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I do not have particularly strong opinions one way or the other about the video game sub-genre known as "walking simulators" in general. I have strong opinions about some of the games that I've played within this genre, but I would not say that I either like or that I dislike "walking simulators" as a whole genre. Some work well and are good games. Others are un-engaging or lazy and didn't particularly work for me.

For example, I hated Dear Esther and Ether One. I was immensely disappointed in Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, after having enjoyed The Dark Descent. But on the other side of the coin, I thoroughly adore Gone Home, Firewatch, and What Remains of Edith Finch.

Patrons had early access to the full video essay.

Are "Walking Sim" games?

So what is a "walking simulator"? Well, like with most things in pop culture, the definition will vary depending on who you ask. But I think most people would agree that a "walking simulator" can be accurately described as interactive entertainment that conveys a narrative almost exclusively through the exploration of an environment and the clues provided therein. You may notice that I used the term "interactive entertainment" as oppose to "video game". I did this in order to keep this discussion's definition as non-contentious as possible. One of the criticisms of walking simulators that I specifically wish to address is the idea that they are not video games, and such critics would immediately object to the use of the term "video game" in the definition. These experiences generally lack any of the violent conflict that is present in most video games, and the mechanics rarely go beyond navigating obstacles, solving puzzles, or managing a limited inventory.

While I am perfectly content to call walking simulators "video games", there are somewhat valid arguments for why the label might not be appropriate for such entertainment products. It could be argued that they are not video games because they lack conflict; they lack a traditional win state, fail state, or any stakes at all; and they lack mechanical depth or complex systems. I personally do not accept these arguments as disqualifying walking simulators from consideration as "video games". There are plenty of universally-accepted video games that also lack one, or even all three of those criteria.

Many games have lacked violence conflict, traditional win states, or complicated system mastery.

Pure puzzle games generally lack traditional conflict. Is Tetris not a video game because it lacks an antagonist and enemies to defeat?

Many simulation and management games lack a traditional win state. Are The Sims and city-builders such as SimCity and Cities: Skylines not video games because you can't formally win them?

Are visual novels, social simulators, and dating sims not video games because they lack complicated mechanics and system-mastery?

Challenge can come in many different forms.

More broadly, a critic might say that walking simulators lack challenge. But what exactly is "challenge"? Does it mean that the game must be physically challenging, requiring a complex series of inputs that are difficult to enter in the correct sequence and in a given time window? The kind of challenge that an action game like Devil May Cry or Dark Souls might provide?

There are other types of challenge besides combat or platforming challenges. What about games that are built around mental challenges, which might have relatively simple inputs, but which require careful and deliberate consideration of one's actions? A strategy game like Civilization or a puzzle game like Portal?

There are also games that combines physical and strategic challenges? Like a sports game such as Madden that ostensibly requires careful selection of a play, and then fast reflexes on the control to execute the given play?

But what if the game provides an emotional challenge? What if the game conveys a story or a message that attempts to challenge one's preconceived notions on a socio-political topic? Or challenges your notion of right and wrong? Or challenges your willingness to put up with verbal abuse and harassment? Or challenges your obedient slavery to the game itself? What if the game attempts such a challenge without requiring the player to shoot at enemies with a gun, or stab them with a sword, or even to solve complicated puzzles or riddles?

Games can also challenge the player's ideology or morality.

Is that any less of a challenge? Is that any less of a game?

Now we're getting into the territory of the more artsy, experimental games that usually encompasses walking sims, but which is not limited to walking sims. And maybe that's the real objection to walking sims. Maybe people object to them because walking sims are artsy projects that often have some kind of socio-political commentary attached to them, and people don't want "politics in their games", even though all creative works are inherently political. As George Orwell once wrote:

"All art is propaganda."

All artistic or creative works are inherently influenced by the political ideals of its creators, and all project an aspect of the author's worldview, whether the author was consciously aware of it or not, or whether the author intended it or not. Perhaps challenging one's ideals and worldview is just as valid as a challenge of system mastery, and in that sense, one could argue that if you stopped playing a game because you were offended by its message, or you refuse to talk about or acknowledge that message, then you failed the game's challenge. You lost.

So yes, I have no objection to walking sims being called "video games". If SimCity and Ace Attorney and Microsoft Flight Sim get to be "video games", then so does Dear Esther and What Remains of Edith Finch, whether I personally like the game or not. So from here on out, I will be referring to even the most bare-bones walking sim as a "game". You're free to disagree.

Spoilers from here on out for a number of games, including Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, Soma, Layers Of Fear, <Observer_, Blair Witch, Gone Home, What Remains Of Edith Finch, Firewatch, Outer Wilds, and Visage.

