Children are much more capable of comprehending abusive or neglectful situations than many adults might assume. This is a key message that Killmonday Games’ Little Misfortune presents. Released September 18, 2019, Little Misfortune follows one adventurous day of eight-year-old Misfortune Ramirez Hernandez. An unreliable and strange guide called Mr. Voice offers Misfortune the prize of Eternal Happiness if she beats his game. Throughout her journey to find the Eternal Happiness, Misfortune reveals a lot of information about her family and home life, none of it particularly positive. While the main story arch of Little Misfortune is a young girl’s search for Mr. Voice’s prize, a major underlying theme prevails: Misfortune represents that children are able to understand they are apart of and deal with dysfunctional families.
This message, and especailly Misfortune’s family life, struck a chord with me. While not anywhere close to being as tragic as Misfortune’s life, my family has faced some similar issues. Both of my parents suffered from alcoholism and informally separated when I was around seven; one parent was also absent for multiple years. Their substance abuse was less prevalent and dramatic than Misfortune’s parents but still impacted me and how I behave in certain circumstances. From my experiences, it's easy to recognize when your family’s situation is abnormal and know that your parents are having issues, no matter your age. Even without having the language or context to explain it, you hear their arguments and notice the tense atmosphere you live in every day. Little Misfortune does an amazing job of realistically exemplifying how children recognize such negative issues and develop ways to handle them.
Throughout Little Misfortune, Misfortune’s diary and personal recollections reveal details of her home life. Considering the information provided, her father is both abusive and absent. One of her toy friends is a bloody stone that her dad threw at her, and he has hit Misfortune’s mom infront of her. He often sleeps inside of his car rather than their house, generally avoiding interacting with Misfortune. In her diary, Misfortune mentions him canceling plans with her; she tries her best to pretend that his dismissals and ignoring her doesn’t make her sad. Even in Misfortune’s dreams, her dad isn’t physically present, replaced by what looks like a bundle of sticks and hay tied together. The only chance players have to even see what he looks like is in a wedding photo.
On the other hand, Misfortune’s mother is a smoker, alcoholic, and negligent. You explicitly see Misfortune’s mom smoking and drinking multiple glasses of wine, but her neglect can be construed from memories that are revealed over the course of the game. For instance, Misfortune specifically recalls getting glass stuck in her foot for five days after running into a hutch and breaking some dishes by accident. Her mom is the only parent actually present in her daily life but didn’t notice her daughter’s gruesome injury. When passing by a shopping center, Misfortune remembers a time her mom forgot her there; she was crying and alone until a security guard found her by accident. Her mom doesn’t even acknowledge Misfortune leaving their house at the start of the game, regardless of whether or not you tell her you’re leaving. Neither of her parents can even be bothered to pick her up from school, so Misfortune sneaks by her teachers and walks home by herself. These few examples of how both of Misfortune’s parents interact with and treat her are not the only events that depict their inexcusable parenting but they encompass Misfortune’s upbringing enough to understand the tragedy of it.
Though not overt, the cryptic Mr. Voice can also be looked at as another negative guardian figure. In the opening, Mr. Voice directly tells the player that Misfortune is going to die, but he pretends to be Misfortune’s friend and navigates her through his game, convincing her to play by offering the prize of Eternal Happiness. His mood and behavior towards her is entirely dependent upon Misfortune playing his game the way he wants her to. When she tries to stop playing, he gets angry, criticizes her, and uses his powers to throw her to the ground. He lies to her frequently, insisting that the monsters or ghosts she sees are imaginary and constantly blaming strange circumstances on his enemy Benjamin the fox, ignoring the fact that Misfortune actually already knows and likes Benjamin. While not exactly treating her the way her parents do, Mr. Voice is still being cruel to her and his occasional seemingly kinder actions don’t make up for that. As the main antagonist, Mr. Voice’s parallels to Misfortune’s parents and his manipulations help to further emphasize that Misfortune really doesn’t have any good or genuinely caring adults involved in her life or trying to help her.
