1. Matriarch Benezia, Mass Effect
In most circumstances, holding a doctorate is something to be proud of. Unfortunately for Dr. Liara T’Soni, the sexy blue ally of Commander Shepard in 2007’s Mass Effect, her mother spent the better part of a millennium having the honorific “Matriarch” printed on her business cards. In Liara’s culture, that title casts a long shadow. On top of being a super-powerful “biotic” sorceress, Matriarch Benezia was also the de facto spiritual leader of her people. That’s past tense because an early mission in the role-playing game pits Shepard and crew against the formidable woman, after it’s discovered that she’s providing aid to the bad guys. The fact that Benezia is voiced by Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Marina Sirtis makes the encounter feel epic enough. But this boss battle is notoriously difficult, especially considering how little resistance the players face prior to the Benezia fight. So poor Liara’s misfortune is compounded. Not only has her super-powerful mom taken up arms with the scourge of the galaxy, but she’s also a pain in the ass to put down.
2. Father-Mother, Zeno Clash
Mother’s Day is this weekend, but for some parents, a single day of recognition isn’t enough. In the indie fighting game Zeno Clash, Father-Mother tries to have it both ways, assuring that he/she will receive semi-thoughtful gifts and cursory telephone calls twice a year, rather than just once. Purported to be a supernatural, hermaphroditic demigod of fertility, Father-Mother oversees a huge clan that uses its muscle to control the game’s Hieronymus Bosch-like countryside. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that Father-Mother is something less than the myths would have you believe, proving what any reasonable observer would guess: He/she’s just in it for the attention.
3. Sophitia, Soul Calibur V
Greek mythology isn’t populated with the best moms. Hera was the god of all moms, and she was terrible at parenting. She thought her kid Hephaestus was so homely as a baby that she threw him into a volcano. That was a pantheon in sore need of social services. The Soul Calibur series carries forward this tradition of dysfunction. According to the game’s lore, Hephaestus is responsible for getting series mainstay Sophitia—a busty sword fighter who’s markedly blonder than most Greek ladies—to fight evil pirates and samurais. Somewhere between the 17-year gap between Soul Calibur IV and V, Sophitia had two kids who grew up to be fated sword fighters themselves. Rather than take care of her brood, Sopithia ran off, died, and became a sort of goddess who’s the physical embodiment of a magic sword. From beyond the grave, she first tries to get her son to kill his sister. Then she puts on a string bikini and forces her son to fight her. Whether that’s better than being tossed in a volcano is debatable.
4. Mother Curie III, Fallout 3: Broken Steel
The Broken Steel expansion to Bethesda’s role-playing game Fallout 3 sees you restoring a meager but steady supply of clean water to the irradiated, post-nuclear-apocalypse Wasteland. You might think this would be cause for celebration, but not everyone agrees. Mother Curie III, the leader and den mother of a zealous religious clan called The Apostles Of The Holy Light, doesn’t care what the doctors say. She thinks that the irradiated water is not a curse but a blessing, seeing as how it turns people into glowing ghouls—which she presumes is a higher state of being. So she has her boys intercept clean-water shipments and irradiate it, transforming it into “Holy Water.” Unlike many of the mothers on this list, though, Mother Curie III can be made to hear your pleas: Pump your veins full of radiation and your green aura will convince her that you’re the fabled Prophet Of Atom, the transcendental son she always wanted.
5. Mom, The Binding Of Isaac
As a combination of a bible allusion and deep-seated childhood trauma, The Binding Of Isaac is driven entirely by mommy issues. It starts with Isaac and his mother living together as happy as can be, until Mom hears the voice of God demand that she kill her child. From there, Mom is depicted first as a cooing, knife-wielding psychopath, and later as a collection of distended, veiny eyes and legs. Assuming all goes well, Isaac commits gory matricide and everything is…okay? Or maybe slightly less bad than it was when Mom was alive? There’s no happy ending for this tiny naked Mom murderer, even if she did have it coming.
