Much has been said about dad games. Less has been said about mom games—for all your Witch Moms and Gamer Moms, more has rightfully been said about the lack of mothers in video games (or, alternatively, their poor characterization) than about the moms themselves. It doesn’t take a lot of speculation to see why; the gaming industry is notoriously male-dominated, and as that industry ages, their interests and lifestyles change—sons become fathers, as Stephen Totilo wrote about in 2010, and yet women are still left behind, as Mattie Brice expanded in 2013.

So where are we now, in 2024? Is the representation of mothers any better than it was? Have we reached a point of “mom game” yet? This May, let’s celebrate Mother’s Day by talking about it!

Who is your favorite mother of gaming?

Melissa Brinks: I wish I had a more interesting answer because my answer is actually the same as Jess Joho’s in the KillScreen piece linked above—Undertale’s Toriel is the most interesting representation of a mother that comes to mind. There are all the superficial reasons, like her being sweet to the player character, being a great cook, and being protective. But more importantly to me, she helps that character grow—even if it means her own destruction. I don’t advocate for moms destroying themselves for the sake of their children in real life, but the depth of Toriel’s care for the character, as Joho discusses, forces us out of the familiar mindset in video games that encourage us to kill everything and everyone we come across. There’s a strong chance that we’ll fuck it up, but Toriel is our first reminder in the game that our actions have consequences, and hurting others can hurt us, too.

Zainabb Hull: Flemeth from the Dragon Age series is, in many ways, the sort of auntie I aspire to be one day. She is, to put it lightly, a terrible mother but she’s also a classic hag, a powerful bitch, and always wears on-point goth makeup. I can only dream of being a swamp witch when I’m 600 years old, or however old Flemeth is, just ideally without any of the kids.

Cress: I do love Toriel, but the mother who keeps coming up in my mind is Miranda from Grandia III. She’s one of your first party members, being the mother of the main character, Yuki. She’s bold, resourceful, and refreshingly a physical fighter. She fully embraces protecting Alfina, another pivotal party member, once she shows up on their doorstep. Miranda and Yuki also have a non-traditional relationship in that they call each other by their first name. She doesn’t end up staying with the party though, instead she decides to adventure with Alonso in mapping the world, encouraging Yuki to go on his own journey. Though I was sad to see her go, I loved that the game basically said, “Yeah, get it girl!” No death, no tragedy, just going on a roadtrip with her new boo because it made her happy.

Is the representation of mothers improving, in your opinion?

Melissa: I wish I could say yes, but the games I’ve played over the past few years do not indicate that that’s the case. We’ve got a lot of absent and/or dead mothers (Baldur’s Gate III, Mask of the Rose) or mothers that might be important but aren’t actually part of the story (The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow). I can’t think of any examples of games I’ve played where mothers are not dead, are physically present, and play an important role, so I’m going to have to go with no on this one!

Zainabb: I’m absolutely out of the loop when it comes to the latest games so maybe I’m missing some incredible AAA representation but from my experience, I have to agree with Melissa. Have I played a game where the player character is actually a mother? The only title that comes to mind is The First Tree where you play a mother fox searching for her cubs. There’s also Okami, but again, where are the playable human mums? Who don’t end up dead or in the fridge, as Melissa points out? I don’t know—tell me in the comments!

Cress: Sort of? I feel like at least now they’re recognized as people, but I still feel that hint of gender essentialism at times. In God of War: Ragnorok I felt I understood some of Freya’s motivation for casting a protective spell on her son, Baldur, and it was very much in line with mythology. The part that bothered me was that it took a million years to realize how much pain she caused her son and that in the end she was willing to let him kill her as atonement. Kratos doesn’t let that happen, but it still feels like everyone is nodding along: of course she would do that, she’s a mother, she could never hurt her child and she would lay down her life no questions asked.

In general I don’t like actions being handwaved as sensible because the parent was only trying to protect their child. What she did was abuse, and the game somewhat acknowledges it but it still felt like there was a hint of justification just because she’s a mother in her feelings.

What does an ideal representation of a mother (not flawless, just ideal) look like in a game for you?

Melissa: I mean—not dead, physically present, and having a role in the story are great starts. But that’s not a guarantee of a mother character, just a mother character that I feel like is worth commenting on, and that’s rare enough! What I want to see is a mother in a story whose status as “mother” is important for what it is; what mothers are and do depends on the individual mother, but it seems like many gaming mothers right now are dead or absent or “failed” in some way. I don’t know what a game about motherhood looks like (especially as I’m not a mother and don’t want to be one), but I imagine that a game with a satisfying mother character is one that lets the relationship between a mother and child be complex. Some of us have great relationships with our mothers, some terrible, some in-between. Few of the ones I see in games are complex.

I should actually give Life is Strange a few points for that one—as an adult, I see the complexities of Joyce’s decisions, even as I maintain that David fucking sucks and should be punted into the nearest river. Chloe’s feelings about Joyce are likely a mix of caring and anger (the Chloe special!), even though the subtleties, as they often are in Life is Strange, are somewhat drowned out by melodrama.

Zainabb: I also really enjoy Joyce’s character development in Life is Strange and I want to see more mums like this in games! I want to see mothers whose lives and identities are not solely based around being a mother, and I want to see queer mothers, both the “looking after a child” kind of queer mother and the kind of queer mother who nurtures and brings together adult queers in a chosen family. I want expansive, complex mothers in my games, and I want real mothers from a variety of backgrounds to write these characters.

Kamie Wootan: I can’t think of any great mom representatives. The only one that is popping into my head is May from It Takes Two, a co-op game in which you play a couple who are turned into dolls by their daughter, and the only way to break the spell is to work on your relationship. I find May hilarious, but I think if I were her husband, Cody, I would have done more than just file for divorce. She is ruthless.

So while there is evidence of May not being Mom of the Year as you play through the game, she has a relatable feel. Both her and Cody’s problems make sense, and are problems that real parents and couples face. To me, that seems like some improvement, albeit isolated to this one game, since the only other moms I can think of die tragically or send their ten-year-old out into the world with apparently no education or understanding of how the world works.

Cress: I like it when being a mom isn’t their whole personality. That they have drive and interests as a person that isn’t solely orbiting their child.

I also love stories that highlight how the person is balancing taking care of their child and driving toward their own goals. It’s something that’s so rarely portrayed (if at all) in games with mothers. And for me the ideal isn’t taking away from the story that a mother is so strong, but that they deserve support.

Who’s the baddest mommi in gaming?

Melissa: Lulu from Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2! She’s always been cool, will always be cool, and she could kill me with one withering stare.

Zainabb: Well, apparently, Koudelka (from my childhood PS1 fave of the same name) becomes a mum after the events of Koudelka and psychically works to protect her kids in Shadow Hearts, the sequel that I longed for but could never afford to buy as a kid. I have no idea what Koudelka is like in Shadow Hearts but I do know I wanted to be/make out with her in the first game.

Cress: Jenova from Final Fantasy VII! She and her son just want to go on a roadtrip through the cosmos, it’ll be fine.