Monday, 11 May 2015

Mums in games

Pokémon mums, by ViViVooVoo

When I saw that last week's 5 Fandom Friday* theme was "favourite fictional mums", I knew I was going to have a hard time adapting this to "favourite mums in games". What I did not know was that I would have to scratch the "favourite" part altogether, because there simply wasn't enough data. With games traditionally focusing on the combat adventures of healthy, young characters; mothers, associated with homeliness, parenting and familial relationships, don't exactly score high on the agendas of game developers.

I'm sure there are some games featuring great mothers out there, but for now I'll focus on two questions: how many mums are there actually in the games I play? And: in what way is motherhood portrayed?

Disclaimer: as the role of mothers can mostly be derived from the stories they are part of, this post contains spoilers.

"Mom" in Pokémon Crystal

1) Pokémon

So the first game series that popped up when I was thinking about mothers in games was, somehow, that of the Pokémon games. I especially love "Mom" in the second generation, because she will offer to take care of your money - only to call you when you are out in the field telling you she bought all this stuff for you... with your money.

I guess "Mom" doesn't have a deep character and doesn't perform any actions, staying at home all the time, but then again, none of the Pokémon characters do: it's just not that type of game. At least she is better off than "Dad", who doesn't turn up until the third generation.

Refugee Ellis (left) and grand master Satele Shan, mother of Theron (right)

2) Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR)

Mums don't do very well in SWTOR. All player characters lack parents, unless you count adding one of your other characters in the legacy family tree as one, which only you yourself can see and doesn't have any effect on the gameplay. The game relies heavily on the adventures the player, of the traditional "hero" type, experiences, yet mothers rarely pop up in these. While the developers took great care to create a gender equal environment (in fact succeeding by making in-game life feel more equal to me than analogue life), the characters you meet are usually in their professional setting. A lot of them could be mothers, but we simply don't get to know anything about that part of their lives.

The first mother I thought of in SWTOR was Ellis, mother and refugee who turns to the player for help finding her lost son on Ord Mantell. It is a sad and fairly realistic story, which is probably why I still remember it, even though you only speak to her briefly. The other mother I can think of is grand master Satele, mother of Theron Shan. She probably has been too busy with her work to be a good mother, as their relationship doesn't seem to be the best, however, we don't get to hear more about this. These are the only mothers I can think of right now: in my opinion an astonishingly low number, compared to the hundreds of NPCs you meet throughout the game.

Eir Stegalkin, an unexpected mother

3) Guild Wars 2

I find Guild Wars 2 to be more focused on exploring than on complex storytelling: the stories are playful and enjoyable, but contain a lot of stereotypes and aren't striving to be realistic. It is therefore not surprising that motherhood isn't a popular topic in this game. I haven't consciously met any mothers at all during my playtime, let alone my character's mother. However, I haven't played all races and background stories yet, so I might be missing some (if you do know a prominent mother in Guild Wars 2, please let me know in the comments). The only mother I could find was Eir Stegalkin, who apparently has an adult son, and I only found out about that through googling (although I expect you find out about this when you meet him later in the personal storyline). The times that my character met her, she was heading out on adventures or sculpturing at home. It isn't easy to imagine her as a mother: for one, she looks max in her 40's to me, which means she was young when she raised her son. Where did she then find the time for all her supposed acts of heroism? Maybe she had a cute stay-at-home dad that took care of their son - now that would be an unexpected turn of events!

A bit more googling brought me to this event in Kessex Hills involving a mum NPC, but I don't have vivid memories of it. I may have totally missed it while exploring that area.

Hildith, mother of twins and leader of Grimslade

4) Lord of the Rings: Online (LOTRO)

LOTRO is the exception out of the three MMOs mentioned in this article. Especially in the post-Mirkwood stories much attention is paid to daily life, including that of minorities. I already wrote earlier that the game is unique for featuring many children. With many Rohirrim gone to fight in the war, West Rohan in particular proves an ideal nursery for able women. We meet several strong mothers, taking care of their children or even whole towns. One of them is Hildith, mother of the twins Grimbert and Grimbald and leader of Grimslade in the absence of her husband (pictured above). Another strong mother figure is Fríthild, thane of Stoke and reeve of the Broadacres region. She is the mother of Fríthbert and Edhild; Fríthbert inherits the title of thane at a young age after she meets a tragic end getting fatally poisoned during a feast, no doubt by political enemies.