6. Mother Brain, Metroid
When a band of space pirates invaded Mother Brain’s homeworld, the super-intelligent biological computer saw a group of interstellar jerks that she could take under her wing and mold. In the fragmentary mythology of the classic NES game Metroid, it’s hard to tell how Mother Brain assumed control of the ultra-powerful privateers, but evidence suggests that the pirates were less than willing participants in the alliance. After all, by the time you arrive on the scene, the pirates aren’t embarking on any of their (presumably fun and exciting) outer-space plundering raids anymore. Instead, they’re sitting around in an elaborate base, protecting the surrogate mother who controls their every move. It’s not the most swashbuckling life, but look at it from Mother Brain’s point of view: She’s an immobile brain in a jar. She could probably use the company.
7. Mother Brain, Chrono Trigger
In the 1995 role-playing game Chrono Trigger, the robotic character Robo starts out as a deactivated survivor of the apocalypse and becomes a philosopher-cum-gentleman farmer. When you meet him in the ruined future of this time-traveling adventure, he nearly dies trying to protect you and your human companions from his murderous “brothers.” Late in Trigger, there’s an optional quest that takes you to Robo’s birthplace. It’s there that you meet Mother Brain, a prismatic hologram that’s half-woman and half-butterfly (and has no relation to the more famous Metroid villain). The humans of 2300 AD are all but extinct, and the imperfect apes have had their time, so Mother Brain figures, why not wipe them out to pave the way for artificial intelligence? It’s an awfully familiar plan for an evil bot, but what she lacks in originality she makes up for in sheer cruelty. After turning Robo’s siblings against him, she ups the ante by making Robo’s old girlfriend attack him as well. As John Cusack says in High Fidelity, that’s some cold shit, mom.
8. Jenova, Final Fantasy VII
Because mothers are there for your formative years, they can exert influence long after you’ve grown up, even when you don’t see them because they’ve been hermetically sealed in a heavily guarded chamber with only their DNA to guide you. In Final Fantasy VII, Jenova is a mother of sorts to many of the game’s characters. She was a powerful alien life force hidden away by The Ancients in an attempt to protect the world from her immense power. Later, the evil Shinra corporation discovered her and began injecting its soldiers with her cells in an attempt to make them more powerful. One of the most extreme cases is Sephiroth, a powerful warrior who wields a katana nearly twice as tall as himself. He’s perfectly content living his swordly life untroubled for most of the game. But upon learning he was the first successful result of the Jenova Project—which implanted the alien’s cells into fetuses—he decides to carry out the wishes of his “mother” and take over the planet. Well, “decides” might not be the right word—it’s more like he’s compelled to megalomania. Sephiroth simply wants to please Mother, even long after she’s gone.
9. Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum, BioShock
In BioShock’s Rapture—an undersea, libertarian utopia gone awry—society, nature, and God knows what else are warped beyond recognition. So calling Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum the “mother” of the game’s haunting Little Sisters is forgivable, if not entirely honest. The thickly accented scientist bears affection for the poor creatures and rewards the player greatly for choosing to rescue the little buggers. But Tenenbaum was the one who made the creepy little sisters what they are in the first place, by implanting young girls with a bizarre sea slug so she could harvest a super-addictive drug from their stomachs. Still, Tenenbaum seeks redemption. And if players goes along with her plans, they are rewarded not only with loot, but with a third-act look at what their efforts have wrought. In Tenenbaum’s safehouse, all the rescued young girls, cured of their mutations, draw pictures by candlelight and play hopscotch. With every other denizen of Rapture dead or worse, Tenenbaum’s perverted take on nurturing is the only salvation to be had.
