its eventual rise from the ashes of commercial failure to a cult classic with one of gaming’s most passionate fanbases.
Celeste, the Mountain in All of Us by Jay Rooney — One of my pre-Game & Word pieces! This is an in-depth and highly informative Q&A with Larisa Garski, LFMT (Clinical Director at Empowered Therapy) on the psychological imagery and symbolism of Celeste. Helpful when facing the Shadows in your life.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, developed and published by Nintendo — Nintendo Switch Online
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#psychology #philosophy #metaphysics #spirituality
#EarthBound #Zelda #Psychonauts #FinalFantasy
“Psychic” in this sense refers to the functions of the mind in general, not things like clairvoyance or spoon bending.
Here’s my rough amateur sleuthing (if any of my readers are native Japanese speakers, feel free to correct me):
Eaves with the devil
Good luck now
When I took over...
I heard he made a deal with a pure evil entity in exchange for power…
Or apparition/construct of a statue, at least.
Most RPGs have a magic system baked into their mechanics. But since EarthBound is set in (a Japanese riff on) modern-day America, characters use psychic powers instead of magic spells.
“PSI TRANCE”… get it? ……..get it?!?!
In EarthBound, PSI moves fall into four tiers: α, β, γ (or Σ for some moves), and Ω. You unlock higher tiers as the characters level up, with α as the lowest and Ω as the strongest.
If you cast a PSI move at a higher tier, it’ll be stronger or more effective than at a lower tier. But higher tiers also incur steeper casting costs.
Yes, Giygas is who’s ultimately responsible for Ness’ tribulations in EarthBound. But the Mani Mani Statue has always acted as a proxy to Giygas—a way to tussle with Ness, without revealing his true form. If you’ve finished EarthBound, you’ll understand why this was a good design decision.
Or so you’d think. In Four Sword Adventures, people do mistake Shadow Link for regular Link. And although nobody but Link and Navi ever see Dark Link, it wouldn’t surprise me if it were the same deal here. Apparently, Hylians aren’t the brightest bunch (or maybe they’re all just nearsighted?).
Platformers are a genre of games that involve the player character moving (usually by jumping) from one surface—usually floors and platforms floating at various heights—to the next until she reaches the goal. The genre’s codifier and most recognizable title is, naturally,
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker the iconic Super Mario Bros. (1985).
And that’s not all—Donkey Kong (1981) was the very first platformer game, and you actually control Mario in that game! Though Nintendo wasn’t calling him Mario back then; technically speaking, this places Donkey Kong (the game) squarely into Donkey Kong (the franchise/IP) territory. But spiritually speaking, Donkey Kong is a Mario game—the first Mario game. And to top it all off, Shigeru Miyamoto created Mario and Donkey Kong.
So either way you spin it, everyone’s favorite jumping Italian plumber invented platforming. And he’s played a big part in keeping the genre relevant to this very day.
Not her “actual” name. In-game, she’s referred to as “Part of You” or “Part of Me,” depending on who’s addressing who.
This further reinforces that, as she’s a part of Madeline, “Badeline” is indeed Madeline’s Shadow.
Kind of like Disassociative Identity Disorder (DID), the IRL “split personality” disorder.