Just like in the other MMOs, player characters don't have parents to start with. However, LOTRO has the option to adopt other players. Parents and children show up in a character's family tree, which can be viewed by other players upon inspection.

Samara, mother of Falere, Rila and Morinth (left) and Benezia, mother of Liara (right)

5) Mass Effect

Back to one of the earliest games I wrote about on this blog: Mass Effect. I'm not currently playing the Mass Effect games, but I clearly recall two mothers: Samara and Benezia. Benezia is the mother of one of the main characters, Liara, and becomes indoctrinated by the Reapers. When she betrays her people, the player is forced to kill her. Liara struggles with her mother's death, but decides to remember her as the caring mother she was before that.

Samara's story is about the difficult relationship between motherhood and professional duty. She is a member of the Justicar order, bound by oath to bring criminals to justice. One of the criminals she hunts is her daughter Morinth, a fugitive Ardat-Yakshi: an asari born with a genetic defect that poses a threat to society. All three daughters of Samara are Ardat-Yakshi, but Falere and Rila chose to live in a secluded monastery with other Ardat-Yakshi. Later, Samara is faced with the choice to either kill her other two daughters, who cannot live in seclusion anymore because their monastery has been destroyed, or fail to live up to her oath (meaning she would have to kill herself). Because of the great love for her daughters she chooses the latter, unless the player timely interferes. If you want to know more about motherhood in Mass Effect, this article by Joel Wallick goes into it in more detail.


Few mums are found in the games I play. My guess is that, as most games focus on adventure and heroism, mothers just aren't all that hot. Out of the games I've investigated, Lord of the Rings Online is the most prolific when it comes to mothers. I think the game does a commendable job not approaching them as stereotypes, too. Mass Effect does the best job of investigating the relationship between mothers and children. You get the feeling the characters are more than just mothers: they are human beings in the first place and one of their many roles is that of being a mother. The tiny role mothers play in Star Wars: The Old Republic is disappointing, seeing as the game is produced by the same company as Mass Effect.

I do wish minorities such as mothers, fathers, children, disabled etc would play a larger role in games. Not only would that make games more realistic (and I realize whether you want this or not is up for debate), but it would make a welcome change to the trope of the perfect, young, healthy adventurer we've become accustomed to.

* 5 Fandom Friday is a weekly event organized by the Female Geek Bloggers group on Google+.


  1. The discovery that Eir Stegalkin's is the mother of a late-teenage son is one of the major reveals of Living Story 1 and how that plays out forms a very significant chunk of the whole storyline. There are plenty of cut-scenes in which they hash over Braham's abandonment issues, most of which are well-contextualized within the Norn cultural background.

    Bearing in mind this takes place in a fantasy environment and that Norns, while they look very human, are a humanoid race separate from human stock to the extent that the two races cannot interbreed. The Kodan, who are talking bipedal bears, believe the Norn are an offshoot of their race. Consequently the age-span of Norns, gestation period, length of development to adulthood etc are a mater of speculation. For all we know Eir could be in her 70s and still in the prime of child-bearing life.

    Racking my brains over all the MMOs I've played I think Eir is the most significant character I can recall whose role specifically as a mother is foregrounded in a major storyline. It certainly doesn't happen often and certainly should happen a lot more. Fathers get these plum roles all the time, as do siblings.

    1. Itty-bitty little hijack of this comment to ask: Season 1 of the living story is gone and done, right? No way for new players to experience the story or anything of the sort?

    2. Interesting point about the Norn lifespan. I stand corrected. :)

      That storyline about Eir's (missing) motherhood sounds so cool. I want to see that now! It will take a while before I've seen all of the 'normal' personal stories there are, though: I'm more or less synchronously levelling up my characters, so it's not going all that fast. And then the character I consider to be my 'main', elementalist Ravanel, is a human, so if anything that story is probably going to be completed first.

