The modern American teenager has enjoyed a spurt of attention in the videogame space as of late. Gone Home was about coming to terms with queer love when young, Life Is Strange combines high school drama with time-travelling, and both Night in the Woods and Oxenfree promise an endearing adventure with an oddball gang of teenagers. These are narratives about growing up, figuring out life, discovering new and sometimes scary paths. And they’re arriving at a time when videogames as a whole seem to be experiencing similar growing pains.
But, screw teenagers for a minute, and let’s take some time to appreciate the framework that allows them to exist in the first place. You know: the parents and guardians that hold everything together and clean up after these teens so they can go about their messy business. Specifically, as it was Mother’s Day this past weekend in the UK, let’s direct our attention towards mums (or moms), as that’s what Carter Lodwick and Ian Endsley’s short videogame story Little Party does.
In short, it has you playing the mother of Suzanne during her all-night party hosted in your own house. You, as a single mother with nowhere else to go, have to patiently and rather awkwardly endure. You can’t join in, you’re told not to interfere, and so you find yourself almost imprisoned in your own house, although it’s not as grim as all that. You’re left to continuously puzzle what they’re doing in the next room, wondering what action each noise belongs to, and perhaps worrying if they’re trashing the place.
It’s telling that the most significant interaction you can do in Little Party is to look down. It’s the tireless signature move of most mothers: look down at the pile of dirty clothes left for you on the floor, look down at the dinner plates piled up in the sink. Indeed, you look down at your daughter as she slouches on the sofa texting her friends. Later, you repeat the motion when discovering the debris of teens ripping through the night trying to express their own discomfort and creativity. All that’s missing is the audible sigh.
And that’s all you can do in Little Party: potter and fret. It’s a game about restraint. You can see the cool, artsy experiments these teens are indulging; angsty self-portraits in your office, noisy songs being hacked together on a keyboard in the basement. Yet, you have to hold back from getting involved. You have to let it all happen without you. And that’s hard.
In this way, it feels like a subversion of the interaction that we, as players, typically enjoy inside videogames. It almost feels like a simulation of the difficult process of letting go foisted on to parents as their children grow up. After doing everything for them for years, there comes a point during the teen years when they want to break away, and you have to learn to let them. It’s agitating if necessary.
That’s what this first all-night party is about: your child taking responsibility, you trusting them to take care of your possessions, hoping that they’ll be loyal to your sensibilities versus being rebellious to impress their friends. You’re good enough to make the guacamole before the friends arrive, but once they do, you cannot serve it, you cannot make a fuss.
But it’s all worth it. Or, at least, that’s what the ending of Little Party seems to say. You’re rewarded for holding back by a moment that sees the Spacebar transform its “Look Down” command to “Be Proud.” And so you stand there, at the back, beaming with pride as you watch your daughter find her place in the world in front of her friends.
You can download Little Party on itch.io.