The evolution of Walking Sims

For me, what separates a "good" walking simulator from a "bad" walking simulator is how effectively the game uses its interactivity to convey its message or to influence (e.g. "challenge") the emotional response of the player. This, of course, is an inherently subjective assessment that will be different for any given person, so any two people are prone to disagree over whether a particular game succeeds in this regard. Nevertheless, I think that the genre has been getting better at it over time, and that the line between a "walking simulator" and a "real game" is getting blurrier and blurrier as some of the richest and most rewarding gaming experiences that I've had over the past few years have come from games that are either blatant walking sims, or from games that could broadly be classified as walking sims (or walking sim-adjacent).

A Foundation In Literature

Perhaps the first widely-recognized and most foundational walking simulator was Dear Esther, released all the way back in 2008 as a Source Engine mod for free via the Chinese Room (which was then a research project at the University of Portsmouth), funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. And boy, talking about 2008 as the year that an entire interactive genre formed, and thinking about all the games in that genre that have come out since really makes 2008 feel simultaneously really recent, but also really long ago.

Mods for DOOM, Half-Life and
other games could qualify as early walking sims.

But the roots of the genre do actually go back much further. Dear Esther was, itself a Half Life 2 mod made in Valve's Source Engine. It wasn't the only (or the first) time that anybody had made a mod that was nothing but a level to explore. Even people playing around with the modding tools for the original Doom made (and distributed) content that could justifiably be considered early "walking sims". Even earlier point-and-click adventure games, and some text adventure games could also potentially fit the label. But most of those were well before my time, so I feel neither qualified, nor inclined to lecture about them. I'll link some sources in the description if you wish to read more about them.

Anyway, the first widely-recognized example of the modern concept of the "Walking Sim", Dear Esther, is about a man wandering an abandoned Scottish isle as he comes to terms with the sudden and accidental death of his wife some time ago. The player is tasked with following an almost completely-linear sequence of paths and corridors, looking at the sometimes surreal and metaphorical environment, having letters to the protagonist's dead wife narrated, and occasionally stopping to read a written note.

Whether this narrative or the story that it tells works for you is entirely subjective. Personally, I didn't find it particularly affecting. I found it all to be very dry and matter-of-fact. It's all metaphorical imagery and rote exposition that I felt completely detached from. Sure, it's a tragic story, but for me, it's hardly different than hearing a story on the nightly news about someone being killed by a repeat-offender drunk driver. It's tragic, I feel sad, and maybe I even feel a little bit angry that our laws and criminal justice system allow this tragedy to happen. But I'm just as detached from the random victim of the news story as I am to the characters of Dear Esther, and from the outcome of the story. But that's just me.

Dear Esther is widely credited as the first "walking sim".

Dear Esther is about as bare-bones as a walking simulator gets, and, in my opinion, represents the worst of the genre: just having a story told to me through narration and notes, as I press a button to walk forward. It's still a game, and it still has artistic merit, but I found it dull, un-engaging, and just didn't care for it.

But that doesn't mean that I should just dismiss Dear Esther as a game. I'm not going to go into the specific artistic merits of Dear Esther. If you'd like some literary critique, I encourage you to check out a video by Pixel a Day called "The Poem That Was Mistaken for a Game". Needless to say, Dear Esther does have literary merit, even though I didn't particularly care for it. It's analogous to acknowledging the literary merit of a novel like Moby Dick, even though I personally find the novel dry and boring. I'm not going to say that Moby Dick isn't a novel, or doesn't qualify as "literature" simply because I didn't like it.

I feel much the same about many other examples of early walking sims that I've played.

The more successful sub-genre: horror

The Chinese Room's sequel to Amnesia, called A Machine For Pigs didn't fare much better. This is despite the fact that it is part of the one sub-genre of walking sim that has found a certain degree of success and popular respect: horror. A Machine For Pigs is once again a simple act of walking through corridors and rooms, picking up and reading dozens of notes and listening to phone calls from a deranged stranger. It's biggest appeal is the philosophical and moral quandaries that it poses to the player through its story about the horrors of the industrialization of warfare and the treatment of people as just cogs in the industrial machinery. But just like with Dear Esther I felt that the story of A Machine For Pigs was simply being told to me, rather than me being much of an active participant. That being said, A Machine For Pigs does iterate upon Dear Esther by adding a bit more open exploration, light stealth gameplay, and some rudimentary puzzles which makes the game a bit more player-driven, but not necessarily any better.

Horror walking sims have been relatively successful.

