Adventures in “Night in the Woods” Opinion-Having
On March 16, 2018, a little over a week before I’m writing this, I wrote a post, with the title (that I would rewrite for reasons unrelated to the subject of this article) Night in the Woods: A Rebirth of Graphic Adventure Games, and Trumpian Propaganda In Disguise. As a result my social and potentially even future professional opportunities have been curtailed and I am subject to night and day harassment on Twitter, which is my primary way of communicating with the outside world. Before you start saying I should go out and get friends “in the real world,” let me supply some context. I’m going to write this article with the assumption that people are reading it in “good faith,” something many people, including people with Twitter verified checkmarks and massive followings, claim I didn’t have when reviewing the award-winning, wildly successful computer game Night in the Woods. Good faith is all I have left at this point.
First, let me tell you who I am. I’m a transgender woman, and until recently, that was something I preferred not to make the centerpiece of my identity. I lived in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, and my challenges weren’t primarily about transphobia, but about money and transportation and job security. Those were the things that occupied my time. But I’d grown up in rural Wisconsin, in a town with a population of 5,186 (last time I looked at the sign on the way in). Even though as a student in school there I hadn’t been “out” as anything, really, that other “f-slur” was yelled at me more frequently than anything else. I had a limited number of friends. There was no broadband Internet, and there still isn’t, in the town. I volunteered at the food pantry every week, which had me working alongside fundamentalist Christians who made no bones about the fact that I was going to be tortured forever simply for lack of belief. Discussion in classes was, often with teacher encouragement, centered around “we need stronger stances against Muslims,” “illegal immigrants should be kept out,” and, in one memorable case that probably added a few years to my time in the closet, “transgender inmates should definitely not receive transition care” (that was a view espoused by my previously-favorite teacher). When I was seventeen, I wrote a science fiction novel projecting what I thought the future would be like, and it involves gay people having mind control conversion therapy chips placed into their heads. I saw the future as the boot of the beliefs of the people around me stomping on my face forever.
And then I got out. I went to college, which was conservative but not that conservative, in a slightly bigger town. Then I got to go to graduate school, at Texas A&M, which for all its reputation as an extremely conservative institution, was an eye-opening experience for me simply because it had nearly 50,000 people as students, plus the surrounding town. It was there, in College Station, Texas, that I felt safe transitioning and becoming who I really am. I should note here that a great deal of the absolutely invaluable support I received online while transitioning without the full support of my family back home came through Twitter, and quite a bit of it from people who have now blocked me for my opinions about Night in the Woods.
After graduating from A&M, I got a job on the East Coast — in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, as I mentioned. I LOVED how many people were around, the density of other queer folks, so much about it — but the job environment was not healthy for me, and began to drive me toward a mental health breakdown. After two and a half years working there, I checked myself into a mental ward, and then into another one, and then I realized I couldn’t do it. The job was not healthy, I didn’t have support within the institution itself. I had to leave and return home to my tiny little hometown, because that was the only place I had to go. And now I’m home, in a town which has actually shrunk since I last lived here.
We have one place to get groceries, Wal-Mart. The last actual grocery store went out of business just before I returned. We have one coffee shop where I can use unlimited wi-fi to, say, watch YouTube videos, something I can’t do from home because, while we have the absolute best Internet available here, that best Internet is capped at 25gb of bandwidth per month. I have no money, so I can’t afford to go anywhere, and beyond that, I don’t feel safe as a trans woman. I know what the attitudes of the people here are, because I grew up with them. They hate me. This isn’t paranoid projecting, it’s the truth. If I get bathroom policed somewhere, I have no legal protections, in Wisconsin, to protect myself, even though I have identification that says I’m female, and I will never, ever feel safe going there again. This means that if I want to, say, play a game like Night in the Woods, I have to drive into a coffee shop that makes me feel unsafe and not pee the whole time. And if they ever decide they don’t want a transgender person there, then I have no access to any file larger than a couple of megabytes.
I don’t see a path for escaping from here. I don’t. That’s one reason I purchased Night in the Woods — because Mae Borowski, besides being ten years younger than me, is in a situation a lot like mine. She’s not trans, but bisexual, but she’s forced to return to her tiny hometown with limited telecommunications infrastructure and deal with crushing loneliness. I had been told the game was empathic and moving. I thought it might offer me some hope when I felt hopeless. Instead, the message that I took from it was that the only reason people are cruel out here and things often seem hopeless is a few elite bad apples, when I in reality have to be afraid of literally everyone I see on the street — something that wasn’t even true when I lived in a mid-sized Texas city.
I gather the creators of the game don’t feel that’s their message. But does that matter? Their game has been sold on empathy and how much it moves people — but from my perspective, as someone whose life is a lot like the main character’s, it sure felt like asking me to feel bad for the people who are oppressing me. More than that, the constant focus on economic issues throughout the game seemed disingenous to me, as someone who grew up in a place like Possum Springs and rarely if ever heard economics mentioned as a reason to vote. (George W. Bush visited my high school to campaign and he talked about “small town” and “family values” but downpedaled his economic policies.)
The point I’m making is, fine, maybe I’m wrong about Night in the Woods. But right now, multiple people with checkmarks, who I hear about through friends because most of them have me blocked, are continuing to attack me, and essentially create a situation where none of their Twitter friends will ever want to talk to me, because I didn’t like an “empathic” game that just won a bunch of awards. The co-creator of the game, Scott Benson, has continued to make jokes and meme posts about my “bad take”. Meanwhile I’m receiving threats of violence, comments that simply say things like “stupid bitch,” and repeated explanations I apologize for my article with an assumption that I’m being “educated” about something I didn’t understand. How is that “empathic”? Why do I, a queer woman living in a small town and facing oppression, not deserve the empathy that people afford to the people inflicting oppression upon me?
And I’m sure some people will respond to this by telling me Twitter friends don’t matter, to get off the computer and meet some people in real life. This article tells you why I cannot. The Internet is the closest thing to a safe place I have in my life, and well known game journalists are cutting off my access to contacts and safety because they didn’t like a brief post I made about why a game hurt my feelings.