Walking Simulators


An emerging genre of video games, a heavily narrative driven experience with minimal player agency [You can look and walk around.] in a video game space. Many people have a problem with calling them video games instead, opting to make fun of them by referring to them as “walking simulators” or “screenshot generators” if the games are graphically pleasing enough. Despite the negativity of the name it was co-opted and it stuck as the genre title.

Why



It started with The Beginner’s Guide. It wasn’t my first walking sim I’ve played but this one struck a chord with me. When I went online I found that a lot of other people felt the same way. Critical perception was positive, however the whole perception of the game was polarized. It was either hated or loved. The critical reaction simply comes from how new video games are as a medium—how the language for them is underdeveloped. In essence, nearly any interactive experience could be considered a video game. Pong is just as much a video game as World of Warcraft is, and yet any person can tell you they are entirely different things. Despite not having the right language, what makes these “walking simulators” so successful?
Personally, they’re incredibly engaging, an overarching narrative, spoken or written or found in the environment, while you simply explore. Despite being in one “genre”, each is as varied as the last. Part of the consensus seems to be simply that because they’re so different from current “standard” games, praise is given for straying from these typical conventions. Though there has to be more, and it’s easy to know you like something, it’s something else entirely to break it down and put it into words and research.


Audience


There’s a tricky nuance to a target audience that plays games, especially to those that play smaller indie titles. The audience will range from 18–35, as a general range, though this by itself is far too hopeful, even if over half of the people in this age group play games they’re not likely to play what’s been described. The problem with the gaming community is that despite a long held standard of “the average gamer” there is in fact no such thing.
The average person is more inclined to own only a few games and still likely to only play as much as half of those. Though it’s not necessarily correct the phrase “Core Gamer” will be used to describe the audience. Core Gamers are what people would consider as “the average gamer”. These are the people who play lots of games, they have at least 100 games in their library and these are the people you want. They make up roughly 1% of the game playing population. Despite being a small percentage, 1% makes up well over a million people.

Research


Research has revealed an interesting take on player agency in games, a reason it’s included as part of the overall project presently. Different games will have entirely different relationships with their audiences depending on the amount of player agency or co-authorship the player feels they have.
While other articles have found that the strongest part of any walking simulator is its ability to lie to the audience. Despite insisting we love things to be clear and straightforward we still love an unreliable narrator. A twist in perceptions, in ideas; it’s mysterious, it’s human. “I had to try again the next day, and got an opening bit of narration that was entirely different to what it had been the day before. I was confused, and also incredibly intrigued, like waking up with a hangover inside your flat but finding your keys on the doorstep. The mystery compels us to solve it.”
Some have pointed toward the worlds built for these games, our innate curiosity to reach out and discover, “what happened here?” [In other words, environmental storytelling.]
Another points toward the unique relationship of player to game. How a person doesn’t [can’t] put themselves entirely into a game [it simply won’t happen, though they can certainly be immersive there will always be a degree of separation.] Neither will they entirely separate themselves from the game, only treating it as an object. They adopt a unique relationship with the game instead. “...a player-subject that is created by the game as a ‘skin-subject,’ adopting the avatar of the game as a skin in order to perceive the game, in which this player-subject acts according to the power structure of the game’s rules. This player-subject has an ambiguously defined relation to the player outside of the game, of which it is either a subset among multiple subjectivities, or the temporary subset of one greater moral being.”

Proposal Outline


There’s an emerging genre of video games, if you can call them video games, a heavily narrative driven experience in a video game space. Many people have a problem with calling them video games instead, opting to make fun of them by referring to them as “walking simulators” or “screenshot generators” if the games are graphically pleasing enough. Despite a lambasting reaction from many who play games, these same games are lauded by critics, reviewers, and many others.
The critical reaction simply comes from how new video games are as a medium—how the language for them is underdeveloped. In essence, nearly any interactive experience could be considered a video game. Pong is just as much a video game as World of Warcraft is, and yet any person can tell you they are entirely different things. Despite not having the right language, what makes these “walking simulators” so successful?
Personally, they’re incredibly engaging, an emotional or comedic overarching narrative, spoken or written, while you simply explore the environment. Just like video games, despite being in one “genre”, each is as varied as the last. Some tell incredibly dramatic stories, fragmented stories, some are comedic, others sad and hopeful, and some are just people trying to understand themselves. Part of the consensus seems to be simply that because they’re so different from current “standard” games, praise is given for straying from these typical conventions. Though there has to be more, and it ’s easy to know you like something, it’s something else entirely to break it down and put it into words and research.

The largest and most pivotal part of this project is the research, everything needs to be researched as much as possible, without it the final product will hardly be achievable. Gathering qualitative data, as quantitative won’t be nearly as effective in the scope of this project. Exploring narrative archetypes will fit into this, figuring what is and isn’t successful in these regards. After sufficient data has been collected it will be inserted into an “explorable” 3D environment. Taking advantage of the same techniques researched to explore and extrapolate this data into its own entity of similar form and makeup. How this is done precisely is largely up to the data collected.

Simply: what makes a walking simulator so successful? Breaking down several of their key components and finer minutiae. To understand what makes them so successful [or not]. Then create a standalone game, likely centered around featuring this data while using what’s been learned and building a story off all of it.


Inspiration


My biggest sources of inspiration were mainly three games:

The Beginner’s Guide
The Stanley Parable
Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

Two developers, William Pugh and Davey Wreden, made The Stanley Parable together before splitting and creating Dr. Langeskov and The Beginner’s Guide, respectively.

© 2019 Jordan Twaddle

SEA, WA