Night in the Woods is an indie adventure game, about Mae—a college dropout who has returned home. Mae has to navigate the changes her friends and the town itself has undergone while an ominous, potentially paranormal, mystery looms in the background.
Quick, but important, aside: I just realized this premise makes no sense. Mae comes home and learns about where her friends work and seems surprised. But if she dropped out near the start of sophomore year wouldn’t she have JUST been home due to summer vacation. She acts like she’s legitimately been gone for over a year but if this is a traditional college set-up then she’s visited during winter break, summer break, and perhaps even some holidays so what does she have to be surprised about?
I’ve talked in detail about why I don’t think this is a good game, but for this post I want to focus on an aspect I haven’t discussed yet: the overwhelming whiteness of Night in the Woods. I’ve played some pretty white games before, Life is Strange is pretty damn white (and quite literally considering the demographics of Arcadia Bay). But Night in the Woods stands out because all the characters are animals. There are no visual indicators of race and none of the characters come off as a depiction or embodiment of any race. Except for Mae, the protagonist and unfortunate focal point of the game. Mae is white enough to to make this whole gaming experience the whitest one I’ve ever had.
Before listing off reasons let me first clarify what I mean by “white” and “whiteness” before I get the “you can be poor and white” comments. I mean “white/whiteness” as a system and construct i.e what whiteness embodies and represents on a societal level. If you’re still unclear think of (or google) white feminism. White feminism isn’t about rejecting all white people who are feminists. Rather, it’s a rejection of privileged and exclusionary approaches to women’s rights.
In this case, when I say whiteness I (mainly) mean privilege. Here’s my laundry list on why, in that sense, Night in the Woods is very white (all of which is related to Mae):
Mae has the privilege of going to college on her parent’s dime and then drops out without getting a job (for months) while living at home…
Mae’s parents paid for her to go to college. First of all, having your parents give you any money for college, or during college, is a privilege not everyone has. Then Mae drops out and doesn’t make any financial moves for MONTHS. Mae’s parents are in a really tight spot financially, something that comes out when Mae’s mother is feeling agitated and stressed. Mae knows this but does nothing about it. You’re really just going to let your parents struggle and not help them pay for anything. Like you’re just going to wake up at noon, go outside every day to bother your high school friends, and then come home and eat the tacos your mom made.
…and it’s not like Mae’s parents aren’t supportive (helping her after she beat up that kid, both with the legal side and by paying for her to see a therapist).
Sure, Mae’s therapist is whack. Sure, her parents don’t fully understand what Mae is going through. But you’re too old for this. I’m only 23, but I realized that once you reach a certain age its no longer about your parents not connecting with you or reaching out on a deeper level. Once you’re an adult you have to take some of the blame. If you want a good relationship with your parents you need to make an effort. But all I’m really saying is can you at least get some more paper towels from the store while you’re out or what?
Mae shoplifts for fun and encourages others to do the same because she doesn’t have to worry about legal consequences, I guess.
What really bothers me about this is the fact that Mae is so public about it. She encourages Bea to shoplift as well. Maybe this is more immature than privileged but either way its an eye roll. Speaking of which…
Mae says “fuck the police” even though they’ve done nothing to her because she lives in a small town, there is only one cop in the game, and for some reason I doubt you’re saying “fuck the police” on behalf of large scale injustices in regards to policing.
When Mae says this it feels cheap and trendy. Mae strikes me as the kind of person that listens to trap music ironically because it’s “so bad, it’s funny.”
For these reasons, and so many more, by the time I got to the end of Night in the Woods I mentally walked up to Mae like:
For more of my thoughts on Night in the Woods check out:
Night in the Woods: a problematic cliche disguised as a quirky indie: where I discuss my issues with the game and my issues with Mae being the focal point (specifically in regards to mental health).
Indie Games and Craft Beer Pairing #19: where I discuss the game in a very general sense (mechanics, gameplay, art, etc) and give my input. I also pair it with a beer and discuss said beer.
What were your thoughts on Night in the Woods? Let me know in the comments below and/or via social media (all of which is at the bottom of the home page).