Despite her young age and childhood naivety, Misfortune knows her parents are not raising her correctly and is hurt by their actions quite often. Her awareness can be interpreted by her behaviors and various diary entries. Near the beginning of the game, part of an entry in Misfortune’s diary reads “…Sometimes I don’t know how to feel. Nobody is teaching me how to feel…” With abusive and neglectful parents, Misfortune has nowhere safe to express or learn about her own emotions. Her environment has taken that opportunity away from her, so figuring out how to appropriately feel is a huge challenge; such a regression of emotional cultivation hurts children and results in difficulty for children themselves to express emotions in general. Misfortune’s wording is simple, but her statement is spot on in terms of how her emotional stunting upbringings like hers are. When talking about her family life, Misfortune mentions a few times that she needs to pretend to be happy. Growing up in environment like Misfortune’s, any negative emotions can really amplify the already angry or upset emotions of her parents, so as an act of self-preservation Misfortune herself has needed to mask her true feelings. Again, children who grow up in dysfunctional families often mask their true emotions. Such masking of emotions is also visually shown in how all other humans in Little Misfortune wear masks to hide their true feelings from the rest of the world.
Another one of her diary entries concludes that her dad hitting her mom doesn’t feel right; she knows you shouldn’t hit the people you care about and wonders why her dad does that. Misfortune understands that the way her parents interact isn’t how loved ones should treat one another, but she tries her best to understand why they act the way they do. Parents that behave the way Misfortune’s do, especially considering their substance abuse, make it impossible to predict or completely understand the way they act. However, children still usually love their parents and try to justify their behavior somehow. Misfortune tries to form some kind of excuse for him, reflecting how many real victims of abuse come up with some way to defend their abuser’s actions. Even in regards to how Mr. Voice treats her, Misfortune calls him out for lying to and manipulating her the entire time she has been playing his game. She may not know how to fix everything coming her way, but Misfortune and children from similar backgrounds are capable of knowing when their situations or surrounding environment isn’t normal or doesn’t feel right.
Misfortune copes with her dysfunctional family in very typical ways that abused and neglected children deal with theirs, with deflection and escapism. By definition, Misfortune easily falls into the dysfunctional family children’s role as the mascot or family clown. While sometimes known as other titles, children acting as a mascot have personalities that use tactics like humor or distracting behaviors to take the focus away from their family’s dysfunctional problems; typical distracting behaviors include extreme clumsiness or always being in trouble. All three of these characteristics apply to Misfortune. She jokes a lot to try and make her stories less sad, often nervously laughing after she shares information about her family life. While part of Misfortune’s character design includes extremely bad luck, the persistent rate at which Misfortune trips over objects gets thrown off rides, and breaks things, she definitely exhibits extreme clumsiness. Similarly, always being in trouble seems to go hand in hand with Misfortune’s inherent bad luck, but it still applies to her. Misfortune personally distances herself using her imagination.
The glitter Misfortune can sprinkle throughout the game assists with this. Whenever she sees things that are upsetting, whether they make her angry or sad, Misfortune tosses a handful of glitter over it; the glitter makes anything she finds unpleasant look prettier and makes Misfortune at least a little less sad. Instead of looking prettier visually just making it sparkle, the glitter in the game either replaces or enhances the upsetting things with Misfortune’s drawings. For instance, dead rabbits and crows become waving and singing rabbits and crows surrounded by hearts, stars, and other scribbles of that nature. As an eight-year-old, there isn’t much Misfortune can do to fix her familial situation or to remove herself from it, but the approaches she takes to deal with her parents’ abuse and neglect are fitting for her age and understanding.
The limited choices and the insubstantial effects they have on the game could even be interpreted as a representation of Misfortune’s lack of power to actually improve her home life. Mr. Voice tells Misfortune that her actions have consequences, but when you play through the entire game, the narrative turns out to be extremely linear. You make multiple “this or that” decisions throughout the game, but none of them actually influence how the story plays out. Your choices reveal different small pieces of background information, but regardless of what you pick, Little Misfortune follows the same key plot points. Just like Misfortune can try appeasing her parents or attempt to make them happier by behaving differently, none of her actions really make any impact. Her parents will continue to ignore are and honestly not care what she does. Misfortune realistically never has control over her family’s dynamics or the influence to better her family, akin to how the game’s narrative was basically set from the beginning and is never drastically changed by the player’s decisions.
As the player, it’s easy to feel like you’re Misfortune’s informal caretaker; you might be the final chance for someone that cares about Misfortune to guide her. Although the prize of Eternal Happiness sounds like a lie and appears unobtainable, you want Misfortune to receive it because this innocent girl deserves that happiness; it also feels like anyone that has had to live through anything close to Misfortune’s circumstances deserve Eternal Happiness as well. While unpleasant to think about, Little Misfortune provides a good reminder that there are still children being raised in bad environments with abusive, neglectful, and addicted parents. And just like our little lady Misfortune, children in real life have an understanding of their personal experiences and ultimately handle their situations as well as they can.