For an industry that’s obsessed with dads — Kratos and Joel, for instance — there are so very few meaningful roles for moms in video games. Moms do exist, but they’re most often dead moms, bad moms, or missing moms; moms that are only there for a protagonist to play off of. The evolution of familial relationships in video games is changing, and at least one indie design team has decided to take on a meaningful maternal story.
“There’s been a lot of sad dads,” Fullbright co-founder Steve Gaynor told Polygon. “They’ve been good games, many of them. But now it’s just mom hours.”
Gaynor and a team of designers and writers at Fullbright are making a video game, Open Roads, about a teenage girl and her mom. The game, expected out in 2021, was revealed in December, and stars Keri Russel (The Americans) and Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart). Gaynor described Open Roads as “a mother-daughter road trip adventure game.” It is, in many ways, very much a Fullbright game, about exploring an environment and searching through things for a person’s story.
But the big difference between Open Roads and Fullbright’s first two games, Gone Home and Tacoma, is that now there are two characters in the space: Opal, the mom, and Tess, the daughter. “What if there was another character in the room who was experiencing these things with you?” Gaynor asked.
The opportunity, then, is in a second perspective — one that creates a meaningful impact on the story simply because of their presence in a space and their relationship to the other character. Players will operate as Tess on a road trip with her mom, a trip that’s sparked by a grandmother’s death. The stuff that Tess rifles through belongs to her grandmother, and through that process, she learns little bits of information about the family’s past, some of which is surprising.
“You’re uncovering these events that were part of your family’s history, but you’re also navigating your relationship with your mom, through your reactions, through the dialogue you have with her, and discovering those characters as much as you’re discovering this story from the past,” Gaynor explained.
It sounds like Open Roads is less about the mystery behind whatever Opal and Tess uncover, but instead focuses more on their relationship. The mystery is the backdrop for that relationship, something to push and pull at it.
Another big part of the story, Gaynor said, is its 2003-era setting. The time period was important to decide from a technological standpoint; this is a game about a road trip, one that would be wildly different if you could pull up a map on your smartphone. In 2003, you could still have a cellphone — but all you could do with it was make calls, play Snake or, if you were lucky, send texts. “But your mom printed out MapQuest directions before you left,” Gaynor added.
It’s also an era that feels nostalgic now, as well as weirdly similar to 2021. Open Roads is a game that was developed, in part, during 2020, a year that people will remember for its rampant wildfires, racial reckoning, and an isolating pandemic. The year will stand out as one of those major periods of our lives; there’s now pre-2020 and post-2020. 2003 felt similar; being post-9/11 and at the start of the Iraq War, Gaynor said. “It was still very much, ‘Support the troops,’ and ‘Never forget,’ which was very much the national — and international — moment.”
Gaynor called it a sort of “sad resonance” with the past that emerged naturally from the year.
“There’s also that feeling of being able to draw from the moment we’re in, the uncertainty and the instability and feeling of public life that feels relevant to the game’s time period,” Gaynor said.
Open Roads is expected to be released in 2021 on Steam and consoles.