As an overall fan of “walking simulator” games (a phrase I’m a little less bothered by as I remember that walking in real life is often rewarding), I enjoyed this recent Jimquisition episode exploring the elements that separate the rising genre’s best titles from some of its less stellar entries.
I think one of the traps these kinds of immersive adventure games can fall into is making the player an observer of a story rather than an active participant, creating something players merely pass through rather than become a part of.
I’m reminded of something I read recently in Seth Barrish’s An Actor’s Companion: Tools for the Working Actor (I am a bad actor):
“Human beings rarely stand and do nothing. We eat, drink, wash, fiddle with objects, clean our fingernails… On the stage, however, I often see actors sitting or standing stock-still for long periods of time. As a result, they look like actors standing in a void rather than real people doing real things in a real place. Give yourself stuff to do onstage, and you’ll seem less stiff and more connected to the environment. P.S. Activities will also relax you.”
This is a huge note on the importance of interaction, even in the most seemingly passive formats. And I think it’s why titles like Gone Home and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter succeed so well even though they violate Jim’s advice about not framing your story as a reflection of a more interesting tale that’s already happened.
For a scripted game in which you can only flip light switches and pick up and rotate objects, there’s a lot of player agency in Gone Home. And that agency – trivial in the lone instances of holding a plastic duck or opening a cupboard or tossing away a piece of paper – is critical to your investment in the overall game world. It makes you a character. Observation and discovery may often overlap, but they’re different ideas, and they produce different feelings within us.
Just a thought for your next walk.
(Image Source: Fullbright)