I didn’t like Night in the Woods as much as I had hoped when I first finished it. It didn’t help that I was spoiled about some of its story before I got around to it (don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers in this post), but there was something about it that felt a bit off for me.
After mulling it over a bit and watching a few analysis videos for other people’s takes on the game, I grew to like the game a bit more and appreciate some of its subtleties I missed, and with that I think I figured out what exactly felt off for me about the game.
Night in the Woods is a game created from and for a very specific perspective; small town, poor to lower-middle class, teenage angst, existential dread on one’s future, all that kind of stuff. To be clear, it’s perfectly fine for a game to focus on different perspectives, and if anything I’d love to see different perspectives come into games and game development. It’s just in this particular case it took a bit of time before I could really internalize what the game was trying to show me.
I’ve grown up in Dallas for pretty much all my life, and Dallas is nowhere near the definition of a “small town”. I’ve been fairly well taken care of my whole life, growing up in a middle class home, only working out of wanting to work rather than out of necessity. I’m even done with college debt-free since I got a tuition scholarship and my father helped pay for the rent. I’m super privileged to say the least. I don’t really know that feeling of coming home after being gone for a long time from college because UTD is 5 minutes away from my house. I don’t know that close-knit community feeling of having a history with your neighbors because Dallas is so frickin’ huge and there’s not really a “neighborhood culture” to connect with unless you really try.
That’s not to say I haven’t had my struggles. In fact, I’d say out of everything in the game, Mae and Bea are the two things in this game that I deeply connected with because of their more internal struggles that line up with mine.
It took me a while to really “figure out” Mae, but towards the end of the game when more about her is revealed (again, no spoilers), I started to realize the little things throughout the game that I connected with. Mae berating herself in the mirror on her appearance, her anxiety about college, and a tinge of self-loathing, self-destructive behavior, and inability to pick up on the queues to know when to shut up (gosh dangit Mae) are all things that I’ve dealt with, and still deal with.
With Bea it’s a bit more nuanced. Again, I’m lucky in that I’ve always been fairly well taken care of so I’ve never been anywhere close to her situation, but I’ve known a few people in similar situations, and the feeling of putting immense pressure on yourself to succeed, the feeling of wanting something so bad but not knowing what to do about it, feeling stuck in a rut, a hole that you can’t get out of no matter what you do – that’s very true for me. And I’ll fully admit, after I finished the game, I felt compelled and went to visit my mother at the cemetery to check up on everything.
So, overall, I think this game is something that needs to simmer in your mind before you can figure out if you liked it or not. It’s not something that you’re going to feel for weeks on end like a punch to the gutt, but it is something that sticks in the back of your mind, something that comes up every now and then when you’re looking to think of something. Luckily for me it came at a pretty convenient time when I wanted to be thinking about these things.
P.S. Yes I ship Maebea. I am fully convinced the devs made their names like that for the express purpose of making the ship that much easier to make.