10. Mother, House Of The Dead: Overkill
A paean to grindhouse cinema that’s more grotesque and funnier than its inspiration, House Of The Dead: Overkill is not in the subtlety business: You shoot freaks with a stripper at your side. Overkill’s grand finale is a fight against the monstrous mother of mad scientist Clement Darling. Little Clement has spent his career as a crazy person trying to keep his dying mother alive, going so far as to steal and tinker with a super-soldier formula left over from the Cold War. At the end, Clement puts his mom’s brain in the body of the aforementioned stripper and gives her a dose of Formula X, turning her into a Godzilla-sized berserker. He comes to regret that decision.
11. Mother, K.O.L.M.
“You’re a broken robot,” reads the introduction to Armor Games’ K.O.L.M., “Fix yourself up to please Mother.” The trouble is that in this Flash game, there’s no pleasing the woman. Although K.O.L.M. stands for Kind Of Like Metroid, the mother figure in Metroid was rather direct and forceful with her hatred. The Mother in K.O.L.M. is more subtle. Like a passive-aggressive Facebook junkie, Mother chides you via text message with backhanded expressions of ice-cold love. When your crippled character regains use of his legs, for instance, Mother writes, “Your legs, son. Now you are less of a disappointment. :)”—with that sideways smiley acting as an electronic dagger in your tiny metallic heart.
12. Sindel, Mortal Kombat
They say that no parent is harder to please than the one that’s been brainwashed into fealty by a cruel god-emperor. Take Sindel. Back in the good old days, she ruled Edenia with her darling daughter, Kitana, until the dictator Shao Kahn took that kingdom and drove Sindel to suicide. Kahn was still pretty into her, though, so he had her resurrected, subjugated her mind, and made her his queen. Kitana’s not okay with this new order. What happens next depends on which inscrutable Mortal Kombat timeline you want to follow. But in the worst case, Sindel disowns her daughter, kicks her in the face, and rips out her soul. Maybe the next time a ridiculous time-travel twist reboots the entire universe (it’s bound to happen), Kitana will listen to her Mother.
13. The Queen, Ico
Yorda, Ico’s mute damsel in distress, does not have a good mom. A good mom doesn’t lock you in a spiked cage in a crumbling castle of doomed magic. She doesn’t send shadow demons to catch you and drag you back home when you break curfew. She wouldn’t try to take over your body in a bid for immortality. She would understand that the horned boy holding your hand is a nice young man, so stop electrocuting him with blue lightning bolts already. Yorda’s mother, The Queen, is the central antagonist of Ico, and she’s one of only a few known quantities in the enigmatic game. Yorda, her jailers, the boy, the castle—Ico is full of mysteries and ambiguity, but Yorda’s mother is cut-and-dry evil.
14. The Mother, Dragon Age: Origins—Awakening
Succinct as always, the dwarf Oghren’s reaction to The Mother in Dragon Age: Origins—Awakening is, “That’s a lot of nipples.” The matriarch of the darkspawn—the game’s slavering zombie-like monsters—The Mother is bulbous, writhing and, yes, awash in nipples. Also tentacles. She comes straight out of Lovecraftian mythology, a female Cthulhu figure driven mad by her own twisted existence. Prone to wild outbursts of self-pity and maniacal laughter, The Mother does love her “children” the darkspawn after a fashion, but she won’t hesitate to kill them if she deems it necessary.
15. Sheila, The Adventures Of Willy Beamish
Willy Beamish may be an entitled little snot, but it’s not entirely his fault. His mother Sheila isn’t exactly doing a bang-up job—while she’s overworked and underappreciated, she’s not a picture of selflessness. So when Willy cuts himself helping with dinner, Sheila cares way more about the carrots than the arc of blood pulsing out of her son’s hand. And when her husband loses his job, her first instinct is to wonder how she’s going to pay for her facials and nail wraps. Sheila’s always on edge, to the point where a little sass from Willy can escalate almost immediately into his being shipped off to military school. Willy doesn’t need this—his poorly designed game world is punishing enough without his own family subjecting him to outsized misery. It’s no wonder he spends so much time in detention and his best friend is a frog.