How We Happy Few explores the injustice of motherhood

June 30, 2019
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Be warned: the following article contains major spoilers for the first and second acts of We Happy Few.

The first time you encounter Sally Boyle, We Happy Few’s second playable character, it’s through the eyes of a man. She strikes a dainty figure at the end of an alleyway, slick and trim in black latex and white felt, a jockey’s helmet puckishly screwed down over thickly made-up elvish features. Within the game’s 1960s British dystopia, Sally has become a sex and fashion icon, cast in the image of starlets like Edie Sedgwick, her apartment decorated with Pop Art prints of her own face. She’s like something out of a fever dream, delightful yet abrasive and you sense, as reliable as the wind, hanging off your arm as she teases you about your clothes.

Sally’s ditziness isn’t entirely her own doing, however: the scene is as much a commentary on Arthur, the hapless dork doing the looking, as it is Sally. One of We Happy Few’s more inspired tricks is that its protagonists perceive conversations with each other differently, the pulse of their emotions altering what is said and how. In the course of three parallel stories, played one after the other, you witness the same cutscenes from each perspective, with altered wording, performances and animations. It’s tempting to say that there’s no definitive account, but the steady unfurling of the theme of censorship in Arthur’s story (he once worked for the state’s Department of Archives, Printing, & Recycling) makes his the least trustworthy. His impressions of Sally, specifically, are soured by resentment: the pair grew up together as foster siblings and were almost sweethearts, but fell apart when Arthur’s dad coerced Sally into sleeping with him.

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