Critical Play: Walking Simulators

Game: For this critical play, I chose the walking sim In Requiem, created by Alberto Carrillo and Anthony Najjar Simon. The game is supported on desktops and in VR, and I played it on my PC.

Target Audience: The target audience is adults (or maybe around 14+), because I feel like the literary influence of “Ozymandias” by Percy B. Shelley and “the concept of ‘Transience’ as portrayed by Sigmund Freud on his essay of the same name” would be lost on younger audiences.

Important Formal Elements of the game: This was a single-player game, and the procedures and objectives are very simple: the player is dropped somewhere random on the game map, and must find all six statues before they freeze (i.e. before some internal game timer runs out). The player is given one life, so if they freeze, they start the game over, and they can move around the map using the typical WASD keys and a mouse. “Beating” the game means the player finds all the statues without freezing, and then an animation plays, and the end credits roll like in a movie.

Type of fun: Sensation and narrative, and to a lesser extent, discovery and submission. The aesthetics of the game, from the beautiful 3D rendering to the evocative music to the rumbling reading of the poem, all emphasize that the game was designed for sense-pleasure/emotion. Furthermore, the crumbling landscapes and the re-reading of the poem at the end coupled with the central statue (which is now fragmented) reinforce the narratives of ruin and pride and transience.

How walking tells a story: The discovery and submission types of fun mostly come through the walking aspect of this game. As the player moves through the space, new and unseen spaces and objects, sometimes even entire landscapes (i.e. when I went into the hidden underground passageways to find a statue), unfold. In a walking simulator, this feels more like discovery than the kind of “oh here’s a new space” that comes from seeing new aspects of a map as in Mario Cart, or another game whose primary mechanic is racing, or obstacles, or something other than walking. This is because the discoveries are slow, and so the details of the new spaces are more apparent. However, because of this inherently slow journey, the game becomes almost repetitive and mindless, thus falling in the submission category. So, because of this slow-ness, coupled with the first-person POV and the rich details, I was genuinely immersed in the story, emotionally believing that I was walking through this narrative.

Moments of particular success or epic fails: While playing the game, I found myself wishing there was no “freezing” time limit. It took me two tries to get through to the end of the game, and I was very frustrated that I had to rush through the landscape to find the statues, which was both difficult when I wasn’t familiar with the controls and somehow mindless because the base mechanic of following an arrow to the nearest statue wasn’t actually hard. The emotional payoff at the end, hearing the whole poem recited over a beautiful animation, was definitely a success, though.

Things you would change to make the game better: I would get rid of the time limit/the freezing mechanic altogether. Or, possibly, I would let people choose at the beginning which mode they wanted to play in. I think a free exploration would have been wonderful, and really allowed me to immerse myself more in the beautiful visuals. Lastly, the page where I downloaded the game had a dark-background theme, which matched the tone of the game, but its simple design didn’t do full justice to just how gorgeous the art in the actual game was — I would make all the images much larger and more central.

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