Critical Play: Walking Simulators

Game: Dear Esther

Creator: Jessica Curry

Platform: iOS

The game I chose to play was Dear Esther. I have never played a walking sim before, so it was a very interesting experience. The game centers around a mysterious and eerie theme. Based on the story and mood, I would think the target audience was for players 13 and older.

As the name suggests, the only mechanic is moving around the environment. Although there are no evident boundaries or procedures, I would consider the very edges of the environment to be physical boundaries that limit the player. The game is very much a single player game, and although I didn’t get around to finishing the game, I believe the outcome would be to simply understand the story and be able to fully experience the environment.

The type of fun would definitely center around exploration and roleplay. I think I would compare it to reading a book or a in a way, a self-paced movie. I think the aspect of being able to dwell in certain parts longer than others and being able to discover the story on your own is quite rewarding, and illustrates the appeal of walking sims. Of course, on the contrary, if you aren’t able to find the next part of the story, it could be frustrating and produce the opposite effect. The other part I really enjoyed was just being able to hear the mood change through the music as I moved around. It helped set the scene for the story excerpt and make me feel like I was actually there. Additionally, the fact that you are able to view the scene in more than one angle (as opposed to a video) contributed to making it feel like you really were the main character of the story, something that can’t really be accomplished with movies.

I think personally, I was really drawn in at the beginning and was able to find new areas of narration fairly quickly. However, as time went on, I found it harder to navigate the area, which made me lose interest. I think having a form of hints or changes in environments would help me stay engaged throughout the gameplay. One thing I found clever by the designer was to really focus on adding environmental animations/haptics, whether that be gusts of wind or rustling noises. It added a lot to the overall immersiveness of the experience.

About the author

hi! i'm a freshman studying cs. i love animation, vr/ar, and game dev!

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