the artistry and psychology of gaming


A Mother’s Love

A Mother’s Love

In honor of Mothers’ Day, I’d like to share the beautiful story of a mother’s love. I very recently experienced one of those rare video game stories that changed my life, or at least my perception of it. That game is Theresia for the Nintendo DS, which actually comes with two stories, but the one upon which I’ll be focusing is the first of which: Dear Emile. I almost hesitate to do this, not only because the game is so obscure that most have not played it, but also because it’s the sort of thing that should be experienced firsthand. The protagonist wakes up in a room in some creepy subbasement somewhere with absolutely no memories, not even her name. The details of her life are gradually revealed over the course of this Shadowgate-style Adventure, so I’ll be spoiling very nearly the entire plot, so yes, MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT! At the suggestion of the person who recommended it to me, I waited 3 years before reading his synopsis just to play this game first, and it was well worth the wait!

As I said, the story begins with a young woman waking up in a room in an underground facility of unknown nature. All that she knows – aside from basic functions, like language, how to walk, etc. – is that she’s a blonde Caucasian girl in her teenage years, and that’s only because there’s a mirror in the room. It isn’t far outside of this first room that she finds her first corpse, soon to be followed by many others. There are also a number of traps; in the first few minutes, I’d been stabbed, showered with needles, sliced, burned, and electrocuted; even I, the player, found myself tensing up whenever I got near a suspicious object, and those who know me know that I don’t tense up easily. Over the course of the game, she finds a number of diary entries that spark her memories. Initially, they’re just flashes with no context, but the more she regains, the longer and more detailed they become. A common element in these shattered memories is a blood-soaked woman with almost floor-length silver hair.

As the girl regains her memories, she begins to change, or at least, that’s the player’s perception. She starts out as this frightened little girl, who’s determined to get out – a natural assumption on the part of the player – but as she continues on her grueling journey, she becomes something else entirely. The first hint of this is when she ascends a staircase and encounters a thick blood smell*. You might think that this would heighten her fear, especially after seeing so many corpses, but the scent actually makes her feel at ease. This worried her; what if she’s some sort of serial killer? With undaunted courage, she still decided that she wanted to recover her memories more than anything else, despite the possibility that she might not like what she finds.

So, she carries on, bruised, broken, bloody, and barefoot in this dangerous, filthy environment, uncovering a horrific story of a disease that had been used as a biological weapon in a recent war. Those afflicted with this virus lose their memories and become destructive, first to others, and then, to themselves. It seems fairly obvious that this is what happened to our protagonist, though how she managed to survive it is not revealed until later. The victims had apparently been brought to this facility to test in order to see exactly how the virus works. Underneath it all, though, is an equally horrifying story with a much more mundane theme.

The beautiful woman with the long silver hair is revealed to be Emile Theresia, the titular character. She grew up in a tumultuous period, and was effectively raised by mercenaries. Rather than growing up to be a normal, well-adjusted adult, all she knew growing up was how to torture, and even at a young age, showed great proficiency with it. Needless to say, she grew up as something of an outcast in her village, and eventually found her way to what may be the only career that such a person could ever find: a torturer for the military. She was so ruthless in her methods that she earned the nickname, “The Devil”, and everyone greatly feared her. During this war, she found a baby whose parents had been killed; she picked it up by the ankle, holding it upside-down with a confused look on her face, and said, “From today on, you are my daughter.”

She raised this little girl as her own, taking her to a church to live, and coming to visit whenever she had time. This little girl, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the protagonist of her story, and once she realizes it, her focus is shifted. She wants nothing more than to see her mother, even though she knows that it is Emile, who set up all of the traps found around this facility, which turns out to be the basement of the aforementioned church. Even though Emile seemed more obsessive with her than loving, she still deeply loves her mother, and finds the strength to continue, because she knows that she’s waiting for her. Emile would tell the young woman, who later discovers her name to be Leanne, never to speak to anyone other than herself, and never to leave the church unless they were together.

In her youth, Leanne met a boy named Sacha, who fell in love with her. She liked Sacha, too, but did her very best to avoid him, because she didn’t want to disobey her mother. Though Emile would sometimes beat the girl for her disobedience, it was not fear that made Leanne listen to her mother, but love. She and Sacha did eventually get close – as close as they could, Leanne being the way that she was – but it was not to last. Sacha found out what kind of mother Emile was, and planned to escape with Leanne. When Emile found out about this, she flew into a rage; she chained Leanne in the basement, where she could hear the sounds of her mother torturing her victims; the smell of blood and sounds of tortured screams made her feel at ease, so she didn’t mind being bound to the wall. Sacha made his way in and attempted to convince Leanne to leave with him, and as he did so, Emile entered the room behind him.

