video games to let go, a philosophy that has already conquered great productions

One of the last missions of Red Dead Redemption 2 It consists of having a date between John Marston and Abigail, who take advantage of the fact that they have some time alone to ride to the town of Blackwater. “I don’t know, we could walk a bit to see where we end up,” he tells her. They visit a photography studio, watch a movie at the cinema, and finally take a boat ride. Then the game stops and you only have to press a button to fulfill the objective of the plot: to ask for marriage.

'The Last of Us II', the meticulous design of its scenarios and the complaints of labor exploitation

‘The Last of Us II’, the meticulous design of its scenarios and the complaints of labor exploitation

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You do not have to kill enemies, or solve puzzles, or go into “action” understood as pulling the trigger. What the Rockstar title proposes in this section is a story of self-discovery. Advancing is limited to interacting with an environment that has become a metaphor for what happens inside two characters who, in this case, represent the nerves of two lovers before a request for a hand.

But this way of playing not only seeks the introspection of the figures that appear on the screen. Whoever takes charge goes from the usual active role to a contemplative one, where the actions go through wandering or exploring. This philosophy for storytelling has been joined by recent releases such as The Last of Us II or Death stranding, but its origin is not in the big productions, but in the indie scene.

Walking simulator is the term used to refer to these types of games, although it may not be the most appropriate way to refer to them. In fact, cultural critic Eva Cid highlighted on Twitter the need to rename them, since categorizing them as “walking simulators” is not usually descriptive and the term has often been used in a pejorative way to denounce these titles. They are not based solely on the mechanics of walking through a space, but on the relationship with all the elements of design and the sensations they evoke.

The origin of the walking simulator can be traced back to 1980, when to developer Graham Relf It occurred to him to create a game with countless locations based on exploration. At that time the concept did not captivate the public too much, but it could be considered a first link of what we would later see in works such as Bioshock (2007), especially in its prologue. At the beginning of this we suffered a plane crash and woke up in the middle of the ocean to discover the immensity of Rapture, a submerged city that unfolds before our eyes.

But the first game that really discovered the possibilities of the format (or took them to the extreme) was another: Dear esther (2012), developed by the British studio The Chinese Room from the graphics engine of Half life 2. The adventure took place on an uninhabited island while a voiceover was heard when reaching certain points, like an epistolary novel. And that was what it consisted of, advancing along a path.

“After the publication of this title, the term became popular: at first it was considered ‘derogatory’ towards the genre itself, since many players did not consider them to be ‘real games’. Their criticisms were justified in the lack of challenges, the impossibility of dying and having a low difficulty “, writes the journalist Sofía Francisco in the book Walking Simulators: Exploration Made a Video Game.

But what was posed as an insult, the label of walking simulator, was subject to a process of reappropriation by players and developers interested in exploring the limits of the medium. As they point out in Canine, the title responsible for it was Gone Home (2013), winner of the BAFTA award for Best Debut Game and nominated in the Best Story category. In it we handled Kaitlin, who explored an abandoned mansion based on the objects she found in the rooms, whether they were posters, photographs or letters, elements that were not mere collectibles. They helped to weave the narrative as yet another character, a seed sown in the industry and whose roots reach until recently. The Last of Us II.

Part of Ellie and Abby’s adventure is explained through documents in old drawers or contemplative walks under ruined buildings that ultimately evoke what humanity was one day before the zombie epidemic broke out in 2013.

The backpack on the shoulder and hundreds of kilometers ahead

Virginia (2016), Firewatch (2016) or Tacoma (2017) were also titles, all of them developed by independent studies, which laid the foundations of what we know today as walking simulators. But in recent years, in addition, the genre has been promoted by great developers like Hideo Kojima.

Death stranding is set in a dystopian world where we handle Sam Porter Bridges, a delivery man whose mission is to deliver packages across a desolate United States. For this we have to walk around rivers or crevices with instruments as rudimentary as strings and ladders. You also have to take the terrain into account: it is not the same to walk on a rocky surface than on a flat meadow. Every stone in the way counts and a stumble can mean the loss of the load, so maintaining balance and the upright body of the character is something that is always present. It is a work that, like the journeys through the mountains, takes place with an eye on the ground.

We are not going to assess the script and its possible failures or successes, but its mechanics. And the goal is simple: get from point A to B without anything breaking. But the tricky thing, as is often the case with hiking in real life, is dealing with the physical and mental exhaustion that comes with a route of dozens of kilometers where you only spend time alone with yourself.

“Death Stranding it captures like I have not seen in any other game the sensation of shouldering your backpack and making your way across the field. And not only that, but few games capture the magic of walking in a natural landscape like this, “says youtuber José Altozano (DayoScript) in your analysis of the game. “The environment exists by itself without having to explain to anyone. Some will call it empty, but I see it as natural: it allows you to disconnect and focus on the beauty that surrounds you,” he adds.

It is a feeling that Kojima’s title instills from its controls: if you want to hold something with one hand you have to keep the button on the remote pressed all the time, thus demonstrating the value that a limb has when you carry a backpack on your back loaded up to its limits. limits.

What started as an experiment with Dear esther (if we establish its origin there) has ended up becoming a genre in itself that adds possibilities when telling a story and that, as Sofía Francisco pointed out in her book, we can already recognize as “a new format that has the right to become another way of making videogames. ”


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