I love Night in the Woods. It’s not often we get coming-of-age stories in video games, much less coming-of-age stories for women. Night in the Woods is a wonderfully crafted exploration of mental health and economic issues, but my favorite design decision in this entire game is simply how the main character moves through the world.
Almost every 2D platformer ever made has one thing in common — rightward movement across the screen. This is likely because most western languages, particularly languages present in the countries where early platformers were made, feature a left-to-right reading and writing system. Left-to-right movement became culturally ingrained as “moving forward” or “making progress” towards a goal. This mentality is reflected in movies as well. Check out this clip of the travelling montage from “Fellowship of the Ring.” Every single shot of the Fellowship travelling features them moving left-to-right across the frame:
(Interestingly, film language in countries that have a right-to-left writing system (like Arabic) seem to have adopted the opposite of this)
Conversely, film language usually sees right-to-left movement as regressive or uncomfortable. This is likely why the decision was made to have the main character of Night in the Woods, Mae, travel leftward across the screen.
Since the game is centered around Mae returning home after dropping out of college in an attempt to reclaim her childhood, this movement to the left perfectly encapsulates the theme, and wordlessly communicates this to the player through its most basic gameplay.