      Would love to know if there's any way to get to play the Season 1 living story, though. It was one of those storylines that were only available for a limited time in-game, right? You can buy them somewhere as a sort of DLC, I reckon?

  2. This is one of those things we don't think about much until someone points it out. I was trying to think of mother examples that you can interact with in games and besides the one you brought up I only could come up with three examples.

    The first one is Barenziah. I *think* she had an important role in Daggerfall since back then she was the queen of Morrowind. I never played the game besides the demo so I can't really say for sure. I will try to correct it someday. Anyway, we do interact with her again in the Morrowind expansion, Tribunal, but she has a very minor role there. Her son however, who by then is the king of Morrowind, does have a large role in the expansion's story. And the guy is a bastard machiavellian politician. :p

    The second example was from a game called... Lufia 2, I think. It was a JRPG for the SNES. Unfortunately it is another game I never finished (story of my life!). In the story two of the playable characters end up meeting during the adventure, fall in love, marry and have a child. After that I don't know much what happens. But it was interesting how love was portrayed in the game and that those two characters end up falling in love because they have a lot of common and complete trust in each others abilities as adventurers.

    The third is the mother of Duck (I forgot her name!) in the Walking Dead Season 1 game. She didn't make much of an impression until her last scene. Which I guess was the point, she was just supposed to be a normal human being caught in a zombie apocalypse. While there were a lot of bigger jerks shouting at each other during the game and calling attention to them.

    Fathers by comparisons are a lot easier. I can think of at least of four examples of the top of my mind. Well, at least if you count father-like figures as counting.

    1. Thanks for keeping us up to date with motherhood in other games! I have the feeling the lack is mostly a 'problem' (if you want to call it that) in MMOs and maybe action titles and the like (I don't play the latter that much).

      I'm surprised at your and Bhagpuss' idea of fatherhood being more of a thing. If anything, I was under the impression that mothers are a stronger walking cliché than fathers when it comes to parenting. When I was writing this post I thought about what it would be like if I would do the same with Father's day, and my conclusion was that I could think of even less fathers in the games I play than I could think of mothers.

      That said, maybe the trope of the "father-figure", as in a mentor, or a wise elder functioning as an example to a younger person is mostly claimed by male characters in popular culture and thus in games, too. These wouldn't necessarily be the biological fathers of people, which makes me wonder why women apparently are less often seen as suitable for such a role.

    2. Well, if we are going to limit it to MMOs the only ones I know of are the fae queen (forgot her name) in Everquest 2. Although she has little more personality than a wallpaper in the few opportunities we have to interact with her and not much lore is given either as far as I know. The only thing that makes her stand out a bit more is her daughter who is bitter against outsiders (i.e. any non-fae) due to the fae racial memory (think of it as a kind of reincarnation thing) where she remembers a terrible war the fae got involved with in centuries ago. I could be wrong about this but I believe the fae queen worries about that attitude of her daughter. Not only because it is bad by itself but if the princess takes over the throne with that kind of attitude it would be disastrous for the fae in a lot of ways.

      Another one from Everquest 2 would be Queen Cristanos, who rules the dark elf city Neriak. I don't know much about her and I am not sure how much of her role as mother is presented in the lore. If I am not wrong, the lore heavily implies she ordered the murder of her husband and son while they were away fighting the wood elves (and fae as they just appeared at the world, as we know them in EQ2, at that time). All that just so she could rule alone and because it was an opportunity for murder that she could easily get away with. Although you could say that says more about her ruthleness and dark elf society than anything about her as a mother. Plus it pales compared to some of the other evil stuff she did.

      As for why there seems to have more fathers in games than mothers, I do believe it is a cultural thing, yes. Although what would be the usual excuses I can only conjecture. I can think of at least 5 examples off the top of my head without much effort. Two where the player character has to fight their own fathers due to circunstances (Suikoden and Xenogears *) and two where the player character ends up becoming a sort of foster father to a young girl (Walking Dead Season 1 and The Last of Us). Actually, make that 6. There is also the father of Duck in Walking Dead Season 1 and the father of Sarah in The Walking Dead Season 2.

