Critical Play: Walking Simulators – Jake

Firewatch is a walking simulator adventure game published by Campo Santo in 2016 for Windows, OS X, Linux, and consoles. The game seems to be targeted at an adult audience, as it contains themes of grief, suggestive elements, and frightening elements. 

The player controls Henry, a new hire as a fire watchman in a national park. The player navigates Henry to complete objectives that the game directs them to complete, such as stopping teens from setting off fireworks. The overall objective of the game is to unravel the mysteries and unanswered questions surrounding Henry and suspicious goings-on in the park. 

As the player attempts to achieve this objective and advance the story, the mechanic of walking plays a key role. The procedure of walking around to navigate without cutscenes or jumps in location makes the game more immersive, generating fun for the player in the form of both narrative and discovery. The player follows various other procedures that promote realism too, such as entering codes to open locked supply boxes and needing to navigate via map and compass rather than a quest marker or similar mechanic. 

One example of the walking mechanic promoting narrative and discovery is at the very beginning of the game, when the player must navigate their new home, a small room at the top of a watchtower.

By having the player walk around the space, they become more connected to it, becoming accustomed to the cozy atmosphere. This allows the player to enjoy the discovery of this new area, while also learning about the narrative surrounding the requirements of Henry’s new job and what it will entail. The player’s attachment to this space pays off later when the watchtower is vandalized, allowing the player to feel Henry’s distress. This also builds the player’s interest in further discovering the game’s story. The walking mechanic also helps to pace the narrative and build tension. For example, as Henry prepares to scold two teens who had set off fireworks, he discovers various articles of their clothing on the ground as he walks toward their location, building tension. This tactic is also deployed as the player approaches their vandalized watchtower, as Henry’s discarded typewriter and shattered glass can be found by the stairs up the tower, building anticipation as the player approaches the damage above. The mechanic of walking allows for the player to discover the narrative as though they were Henry himself, providing a thoroughly immersive experience.

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