Critical Play: Walking Simulator

The Game

Paperbark is a mobile walking game taking place in the Australian bush, where the player follows a wombat wandering around. It is a sort of love letter to the Australian bushland and I found some comments online of people saying it made them nostalgic from Australia. For this reason, I believe this game’s target audience could likely be people trying to live vicariously through this wombat and get an experience of living in the bush.

Formal Elements and Types of Fun

This game is primarily fun through discovery, the main objective of the game is to just wander and discover the world around you, through the eyes of a wombat. Sensation and submission also seem like related types of fun. The game is pretty mindless, you just trace the screen to uncover more area and you don’t even need to read the text on the screen. For this reason, the player can zone out and enjoy the submission of playing. On top of that, the graphics are really nice and the visuals of the game are really light and pastel and beautiful. The visual sensation of watching the artwork on screen is really enjoyable and I found myself saying “he is sooo cute” about a million times as the wombat waddles around and wiggles through branches.

One objective of the game is to collect items like flowers and bugs that you find along the way. But honestly, this objective seems very secondary to me. You could easily play the entire game ignoring these collectibles and focus solely on exploring and discovery. One thought is that maybe recurring players are more interested in these collectibles since finding every single one would actually add a bit of a challenge to the game, a different type of fun they could enjoy while exploring.

My Experience

I really enjoyed the game Paperbark. The theme of the game came across strongly, nature in the Australian bushland. However, for me I think I would’ve been more engaged if the designers had also included story more heavily along with theme. The wombat did not seem to have much of a story at all. The primary questions in my head were “Where are we going? and “Why?”. Especially since the game already takes advantage of some on screen text with notes about what the wombat is doing, this would’ve been a great place to add a bit of context to this wombat’s life. I also felt bothered by the fact that this game didn’t feel like it had a point. Is the point just to reach the end? I think following a storyline would’ve given me more motivation to explore.

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