Critical Play: Walking Simulators – Elyse

I played Babbdi, a free walking sim by the Lemaitre Bros on STEAM. The target audience is anyone over the age of 13 – while the landscape is creepy and navigating a walking sim requires some patience, the control set is limited and fast to learn.

One aesthetic that emerged was sensation: as I walked around the landscape, sounds and visuals immersed me in the depressing city of Babbdi. The dynamics that stimulated my senses were the way light and sound changed when I walked. As I approached a dog, its barking became louder, and then changed directions when I turned around. I walked down a narrow corridor and felt claustrophobic – the low light, the echoing sound of my footsteps, and the geometry of the space made me feel physically present in Babbdi. The mechanics that enabled this were the game’s surround sound, the rendering of light, and the ability to move around freely by walking. Walking was a particularly important mechanic because my position and orientation impacted how I experienced light and sound, and this is what made these sensations immersive.


Dog barking / claustrophobic corridor

Another key aesthetic was narrative, as the goal – escaping Babbdi – was evident from the start. The dynamics that supported Babbdi’s narrative were conversing with other characters and exploring the physical space. Some characters offered advice, context, and items, while signs and corridors helped me get oriented. Some important mechanics were the ability to interact with other characters and objects, and the collection aspect of the game, which gave me a sense of progress and development as I played. Since walking was my only vehicle for navigating Babbdi, I felt in control of the pacing and order of the narrative, which kept me more engaged. I had the freedom to visit parts of the map whenever I pleased, and even revisit places to see if they changed after I collected more items.

Another character telling me “we will get out of babbdi” / my secret collection

I think the type of fun intended by the creators was discovery – Babbdi is based on collection and interaction with the environment, and to make progress you are required to explore new parts of the map. I haven’t played a walking sim before, but this game felt expansive without being overwhelming. Rather than worrying about getting lost or being attacked, I could focus solely on exploration. I think the creators succeeded by keeping the game free of combat and slowing the pace though walking.

Two of my favorite landscapes from Babbdi: port / playground

One fail was a lack of boundaries – at one point I fell down an elevator shaft, and I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to happen. When I emerged, the world around me was partially rendered, which confused me and made me wonder if I had done something wrong. I think this is probably a tradeoff of free games – some aspects may not be as polished as a paid game – but this is what I’d change about Babbdi if I could. As a player, it’s hard to explore and push the boundaries of a map when you have a chance of falling off.

Staircase floating in space

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