Abject Nostalgia in “Night in the Woods”
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR NIGHT IN THE WOODS Night in The Woods, the narrative driven video game from developer, Infinite Fall, and the mind of Alec Holowka, is like taking a trip home. Your time in the game is spent exploring college dropout Mae Borowski’s hometown of ‘Possum Springs.’ In this town, …
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR NIGHT IN THE WOODS
Night in The Woods, the narrative driven video game from developer, Infinite Fall, and the mind of Alec Holowka, is like taking a trip home. Your time in the game is spent exploring college dropout Mae Borowski’s hometown of ‘Possum Springs.’ In this town, you will meet a myriad of characters driven by mental disorders, misplaced nostalgia in a dying town, and a ghostlike “murder cult of dads.” Those three narratives are only a small part of the ideas this game explores and the average player might ignore these overarching themes for the personal moments Mae shares with her family and friends. So to keep my own narrative concise, I’m going to focus on the game’s adverse nostalgia expressed both visually and narratively. Why? Hey, this is a design studio.
Nostalgia looks to the past affectionately, as do the protagonist and antagonist(s) of the game. So when Mae returns to Possum Springs from college to reunite with friends and family, it’s assumedly an attempt to recapture the nostalgia of her youth. What she finds is anything but that. Much of the town have closed down with businesses leaving every day. Even Mae’s attempts to reconnect with old friends brings unease. The connections they once shared are now muddled by adulthood and priorities. Upon Mae’s return, her friends are all trying to leave the past behind.
The same sentiment is shared by the town’s resident cult,‘Possum Springs,’ a group of old men terrorizing the community in their attempt to keep the town from completely going under. Their message is that the town is dying, and only by their actions (which include the murdering of youth they deem as “troublemakers”) can the town remain safe and sound. By doing so, they hope to return ‘Possum Springs’ to its former glory, something they remember from their youth, which is adverse nostalgia on both ends of the narrative.
It establishes that overwrought reverence for nostalgia is ultimately hurtful on a personal and worldly level, a message further compounded visually. From the game’s introduction, the game’s characters, camera, and other mechanisms suggested a visual movement from right to left. Mae runs home from right to left. She explores ‘Possum Springs’ daily leaving her house and walking left. If the player walks all the way to the right of town, you find the entrance to the town and everything that lies ahead. If the player walks all the way top the left, you’ll find the most abandoned parts of ‘Possum Springs’ and further left into the forest is the cult, the epitome of Nostalgia’s negative effects.
The choice of moving the character right to left contrasts common western ideals. A movement to the right is typically related to the movement towards the future or an end point. Think about how western language is read and written left to right. How timelines, graphs, and film use rightward motion as transitioning forward movement. The opposite then is to regress. Something both Mae and the cult tries to achieve as they yearn to rediscover the past.
Ultimately a small visual element becomes essential to the games total narrative. It’s one of the more discrete elements in a game brimming with good ideas, but something you’re less likely to notice than say, all the characters being animals.