A Tale of Two Walking Simulators
Tuesday, 28 January 2020
Over at Only a Game, ihobo founder Chris Bateman continues his intermittent correspondence with US critic Jed Pressgrove, this time sparring over the 'walking simulator' in a two-part blog letter entitled A Tale of Two Walking Simulators. The two parts discuss the 2016 game Firewatch and the 2015 game Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. Here's an extract:
If we put side to side the artgame achievements of the walking simulator, broadly construed, it marks bold new possibilities for the media that share the name ‘videogame’, new paths that in no way invalidate (and indeed, help illuminate) our more familiar player practices. 2005’s The Endless Forest – Tale of Tales’ landmark ‘massively multiplayer screensaver’ – not only led to thatgamecompany’s Journey but revealed new potential for the encounter play that had been inherent in table top-role playing games but had struggled to find expression in any visual form. Ed Key and David Kanaga’s Proteus, perhaps my favourite game of this century, turns walking into a magical experience using only the tricks of the nature documentary and a cunning alliance of sound and vision. But it is perhaps The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther that especially helps shed light on contemporary games by being built upon the skeleton of an FPS yet stripped of its guns and violence. It delivers a wondrous ghost story whose thin play seemed to open the door to new narrative possibilities in videogames by denying the necessity of challenge – for which it had to be ostracized as ‘not a game’ by legions of aesthetically conservative players.
The letter is mostly concerned with videogames as an aesthetic and artistic medium, and not as a commercial medium, but if you have an interest in the walking simulator genre, or either of the two games discussed, you should definitely check it out!