He turned around and pointed a gun at Emile, quaking with terror, and shouting “I won’t let you kill her!” She very calmly walked over to him, singing the same lullabye that she had always sung to her daughter. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all, and she got behind him and wrapped him in her arms, embracing him. She smiled lovingly as she took the gun from his hand, putting him at ease. Still singing and smiling, whispering softly to him, she put it to his head and pulled the trigger, showering the room with blood and bits of skull and brain matter right before the eyes of her daughter, who was not the least bit upset; more than anything, she loved her mother. As she now made her way through the facility, she began to wonder, “Did my strange mother ever really love me?” The beautiful thing is that, even as she wonders this, her love for her mother is still as strong as ever.

She later recovered the memory of why the facility had been abandoned. When rumors of the viral outbreak spread to the military, they came in, ordered to wipe out every living thing in the building, in order to keep the virus from spreading. Their top priority? Leanne Theresia. When Emile got wind of this, she grabbed Leanne and stood in front, protecting her from the soldiers. They kept shouting, “Kill the daughter!” This, of course, this was the wrong thing to say; the events that followed are described as “Bodies fell like rain around my mother as she turned on her former comrades, making herself a traitor and enemy of the state.” It was true: her mother really did love her, but most people wouldn’t see it.

It is difficult for most people to understand, because most people grow up with a well-adjusted mother, who loved them in the very traditional sense: baking cookies, having birthday parties, taking them shopping; the sorts of things that form most people’s fond childhood memories. Most people would look at Emile’s treatment of her daughter and see nothing more than an abusive monster. You have to remember, though, that Emile was raised to be a torturer from a very young age; she didn’t have a normal childhood, either. Leanne says it herself: violence was the only way she knew how to express her love. You almost have to have an unusual relationship with your own mother to understand it, but as twisted as it may seem, there is absolutely no question that Emile loved her daughter more than anything in the world. As sick as most would see their relationship to be – perhaps throwing around the term, Stockholm Syndrome – it is truly something that is deeply beautiful, even if it doesn’t take the form that society deems acceptable or that most people can understand.

Leanne continues on, determined to make it to her mother, no matter what it takes. She’s exploring the second floor – above the church – and comes to a trapped, locked room. She makes her way inside and the music stops; it is a well-preserved room with a single body slumped over the desk. I took one look, and thought, “Oh no…”, my heart sinking, and my worst suspicions were confirmed: there sat the lifeless body of Emile Theresia. It is the single most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever encountered in a story of any kind, and it brought me as close to tears as I am emotionally capable. After all she’d endured, the woman she loved most in her life was cold and dead. A lost young woman with shattered memories and a strange relationship with her mother had already hit pretty close to home – in my youth, I was that girl – but to see that, I was absolutely crushed; it’s deeply saddening me just thinking about it right now. Mothers’ Day was originally intended to be a memorial of mothers that have died, and who better to commemorate that than Emile Theresia?

Though in the same situation, many would lose the will to live, wanting only to stay with Mother until they expire, Leanne finds the strength to get out. She decides that her mother would want her to make her way into the world and live her life. It seemed a bit callous to me at first, but I later realized how beautiful this was, too. Even in death, her mother loved her so deeply that she was willing to make the sacrifice of her company and her control, so that she would be happy. The facility burns to the ground, as Leanne steps out into the world for the first time, almost as though she’s just now being born…

Perhaps you know someone like this in your own life, even if it’s not your mother. They say that you don’t really know someone until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes, and that is especially true of their formative years. Some of us grow up to be well-adjusted, and “normal”, but some of us don’t ever get the skills to reach that point in our lives. If there’s someone that you know that seems strange or miserable, it might be worth your time to get to know that person and why he or she is that way, rather than so quickly dismissing him or her as a bad person; a waste of your time. Spend enough time with someone, and you might be pleasantly surprised at who he or she really is.

Though I have no biological daughters to call my own, the Mother in my moniker is something that is very special to me. In that spirit, I’d like to dedicate this article to Lilith and Arurue, who are the closest to daughters that I will ever have. I love you, girls!

*Author’s note: Please pardon my lack of eloquence in describing scents; having congenital anosmia (being born without the ability to smell) has left me with no point of reference as to what smell is actually like. It would be like a dog trying to describe a rainbow.


  1. Man, this is probably an interesting piece, but the idea behind it makes me want to check these games out myself. And then reading this mean spoilers for that.

    • That’s why I was on the fence about writing this, but I’d highly recommend checking it out. The second story is very different, and pales in comparison, but isn’t bad.

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