Last Thursday, the College of Arts & Sciences sent out an email to its students with the subject line “Please tell us your post-graduate plans.” That subject line alone was enough to strike fear into my heart, but the body just made it worse: “If you have solidified your plans for graduate school or employment, please take a few minutes to complete the Class of 2020 Graduate Survey.”
I have not solidified my plans for graduate school or employment. I’m working my way through job applications, but I have no idea what my life will look like in three months, where I’ll live or what field I’ll be working in. I have some ideas, of course, and I can safely say I’ll never be a neurosurgeon or a financial advisor. But I got a preview of the relief-meets-uncertainty that will await me at Schoellkopf in May when I began playing Afterparty (2019) this weekend. The Switch version of the game just came out on March 6, and I’ve been looking forward to its release since the studio, Night School, announced it. I loved their last big title, Oxenfree, in 2016 and was looking forward to a similar experience.
Oxenfree was a special game because it blended a genuinely eerie and haunted island environment with a dialogue-based mechanic system that allowed the player to control the story through conversation. A lot of choices had real consequences in the story, especially the game’s ending, which felt especially relevant considering the protagonists were high school students about to go off into the world. It felt particularly relevant to me as an older teen, starting school in spooky Ithaca.
Afterparty feels like it matured along with 21-year-old me. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the game’s dual protagonists were in a situation I could relate to. I can’t help but wonder if this is how kids who grew up alongside Harry Potter felt, exactly the same age as the characters they read about. When I was a kid, I felt like I was always reading and watching shows about teens, and now as an adult I feel the same way.
Instead of a gang of rebellious teenagers, the new game follows two very recent college graduates, Milo and Lola, as they try to out-drink the devil and escape from the circles of Hell. They died right after graduation and have to find their place in the underworld, a sprawling cluster of islands and demons for which they are woefully unprepared. They stumble through this new environment just as awkwardly as they did their college campus, always managing to find the wrong thing to say to the wrong people. It’s painfully familiar to me, to the point where I find myself agonizing over the right dialogue choice just as much as I do when trying to craft a witty response in a real-life group chat.
But beyond the horror of social faux-pas, the game paints a boozy, corpse-ridden version of Hell that finds new and creative ways to torture its residents in a way that feels like an R-rated version of The Good Place’s Bad Place. Demons are just there to do their jobs, and beyond the bee stings and humiliating situations, Hell functions as a cluster of neighborhoods each with their own bars, concerts and non-stop parties. Humans and demons both post on a social media app called “Bicker,” with status updates like “hello my baby hello my honey hello my hell hell hellllllll” that feel like they could have come from a weary college student on Twitter. One background character in line for a party at Satan’s house asks, “What’s the point of social media if it’s not a mirror reflecting your every insecurity?” In other words, Milo and Lola’s life after graduation is scary and brutal and they live with the constant threat of being assigned an unbearable torture in the morning, but it’s also a lot like the life they’ve been living. At one point early on, they have trouble even distinguishing Hell from a college party. Every moment of their life is dependent on social interactions, with alcoholic drinks providing extra dialogue options that can get them in or out of trouble. In real life, I personally don’t drink — I’m more prone to clinging to the chips-and-salsa table at a party and I’m the kind of person that brings a bottle of water everywhere in my purse just in case I’m stuck somewhere with no non-alcoholic options — but even I can relate to Milo and Lola’s struggle to twist the hands of fate in their favor, only to say exactly the wrong thing in a key moment (I just don’t need alcohol to do that).
Post-college life was already on my mind before I started Afterparty, between the emails from Cornell and texts from already-graduated friends urging me to never leave college, but playing through the first couple of hours of the game has got me thinking about it a lot more. Playing Afterparty reminds me that life doesn’t stop after college. I may be in a new environment and at times it may all feel like too much, but I’ll still be myself — flaws and all — and everyone else will just be trying to get through their lives, too. Afterparty presents a worst-case scenario: They die right after graduation, never getting to live up to their dreams, yet Milo and Lola keep going. They find a way forward even as they keep tripping up with demons at their heels.
Olivia Bono is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] On the Level runs alternating Tuesdays this semester.