Much has been made of the walking simulators. Games like Gone Home, Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, or Sunset. These are games where the players primary goal is to exist in a different place for a while, and maybe, as an aside, read, watch, or listen to a story. For such inherently gentle experiences they have proven to be polarizing, often in angry ways. There is an entire factions of people who wring hands about whether these experiences can be allowed to call themselves games. It’s an argument that I find so profoundly dumb I don’t really feel like addressing it head on. Since I’m the one writing, I won’t. We demolished the border between what is and is not a game sometime in the mid 90s when the band Primus put Macromedia director content on their “interactive” CDs. Game is a catch all term for interactive experiences. Sometimes words are hard folks. We don’t always use the right ones, and whatever the argument against using the term “game” is, that ship has sailed far past the horizon by now.
So game it is then.
I think I might know where the anger comes from though. There is an either/or mentality among some folks that manifests itself as fear. Sure games are a very trivial things, but they are also a lot of peoples main hobby. If they aren’t working, sleeping, or otherwise dealing with life they are playing games. The amount of time and energy sunk makes gaming important, regardless of any objective value. Now here is where the either/or mentality kicks in. If a game like Gone Home starts to receive a lot of praise, and it’s not the type of game that the person who puts a heavy value on games enjoys, there is a fear that developers will create more games like Gone Home, and less of everything else. Which is false of course. Except it’s not. That fear is at least half right. There will be a lot more walking simulators in our near future.
The reason is VR. There are at least three actual consumer products coming in the next year or so that a decent number of self identified gamers will be buying. The will buy these headsets with millimeter accurate positional tracking and positional sound systems and they will want to use them to play a game. The VR headsets ability to make you feel like you are existing in a different place weaves together so tightly with the walking simulators aims of telling story through environment, the result is inevitable. There will be a lot of games created where you move slowly and have a story told to you. There will be lots of elements for a player to interact with, to be sure games are still a medium of interaction, but the walking simulators are coming. They are coming, and they will just keep getting better.
Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Evil Dead, and On Golden Pond all came out in 1981. These are all very different movies, that seem on the surface to target different audiences. They are all amazing and intensely enjoyable movies. While I could imagine the person that wouldn’t seek out each of these movies individually, there is also an audience that watched them all. More importantly, the success of one didn’t come at the cost of the other. There is no either/or when it comes to what people enjoy. There is only ‘and’.
The walking simulators are coming, but maybe, just maybe, what we learn about creating interactive experiences will make all games better.