      * I may be misremembering those. It is been way too long since I played those games and unfortunately I never finished either. Alas!

  3. Very interesting post for (just after) Mother's Day! You're definitely right that mothers don't feature in games very much - feel free to be inspired, any indie developers that read this!

    Would you count something like The Sims? I remember that in Sims 2, which was the last time I really played that series, I really loved "breeding" my Sims because the genetics were so entertaining! It doesn't exactly offer a deep analysis of motherhood, but the whole business of going through a pregnancy and raising a toddler was handled in quite interesting ways I thought.

    That adoption feature from LOTRO sounds really cool btw! I wish SWTOR did something similar with its family trees.

    Now, out of your examples SWTOR is the only one I can comment on with any depth. I'm kind of surprised that there seem to be so few mothers in that game, but you're right, I can't think of many examples off the top of my head either. I remember that Vette's companion story features a pretty meaningful meeting with her mother though. Maybe the lack of mothers is at least in part related to the lack of children (which I believe you posted about before).

    I do love Satele though, precisely because she's not a great mother and it's kind of downplayed. As rare as mothers are in games, I feel that when they do show up they are often completely defined by their mother role, while men frequently get to be heroes who "also happen" to be fathers.

    I think it makes sense that player characters don't "officially" have any parents because even (or maybe especially) in a universe like Star Wars, where family relations are a big deal, players should be free to make up their own minds about that themselves. Like I said above, it would have been cool though if they had done more with the legacy system to allow players to build their own family trees and interpersonal relationships.

  4. I will add two more to the Mass Effect list (not MMOs, but I'm not coming up with any good examples from those off the top of my head. The Secret World might have one or two mother plot lines, though):

    If you choose Spacer as your background in ME1, you get to briefly interact with Shepard's mother during the mission "Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things". It's very quick, but it's there, and it seems like the two have an interesting mix of friendly and professional relationship (since both are military).

    Secondly, there's another side mission on the Citadel in ME1 (with carryover effects in ME2) where you help a pregnant woman and her brother decide on whether to pursue gene therapy for her child. Again, it's a quick one-shot, but it does introduce some of the very difficult decisions that go into motherhood even before the baby arrives.

    Interesting topic to bring up, though, thanks! I'll be on the lookout for more MM-mums from now on. :)

    1. Ohhh, I was going to add that thing about the Spacer background! I was just so tired when I wrote this post, I must've forgotten it. Some posts are more of a struggle to write than others. I guess it's bad blogger etiquette if I secretly add it now after all?

      Overall, I get the feeling motherhood is addressed in games with high immersion/storytelling. MMOs, not so much. That said, from what I've heard and read (I haven't played the game myself), TSW scores high on those, so it wouldn't surprise me if it does include some mom themes.

  5. great article :) yes and as well as mothers, there are very few children too (with the exception of lotro - rohan), it's very face value immersion i suppose - just enough npcs to make the place 'feel' populated without them necessarily having any further purpose. It certainly shows when the extra effort is put in though, like with lotro.

    ESO also has quite a few mothers - again mostly found out through quests, the children here tend to be grown up and young adults though. The mothers have been all sorts - from farmwives, to high priestess etc etc - nice variety. Again ESO doesn't have children npcs. I wonder if the reluctance to include children is why we don't see many mothers?

    1. That's a very interesting thought. It makes sense, I suppose! I have the feeling that mothers are even 'prioritized' over children (if you may call it that way): like you say, some games feature mothers, but only with young adult or grown up children. My hypothesis would be that game developers are reluctant to involve children, even while only virtually, in hazardous or violent environments. I can see that being a conscious decision, maybe an attempt to not upset or scare away customers, or an unconscious thing.

      I agree that it really shows when the extra effort is put in. I wrote a post about children in games (link) a while ago and I was positively surprised with LOTRO back then as well.


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