baby boomer

Night in the Woods — Ode to Millennial Egotism

by Jed Pressgrove

As expressed in The Who’s pop masterpiece “My Generation,” most people don’t like their generation being outright dismissed or insulted. But if millennial gamers sing high praises for Night in the Woods, any defense of themselves will be hard to swallow. Writers Scott Benson and Bethany Hockenberry have created a puzzling contradiction with protagonist Mae and the small-town setting of Possum Springs: while the latter by itself has palpable authenticity, right down to the humorously varied “Get off my porch” dialogue from a grumbling male, Mae becomes more and more irresponsible as employed, stressed-out people allow her privileged behavior to grow to unbelievable degrees.

Simply put, Mae epitomizes the stereotypical millennial’s disconnection from traditional everyday toil, and the script of Night in the Woods pretends that working-class citizens would not call her out for mooching and breaking the law. In the story, Mae has returned to her hometown to live with her parents again after dropping out of college. From there, you guide Mae through a variety of self-absorbed, immoral activities that include tampering with crime evidence, shoplifting, and unearthing the coffin of a boy, all with little or no consequence. Although the anthropomorphic cast of Night in the Woods gives the writers leeway to indulge in some cartoonish, unrealistic depictions, the story suggests the supporting characters have real-life concerns, especially pulling one’s own weight, that help the player suspend disbelief. Why, then, do these people — family members, friends, and hard workers — excuse, overlook, or laugh off Mae’s flagrantly selfish and stupid actions?

At one point, it seems Benson and Hockenberry will address this glaring question through Bea, Mae’s childhood friend who has been running a business ever since the death of her mother. Bea confronts Mae’s blase attitude toward dropping out of college: “I stayed here and got older, while you left and stayed the same.” Yet Bea inexplicably goes on to support Mae’s thievery and grave defilement (and for some unknown idiotic reason, the populace of Possum Springs doesn’t care about a decades-old corpse being disrespected). Bea’s dedication doesn’t get rewarded, though: in a late scene, Mae embarrasses Bea with callous disregard, which causes Bea to bring up how she wishes she could have had an opportunity to go to college like Mae, who can’t even offer her good friend a reason as to why she quit school. Bea eventually says Mae is “genuinely a good person,” even though the story has only shown evidence of Mae taking advantage of everyone around her, with no effort toward explaining herself or making a contribution to society.

Developer Infinite Fall also excuses Mae’s deplorable acts by gamifying them. Stealing, destroying property, and stabbing are presented as fun, throwaway minigames. This design choice, coupled with the townspeople’s bizarre lack of criticism for Mae’s egomania, implies that sociopathy should be celebrated, not examined. Even if Night in the Woods had a cogent point, Mae would remain an unflattering caricature of a millennial. Benson and Hockenberry’s writing is unacceptable in light of Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition, which demonstrates how the hardships of a capitalist society give millennials and baby boomers more spiritual connectedness than many realize.

Night in the Woods is at its most tedious when Mae drags all of her friends on a ghost-chasing mission, as it’s fairly obvious from the start that there are no ghosts. Benson and Hockenberry use this setup to reveal that Mae and a clandestine Republican-leaning cult are similarly insane. For connecting mental illness to murder (straight out of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”) and all sorts of other unsavory activity, Night in the Woods registers as pandering and cliched Democrat hate on one hand and a demented apology for millennial immaturity on the other.

Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition Review — Home Work

by Jed Pressgrove

To treat Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition as a video-game outlier due to its seriousness — see Chase Ramsey’s dumbfounded opening “There is, like, a lot of drama in Three Fourths Home” — is to show an immature aversion to interpretation. Developer Zach Sanford doesn’t merely sell Millennial angst; he suggests there’s an overlooked spiritual connection between the generations of America’s past and present in a believable family context.

In the main part of Three Fourths Home, you play as Kelly who talks to her mother, father, and brother on the phone as she drives through a storm in Nebraska. You hold down a button to keep Kelly driving as you choose dialogue options that open or close further exploration of family concerns. Despite the contrivance of characters playing hot potato with the phone, the dialogue is authentically familial. “Doubt all you want, it’s the truth!” claims Kelly’s father in defense of his proactive protection of a tomato garden. The mother, Norah, and her husband show experience with their jabs at each other — they’ve been married long enough to know it’s better not to throw knockout punches. Kelly’s brother, Ben, has a form of autism, but rather than exaggerate this to make audiences feel culturally sensitive (and superior), the interactions subtly draw out the family’s acceptance of and continuing adaptation to Ben’s condition.

While your dialogue choices don’t alter the premise of Three Fourths Home, Sanford uses the multiple paths of the conversations to illustrate the universality of tough times in a fast-paced society. Each character faces distinct changes that range from social (Ben’s school issues) to physical (the father’s injury taking him out of work) to emotional (Kelly’s quarter-life sense of failure), with the underlying sense that family support is the main defense against financial uncertainty. Seeing the unideal through the eyes of Kelly, whose 20-something instinct is to run away from problems, can make Three Fourths Home seem like an unoriginal realization for the Millennial generation, but the storytelling leans toward a societal truth rather than mopey judgment. In one conversation path, Ben shares a short story he has written that evokes both Beowulf and the Book of Job in its yearning for a comfortable status quo. It’s to Sanford’s credit that this lamentation of American reality comes through the family dialogue within the isolation of Nebraskan corn fields, outclassing the anti-rural cliches in the cannibalistic Georgia farm from Telltale’s miserable The Walking Dead.

Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition says the most in its epilogue. In this segment, only Kelly and Norah converse as you move Kelly left and right on foot, a simulation of anxiety compared to the previous stiffness of holding down an accelerator to drive. The talk between daughter and mother can get very uncomfortable, such as when Norah calls Kelly an idiot for messing up grades in college. Yet the mother’s straightforwardness can be as profound as upsetting: “A grade is a grade. A job’s a job. My wisdom isn’t exactly the most creative.” Norah’s modest admission allows Sanford’s game to speak for generations beyond Baby Boomers and Millennials. This broad appeal makes the concluding image of Kelly’s home pulled out of the ground by the roots an expression of dogged resilience as much as sadness.