Fighting Change and Time in Night in the Woods
In my own life, I’ve experienced many a change. I went from satellite to cable, landlines to cellphones, public to private school and back, clique to clique and I’ve gone from home to home. Whether you know it or not, your life has been an ever evolving series of changes. By the time most people reach their end, life is so impossibly different, you sort of have to stop and stand in awe of it all. I’ve had the immense pleasure of living in one of the most diverse, ever evolving cities in the world so change is no stranger to me, but not everyone else has had that luxury. Night in the Woods is centered around the citizens of a small town that’s sent spiraling after a series of unwelcome changes occur.
Possum Springs is one of those places that’s been pulled from your favorite piece of small town fiction. You know the ones. Populated by the same hundred or so people for at least the majority of your life, kept afloat by local factories and mines. Populated by eccentric but affable personalities. Think Twin Peaks minus all the weird shit. Well…less weird shit. Actually, Gilmore Girls is probably more apt a comparison. It’s the type of town you love coming back to because it’s exactly as you left it. It’s oozing charm and familiarity, sensations not typically associated with the big city. Unfortunately, in a world obsessed with evolution and innovation, these “forever” places don’t typically last. Soon enough, they fade until they’re just a shape resembling that which came before. Disappearing ends up being the most distinguishable change these places go through.
A few hours into your play through, when you’re nearing the midpoint of the game, you can place Mae, the protagonist, in front of a grandfather clock that has stayed in the family since…well since her grandfather bought it. Doing so will illicit this response:
God this thing is intense. Weird how big clocks are like luxury furniture now since everything has a clock and internet on it. Like having something big that only does one thing is like a statement or something.
While it may seem like a throwaway line about how much technology has progressed, it’s actually one of the earliest signs of one of the core themes of the game: things changing, losing their meaning or fading into insignificance.
The world is in constant motion and stopping it is a Herculean task.
The main players in the story of Night in the Woods are these 20 somethings, but (MAJOR spoilers from here on out) the adults that lord over and watch the town become pretty big and ominous in the last act of the game. It’s revealed, in quite the plot twist, that some of the elder citizens have given into a cult mentality. They pick off people who they consider troublesome and sacrifice them to a “creature” in a dark pit housed in the mines that collapsed and began the end of everything as they knew it. When a sacrifice is made, the town is supposedly “saved” or at least until it’s “hungry” again. While stargazing with her former teacher Mr. Chazokov, he will tell Mae, “The gods in these stories are only stand-ins for things we cannot control.” It becomes increasingly clear by the end, the people of Possum Springs have lost all control. It’s weird shit that begins to reach eldritch proportions, but is all grounded in a stark reality: They all just want the pain to stop.
The belief held by the cultists in Night in the Woods is that appeasing this dark god while rooting out the “undesirables” will help the town survive. Obviously, it won’t. Fading away is a horrible thing to be starkly aware of and I can only imagine what it’s like to have your livelihood dangling in front of you incessantly. I don’t blame them though for trying literally anything to survive because I’d certainly do the same. When you’re as established as some of these people, it’s hard to let go because, naturally, it’s immensely difficult for you to start over elsewhere. It’s incredibly easy for a place like Possum Springs to be your first and last destination. It’s like a trap.
The kids have entirely different problems with entirely different approaches. They don’t want to be in the town anymore but feel trapped by circumstance. Bea is smart enough to go to college but needs to take care of her family and the family business. Greg and Angus have a small apartment that is their tiny escape from the reality of Angus’ abusive family and Gregg’s deteriorating mental health due to his (implied) bipolar disorder. But will a fresh start save their relationship from the doom that Gregg envisions? Will a bigger, more diverse town introduce them to new people who can tear them apart? As friend of the site, peer, and all around great person, Caitlin Galiz-Rowe, said on a recent podcast we were on, that there’s a very real chance that they found bliss in each others company because they could very likely be the only gay guys in the town, which doesn’t invalidate what they feel towards each other but raises a big question about their setting – informing their behavior and life.
Everyone is a victim of circumstance in Possum Springs; They’re trapped there and they’re all withering away because of it. Everyone is in a race against time. The adults are racing to save their town and livelihood and the kids are all racing to get out and not become those very adults. Everybody would like to ideally just make it stop. The shit thing about life is it won’t. The best thing the game does is refrain from entirely bastardizing either group for their approach to their goals. Night in the Woods is less concerned with picking a side and more concerned with portraying the basic human experience, especially in regards to desperation in the face of change. Mae doesn’t leave her harrowing experience with the cult traumatized but with clarity. Everyone else, just like her, has no intention of being left behind but when only so much can realistically be done, how far are you willing to go to keep things the same? She realizes they’re not on opposing sides, just ends of the spectrum. One may be more realistic than the other, but neither is invalid because of the others existence.
True to life, the game doesn’t end with a concrete answer of what to do in the face of change. What it does set out to do is show the myriad ways people experience things like fear and uncertainty and how people just deal. Drake once said, “Live in the same building, but we got different views.” Night in the Woods is front and center about providing perspective on an aspect of life that’s so frequently experienced but so infrequently observed, and in turn observing the multitude of perspectives present in that immediate atmosphere. In the last scene of the game, Mae is recounting an apocalyptic dream she had to her friends. In it, it looked as if the town had been abandoned and reclaimed by nature and she says “I went to where my house used to be. When I was there I felt completely hopeless but now I think I could just build another house. Or I could just move on.” It’s the closest anyone in the game comes to closure. Change may be a concept I’m familiar with, but still one I’m uncomfortable with. This is a place the citizens of Possum Springs will hopefully learn to get to. However in order to become okay with change, you need to give it time, instead of fighting it. Only then can you gain the clarity to live through it.