Critical Play: Walking Simulators

This week, I explored a handful of environments via web browser from the collection Places. Specifically, I navigated Place 3, Sketch 1, Place 6, Sketch 4, and Sketch 5. These “Places” are 3D paintings by Finnish designer @ktch0. 

The formal elements of the game are very simple; you have a first-person perspective (although you cannot see any part of your body, the sound effects, viewpoint, and player speed seem to suggest that of a human) and use the keyboard to move around along with the mouse to control the camera. There is no goal; you explore wherever you want, for as long as you want, and then move on. Places’ central types of fun are sensation and discovery; both are met well. 

Walking tells the story in Places because, well, what else are you going to do? After spending so much time in the hectic setting of the real world, it’s actually quite satisfying to hop into an environment where there isn’t any objective at all. Initially, I was frustrated I couldn’t move faster to see as much as possible; after a few minutes, however, I realized that didn’t matter (though having Shift as an option to speed up movement was a nice touch for traversal).

I found my mind wandering—to trips from a decade past, to corners of the Earth I might never touch—and let the combination of visual and auditory sensation immerse me in each unique scene. Wearing headphones proved useful for absorbing sound that appropriately matches your movement (note to self: a reminder such as “sound on, headphones recommended” might be a helpful tip for a game sometime to offer the best experience), and the variability of each place kept things compelling when when the game mechanics remained the same.

That said, the one additional mechanic I appreciated in some of the later places was swimming; taking a break to explore the water when desired sprinkles in a change of pace. I’d love to see one or two more ways to change the sound and movement patterns; perhaps deep grass that impairs visibility/slows the player down, or a hill that can be slid down. There were also instances of the environment (particularly the grass) rendering in real-time in front of your sightline, and while these might be graphical limitations, finding a way to address them would limit spots where immersion slips. A similar issue arises when reaching the boundary of the gamespace. All in all, though, I found a peaceful romance in the time I spent with Places.



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