It's still nowhere near as compelling or atmospheric as Frictional's original The Dark Descent, which is the foundational game in the popular "hide-and-seek" horror sub-genre. Amnesia and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (which actually predates Amnesia's release by a whole year) were succeeded by games such as Outlastand Slender before merging back with traditional survival horror in the outstanding Resident Evil VII. Some might even call The Dark Descent a walking simulator itself, or even blame it for the rise in popularity of the sub-sub-genre of horror walking simulators.

But Amnesia: the Dark Descent still had all the staples of classic survival horror: open exploration, inventory-management, and puzzles. It just replaced shooting the monsters with having to run away and hide from it in an attempt to make the player feel even more disempowered than the limited-mobility protagonists of classics like Resident Evil and Silent Hill.

In hindsight, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories probably deserves the title of "walking sim" far more than Amnesia, considering Shattered Memories so clearly divided its exploration segments from its chase sequences. When it comes to horror, the line between "walking sim" and "real game" has always been quite fuzzy.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories might deserve the title of "first mainstream horror walking sim".

If you want to talk about horror walking sims, then the seminal example is probably Bloober Team's Layers of Fear. Much like Dear Esther, Layers of Fear simply requires the player to walk through a series of linear hallways and rooms. The catch here is that you're walking through an uncanny, surreal, haunted house, in which the geometry of the game world changes. You walk into a room, a jump scare happens, then you walk out the same door into a different hallway than the one you came in. It's a neat and effective trick the first few times, and is certainly ain impressive technical accomplishment, but Bloober repeats it ad nauseum to the point of boredom. There are a few decision points in the game that affect the ending, but but the time any of those came up, boy was I completely unaware that I had any agency to make any decisions.

Bloober has taken two stabs at iterating on the ideas introduced by Layers of Fear. The direct sequel, Layers of Fear 2 is, in my opinion, just more of the same. Blair Witch, on the other hand, has a bit more going for it. It substitutes a creepy forest in place of the haunted mansion, which helps to better sell the fear of being lost, and it adds some light puzzles, inventory management, and the social simulation of having a dog companion.

Layers of Fear is probably the seminal horror walking sim;.

But perhaps its most interesting (and also under-developed) idea is how it uses the Blair Witch mythos to toy with the sense of player agency. It questions whether you have free will, or if by simply playing the game, you are a pawn to the Blair Witch. You condition the dog through reward and punishment. The witch conditions the stick-man through pain or comfort. And the game (and by extension, the witch) conditions you, the player, through ludic success and failure (or through appeal to standard game conventions), such that by the end of the game, you are supposedly blindly following the witch's command. Everybody is being conditioned to act against their own self-interest, and also possibly to do active harm against others. But this never really comes through as a solid theme of the game; it's more of just a casual insinuation made in passing while the rest of the game focuses too much on its convoluted plot-spaghetti. It's also not successful at this idea because of certain other game design decisions (especially where the dog is concerned). I wrote up a blog post about this game's plot if you want to read about it in more detail.

Horror walking sims have been fairly popular since their conception, with games like Amnesia, Slenderman, and the like being huge early hits on streaming platforms like Twitch, and the trend has continued through games like Outlast, Soma, and most recently with Visage and Phasmophobia. A big part of their popularity is that the general populace seems to be more accepting of considering the emotional state of "being afraid" as a legitimate emotion for a game to create. In fact, the interactive nature of these games is what makes them scary.

Gaming audiences seem to accept fear as a more valid emotion than compassion, empathy, curiosity, or so on.

But people seem to be less willing to accept other emotions, such as compassion, sympathy, love, or simple curiosity as being a valid emotion for a game to target. But when you really stop to think about it, is it really any less legitimate?

Establishing Emotional Context

When trying to get other emotions beside fear out of a player, designers have to be much more clever about using the interactive medium to successfully tell their stories in walking simulators. And that is exactly what some have done as time has gone on. One of my favorite examples of such is Gone Home. Gone Home is another critical darling that is similar to Dear Esther, in that the entire game is walking around an environment and being given clues regarding a family drama. Where Gone Home excels dramatically compared to Dear Esther (at least in my opinion), is how much more player-driven the process of exploring the house is.

Exploration is a bit more open, with the player often having access to multiple rooms or hallways at the same time. The game does do a very good job of carefully funneling the player into a certain path of critical progress, but you're still free to deviate from that path, and even do some light sequence-breaking.

The exploration and progression of Gone Home is more player-driven than earlier walking sims;.

Furthermore, you don't just walk into a room and have the next piece of narrative handed to you via a voice-over or conspicuous note. You have to actually explore the room to discover pieces of the narrative and unlock some of the narration, which takes the form of the protagonist's inner monologue. You examine the room for notes, memos, or letters. You open drawers to find objects that inform the player about the characters. You pick up items off of shelves and rotate them around to get little bits of context about their personal meaning to the characters. And so forth. Because you are actively searching for the story, finding the next piece of story feels more rewarding. You weren't given the story, as in Dear Esther or A Machine For Pigs or Layers of Fear; you earned the story through your own curiosity and careful attention to detail!

