Secret of Momma

In the role-playing game of life, the “adopted” attribute is often misunderstood.

I’ll never forget the day I found out I was adopted.

I don’t think any adopted kid ever does, though I can’t pretend to imagine what goes through the heads of other adoptees in that moment. Sadness? Anger? Confusion? Whatever those feelings might be, when I think back on that awkward afternoon, to when I was a kid…

… I can’t help but smile.

I remember my parents sitting me down on the couch in our living room, my heart racing. I tried to hide behind the wild strands of hair from my Beatles-style mushroom bowl haircut. Whenever my mother wanted to have what she called “a fireside chat,” it meant she was once again channeling her inner-Franklin D. Roosevelt. I was in trouble.

My mind was spinning. What had I done? Was it something at school? Did I get a bad grade? Had I broken something in the house? My parents didn’t believe in giving their kids a slap. No, they used their words.

But as it would turn out, this wasn’t that kind of fireside chat. My mom and dad both sat down, and my mom brought out a book she had stashed away someplace. She took care to hide it before we started talking, and when she presented the book, I saw two illustrated white parents with two children of different races on the cover.

It was a strange picture book that I’ve yet to find again (I’ve searched Amazon, but apparently it’s a rare piece of loot), but I can still see it clear as day, with the colorful pages, smiling kids, and understanding parents. I wish I could remember all the intimate details of the actual conversation we had…

… but I was overwhelmed by the fact that I simply didn’t care. Okay, so I was adopted as a baby. So was my younger sister. I didn’t fall apart, I didn’t cry, I didn’t feel the need to ask dozens of questions or make outrageous demands about “real” parents. The concept of real vs. not-real parents is just as ridiculous to me now as it was when I was a child. You can’t quantify a relationship like that as real and not-real.

When parents have kids the old-fashioned way, it’s like a random encounter in a videogame, say Final Fantasy or Pokémon. The expecting parents don’t know what’s going to appear. The baby is a surprise, save for the vague details they’ve learned via sonogram. For all they know, they could get a brunette or a Banette, a redhead or a Loudred, a blonde or a Blitzle.

The point? My parents chose me. Me!

Videogames have always been a major part of my life, especially role-playing games (RPGs) and adventure games. I still go back and play Final Fantasy III. One of the only reasons I bothered with a Wii was so I could replay classics like Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past and Chrono Trigger.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the games that have defined my childhood; thinking about the characters and their stories. And I’ve realized one of the many reasons I’ve been able to return to those games:

All too often, the protagonist is an adopted child.

It’s a trope we see frequently, used with varying plot points. Sometimes the reason the character is adopted is never explained (Link raised by his uncle in Link to the Past) or is quickly skirted over (the Village Elder in Secret of Mana mentions raising the hero, Randi). Sometimes it plays a huge role in the plot (Princess Garnet in Final Fantasy IX vs. her evil adoptive mother, Queen Brahne). If you’re a gamer, think about it: How often have you seen this in RPGs and adventure games?

  • Cecil in Final Fantasy II? Adopted.
  • Lloyd Irving in Tales of Symphonia? Adopted.
  • Rena in Star Ocean: The Second Story? Adopted.
  • Link in the Ocarina of Time? Adopted (by a tree).
  • Ivan, Sheba, and Amiti in Golden Sun? Adopted. Adopted. Adopted.

These characters overcome all sorts of challenges, ranging from identities crises to battling inner (and outer) demons. At the end, the characters are celebrated, and their origin story is a thing of the past. And if there’s one thing all of these RPGs teach you, it’s that the adopted kid— the strange child of often mysterious origin — is in fact the hero of the story.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

In the background of these tales, at the genesis of the character, at the start of their origin story are the parents. The ones who raised those children as if they were their own. Sometimes they are human, like King of Baron who raises Cecil, and sometimes they are anything but, like the Deku Tree who raises Link amongst fairies (“Hey! Listen!”). We don’t really get to quest with these characters — go adventuring with them through towns, castles, dungeons, and other dimensions. But we don’t have to. They had their adventure. They raised the main character.

They raised you.

It takes a lot to raise a child that isn’t biologically yours. There’s a lengthy application process, there are friends and family with their endless questions, and then finally, there is the child, who will inevitably have questions of their own.

In the end, after questing behind the scenes for years, the adoptive parents are the heroes.

Without them, the protagonist wouldn’t have character, wouldn’t have had a home, wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow up into someone who would go out and save their damaged world. Who celebrates Link’s uncle, who perishes within the walls of Hyrule Castle, but not before giving Link a sword? Where’s the parade honoring the fallen King of Baron, who raised Cecil in Final Fantasy II?

These days, in games like the Fable or Elder Scrolls series, they stretch realism to the point where you can buy property, get married, own businesses, and even adopt children.

In the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it’s easy. You just have to walk up to children on the street or in orphanages, and they respond with canned dialogue, often eager to come home with you. In Fable III, adopting a child costs 500 gold pieces, and if you lose custody of your kid, well, just you just have to pay another 500 gold pieces to get them back.

While that part of the gaming world might not be entirely realistic, it does give you the option to make a difference, and it’s a path I find irresistible.

Because for my character in these kind of games, and one day in life, I always choose that route. The same route my parents took. The path of the hero.

My parents were never any good at video games, save for my Dad who loved Bubble Bobble. But if they somehow got onto Xbox Live, I like to think they’d be proud of the character I’ve created because of the character they gave me.

During the day, Eric Smith works at Quirk Books. At night, he can be found running Geekadelphia and teaching at Peirce College.