Night in the Woods: Payphones and Rusted Thrones

I love the bus station at the beginning of Night in the Woods. It is one of the greatest beginnings of any game I have ever played. There is the beautiful mural showing the history of Possum Springs, the setting of the game, and a broken payphone on a wall next to the mural showing how things have drastically changed. The Rust Belt is a section of the Midwest that used to be thriving from manufacturing jobs that has slowly declined since the 80’s due to deindustrialization. Cities that once had large populations and minimal poverty are now impoverished and full of vacant buildings, crimes, homelessness, and a hope for a better future.

The payphone found in the beginning of the game, one that’s phone has been stolen, is a juxtaposition to the beautiful mural, depicting Possum Springs as a thriving manufacturing city, it stands by. It is a sign of everything wrong with Possum Springs, and a sign of the game’s motto, “At the end of everything. Hold onto anything”. This statement is at the core of the game’s story. A story about Mae Borowski returning home after dropping out of college and seeing how everything changed in such a short time.

After returning home, Mae quickly realized that her friends have changed drastically and are living adult lives, and the businesses she would visit frequently disappeared. Then she had to learn how to hold onto the memories of the past while striving for a better future. When you lose something important to you, whether it is a friend, family member, or your home, its significance grows. The parts that you once thought were just normal parts of life become parts that you wish you had back.

When interacting with the payphone, Mae states, “It must be such a relief to payphone companies that Possum Springs gets zero cell reception. It’d be cool to call my parents but some jerkhole took the time to actually rip it off. Who steals a phone? I wonder what they’re doing with that phone. Sleeping with it at night. Taking it for walks. Holding it tight. Talking into it to nobody. Smooching it so right.” While at face value this seems like a long joke mixed with an explanation about Possum Spring’s cell reception, there is a lot more to this.

First of all, it shows Mae’s current state of mind. One where she does not see the importance of small objects such as payphones. “Who steals a phone,” makes this perfectly clear that she does not see the value of the phone, or the communication it provides. Mae later discovers that her hometown is changing, her favorite restaurants are closing, and the mall that she frequented is now full of vacant rooms. She discovers her rough relationship with her mother is at a breaking point, and realizes that her time with her friends and their band is extremely important to her well-being. All of which occur in a city that inspired the band to name a song “Die Anywhere Else” showing their disdain for the city they live in.

The lack of communication that she has due to the payphone being broken is significant because it foreshadows her issues of communication later in the game. She tries her best to not disclose why she dropped out of college, she struggles to reconnect with the people that she was extremely close with before leaving Possum Springs, and her relationship with Bea struggles immensely due to their differences and verbal blunders.

The importance of the payphone is that it is not important. The person who stole the phone was making a statement that Possum Springs is not what the mural on the wall states it is. It is a broken place, one where politicians communicate false hope to the citizens, and one where crimes are at an all time high. Possum Springs’ thriving past is represented through the working payphone, but now it is missing a key component, but still has the hope and potential to work again, like how citizens in the Rust Belt still hope for a better future where America’s manufacturing jobs can be brought back.

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