What actually IS a walking simulator?

Last week, I made a vlog about walking simulators. I quite like walking simulators, and I recently played a couple of them on my stream — Dream and Caligo — which I liked, but with some major caveats.

I tried outlining what I found interesting about walking simulators, heaping tons of praise on games I thought did it spot on (Gone HomeWhat Remains of Edith Finch) and lamenting some elements of otherwise brilliantly-executed ones (the stealth sections in Observer can still fuck off and die for all I care).

Some interesting comments arose from this vlog which helped me understand that perhaps my definition of a walking simulator, as rambly and lengthy as it was, was not entirely clear.

To wit: A walking simulator — at least a perfect walking simulator in my mind — does not have, or has at least a significantly limited presence of:

  • Puzzles
  • Dangers
  • Anything that obstructs the player from moving onwards with the story

Consider the closest physical relative to the walking simulator, the printed book. Most books won’t tell you that “I’m sorry, you’ve fucked up; please go back to page 11 and try again.” Likewise, a walking simulator should not impede the player’s progress in any significant way.

It’s okay to put a locked door or a little combination-lock puzzle in a walking sim. Especially when it’s done right, as Gone Home does with the locker in Samantha’s room, because that invites exploration of the house. It’s not much of a brain-teaser — in fact, you could argue that it’s hardly a “puzzle” at all. It just puts up a soft barrier that enables the game’s designer a degree of control over how the mystery is revealed — notably without frustrating the player immensely.

I saw someone in the comments refer to Myst as the progenitor of walking simulators, and I would entirely disagree with that — the obtuse and baffling logic of Myst‘s puzzles are severe cockblocks for people who have no patience for sitting around and working out some stupid machine’s whims and fancies through repeated trial and error.

Anyway, here’s the vlog in question will now make a bit more sense (although I doubt it).

Disaster as entertainment – and what’s wrong with that?

There’s a new game coming out called Titanic: Honor & Glory, and it’s basically a real-time simulation of the sinking of the Titanic. You’re walking around the ship for two and a half hours as the water steadily rises, and your goal is to — well, do something. Get off the friggin’ boat. Or sink. Whatever.

Point is, it puts you in the situation. And it’s a pretty damn ambitious project, but one that actually sounds like a cool idea.

Continue reading “Disaster as entertainment – and what’s wrong with that?”

Games can be art, and we should not discourage that

You probably already know about the recent “controversy” that’s arisen alongside That Dragon, Cancer, but if not, here’s the tl;dr: It’s an artsy game about the parents of a cancer-stricken kid and their struggles to deal with his eventual death.

The gameplay consists mainly of exploring environments and reading/listening to bits of dialogue about the awful experience, and it’s not what you’d call a pick-me-up, for sure.

But, once again, in what’s become sadly predictable at this point, the “it’s not a game” crowd have come out in full force on the Steam forums. Others have issue with the subject matter itself.

Continue reading “Games can be art, and we should not discourage that”