Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit. I’m Stephen Beirne, you can find me in longform at Normally Rascal.
I’m going to show you a small flash game on Newgrounds called A Mother in Festerwood, made in 2011 by Austin Breed. It’s a little bit buggy but I love it to death.
So here we are, we’ve got this overhead view of Festerwood with our house in the middle and monsters all surrounding it. You play as the mother, you use the mouse to move her about the clearing but you can’t go beyond the dotted lines. It’s your job to protect your adventurer son from the monsters of Festerwood by blocking him from wandering outside the clearing until he’s of a suitable age.
As time goes by he ages, grows and becomes faster and more agile. Before long he’s fast enough to dart past you and then… that’s it. It’s up to the mercy of Festerwood what’ll happen to him.
Austin Breed writes he was inspired to make A Mother in Festerwood by his sympathy for mothers who suddenly find themselves with empty nests, which is a great indication that he knows what narratives of parenthood ought to focus on: your child’s independance, rather than your own power and control.
I think part of why I love A Mother in Festerwood is because I played it around the same time as BioShock infinite and The Last of Us, which basically view parenthood the same way a general views an army. But with Festerwood, here was a game that placed importance on the role of your child as an independent entity and threw away all this nonsense about player agency being the medium’s key factor by having the mother and son share the spotlight, by not letting you supersede the narrative here.
How the game progresses depends entirely on the boy’s whim in where he wants to move to – you have to follow him around to hem him in, and then when he finally gets loose the drama of his adventuring is all in where he decides to go while you watch on powerlessly. Although it’s likely to be the longest part of the game and the mother is basically just standing there, it’s the most nervewracking part because all you can do is fret for his safety.
You don’t perform “active verbs” but you still participate with the game in a full on way, even if you never touch the mouse again for the rest of it. Basically the whole heart-wrenching gist of the game, the part that makes it so compelling, completely defies verb-orientated design analysis, and the rest of it undermines the romanticism towards player agency.
So that’s A Mother in Festerwood. I’m Stephen Beirne, you can find me at Normally Rascal and Twitter, and support my game crit through Patreon. Cheers for watching.