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LIMINAL IDENTITY AND QUESTIONS OF MATURITY

Further distinguishing Max and Mae from Chloe and Bea is their inhab-itance across disparate degrees of maturity. All four are positioned across an ambiguous adolescent threshold, meaning their identities are uncertainly situated between childhood and adulthood. Turner ([1969] 1977, 95) defines liminal transition as “neither here nor there” and “betwixt and between.” Developing ideas of adolescent uncertainty, Catherine Driscoll (2011, 66) frames maturity as performing a central role in the teen genre, operating as an obstacle that poses a “question” and a “problem” rather than a reflection of values. She therefore conceptualizes the genre as “less about growing up than about the expectation, difficulty, and social organization of growing up” (Driscoll 2011, 66). Both video game texts under examination explore the question of maturity among its adolescent characters, framing its varying degrees as obstacles to their friendships.

At eighteen years old, Max occupies a liminal status and, representative of its ambiguity, she appears to be emotionally younger than Chloe. In Max’s diary, her character profile for Chloe explains, “She’s all grown up now, but it doesn’t seem like she’s only one year older than me.” Chloe’s circle of friends, for example, includes Frank Bowers, an older man who deals narcotics to the town’s residents from his RV. Max’s developing maturity meanwhile borders on moments of naivety. This is most evident when she discovers a swimsuit magazine in the school janitor’s stock room. Upon interacting with the magazine, players would likely assume that the man derives voyeuristic pleasure from the models featured inside. Max, however, remarks that she was not aware of his interest in runway fashion. This humorous moment, while subtle, is rare amidst the game’s generally serious tone, although it significantly establishes Max’s underlying innocence in contrast to Chloe’s cynicism.

The game’s point-and-click format gestures towards Max’s resistance to growing up via her comments of nostalgic longing that accompany the everyday mementos available for interaction. Interacting with Chloe’s dresser, for example, prompts a recalled memory of painting it together or interacting with the backyard swing-set activates the audio of a conversation held between them as children. Max’s ability to rewind time and her passion for photography further signify her grasping onto the past. In her diary Max describes a photo of herself and Chloe captured by Chloe’s father on the day of his death: “The picture seemed to sum up everything we had as children and lost as adults... whatever being an ‘adult’ means.” By focusing on the photo, Max travels back in time to the afternoon it was taken in order to prevent Chloe’s father’s death. She hopes this will restore Chloe’s former personality as Chloe attributes his death to be the origin of her troubles. This well-intentioned act backfires and ultimately teaches Max a crucial lesson in accepting misfortune. (It should, however, be noted that Max’s longing for simplicity is not narratively unreasonable given that her newly acquired rewind powers bestow an elevated sense of responsibility).

Even more prominently than Life is Strange, Night in the Woods depicts Mae and Bea’s opposing levels of late-adolescent maturity to be a major source of conflict. The age of twenty is presented as a particularly troubled period of in-betweenness. Those who leave and go to college are seen as maintaining the pleasures of adolescent freedom while those left behind must participate in the adult workforce in order to get by. If players choose to chat to Mae’s mother before they leave the house, she will one day explain, “A lot of adulthood is number stress.” Bea is indeed familiar with “number stress” running her family’s hardware store on her own. Her resentment for her obligations is made clear during an obligatory dialogue sequence (which is a sequence similar to a cutscene with a lack of player input other than pressing a button to activate each new line of text). Bea mirrors Chloe when she confesses to Mae, “When my mum died, my life ended too.” In effect, she resents Mae for dropping out of college, continuing with, “I can’t not hate you for that.” Mae meanwhile has few responsibilities and is unsure of how she identifies.

As players navigate the town, they are able to approach and interact with various members of the community who address Mae in equally varied terms. Most of these interactions will incite short pre-written conversations with little to no dialogue options for the player. Upon interacting with a group of teenagers in the underpass, she will greet, “Hey kids!” to which they reply, “Hey adult,” inciting Mae to defensively proclaim that she was their age only a few years ago. At the same time as she refutes kids calling her an adult, she resents adults addressing her as a child. Unprompted, an elderly neighbor Mr. Penderson calls out, “Hey! You kid!” Correcting him, Mae automatically responds, “Adult.” A former school peer upon hearing about her situation concludes, “So you’re basically a teenager again,” to which Mae contests, “No, I’m just an adult living with her parents.”

Bea is especially resentful of Mae’s seemingly easy lifestyle, which culminates in multiple arguments between the two of them throughout the game.

Mae’s dream invites players to vandalize Possum Springs

FIGURE 6.3 Mae’s dream invites players to vandalize Possum Springs.

In another compulsory dialogue sequence following a party where Mae becomes intoxicated, Bea drives her home and frustratingly questions,

What happened to you? You used to be smart!!! You used to be cool! You used to be worth talking to! Why did you even come back? Oh, did college not work out for you? Was it inconvenient? Were you not in the mood? I would have killed for that. I still would. I’d kick you out of this moving car right now if it meant I could go to college.

As she helps Mae into bed Bea says, “It’s not your fault you’re just a kid” and refuting Mae’s protests, states, “I stayed here and got older while you went off and stayed the same.” On this same evening, Mae’s anger and confusion becomes projected within her dream sequence where players traverse an abstracted and obscured version of Possum Springs with a baseball bat, encouraged to break car windows and streetlights (Figure 6.3).

 
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