Gone Home goes a step further by introducing some simple progress locks and puzzles for the player to solve. This further encourages the player to examine the environment carefully because you might find the key to unlock the next room, or might learn a clue or password that will solve a puzzle. Even if you aren't picking up Dad's book and reading the back-cover synopsis because you are interested in the character and want to know what he wrote about, you might still pick it up because it might contain a clue to unlocking a puzzle later down the road. You might not rummage through Mom's underwear drawer because you're curious how she may have tried to spice up her love life with her husband, but you might go rummaging because you think there might be a key hidden under all those undies. Or maybe you're just a perv. In any case, by planting the seed that this game has more traditional puzzles and progress gates, the player now has the extrinsic motivating factor of solving puzzles and unlocking progression gates (as few and far between as those might be), in the event that your intrinsic curiosity about the narrative isn't enough of an incentive to engage with the environment and story. Either way, you're receiving the story that the game is trying to give to you, and you're playing the game.

Simple puzzles and progress gates encourage exploration for players who aren't willing to explore for exploration's sake.

All this is accomplished without having to concede to the inclusion of more traditional, "game" features. No enemies, no health bars, no fail states. It also probably helps that the setting of the game is a literal, tangible home full of the personal possessions of the characters, rather than some more abstract, metaphorical setting that is harder to associate with the events and to relate to. Having a more personal connection to the characters, through the protagonist, Kate's relationship to them, also helps get the player a bit more invested out of the gate, and provides much more reason and context for why you're even here to begin with. And, of course, we also get to know this smaller group of characters much more intimately, which helps to create a connection between the player and the characters.

What Remains of Edith Finch is very similar to Gone Home, in that it is about exploring a house to discover the history of a family. Except Edith Findh is much more surreal and whimsical. It's like Gone Home by way of Tim Burton. It doesn't have the same level of interactivity as Gone Home. There's less items to interact with and the progression is much more linear. But where Edith Finch succeeds compared to other, lesser, walking simulators, is how it presents the notes and narration that is given to you.

Instead of simply walking into a room and reading a note or having a voice-over narrate to you, Edith Finch lets you play out each note in a little gameplay vignette. Instead of reading dozens of dry notes, memos, and letters scattered around the game environment, you get to act out their events in a variety of whimsical ways. Whether your soaring through the sky via the imaginative journal of a cousin's dreams, or being a baby playing with your bath toys and letting your imagination bring them to life, you are participating in the events. One of these vignettes is even one of the most relatable experiences that I've ever had in a video game, which is day-dreaming about playing a video game while at work.

One of Edith Finch's vignettes is the most relatable experience I've ever had playing a game.

More importantly, however, is that this game also plays around with the idea of agency (a popular topic in walking simulators), by exploring the idea of a "family curse". You see, every vignette that you play is a re-enactment of the moments leading up to the tragic death of a member of the Finch family. You know that your actions are somehow going to lead to the character's death, but you don't know how or when it will happen. Is it the curse that kills the members of the Finch family? Or is it their own irresponsible and self-destructive actions? And how innocent or culpable are your own actions as player?

Or maybe there is a curse, but that curse is not mystical or destiny or fate or whatever. Maybe the curse of the Finch family is a genetic pre-disposition towards mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder that has been inherited by every blood member of the family, and which leads these characters to take the irresponsible and self-destructive actions that they take. In this sense, the game also poses the question of whether the player is responsible for the harmful actions that you take, or if you are off the hook (so to speak) because you're being given unreliable stimuli. You're acting based on the symptoms of mental illness that (in the context of the game) feel as real to you as anything in actual reality. And that is the sort of thing that can really only be conveyed through an interactive medium. Edith Finch probably doesn't work as a movie, because the interactivity is key to communicating its message. It only works as a video game.

Walking sims have been transitioning
from passive to active experiences.

And then, of course, there's The Stanley Parable, which is entirely a deconstructive exercise in blindly following the orders that a game provides.

Already, within just a few years of Dear Esther's release, we've already seen walking sims like Gone Home, Edith Finch, and others start to find ways to transition from passive experiences to much more active experiences. But the evolution of the genre doesn't end there.

Exploring Mysterious Worlds

Developers have also started re-introducing some more traditional video game conventions to add more "gameplay" to their walking sim, as is the case with Firewatch. Firewatch gives you a modestly-sized, open environment for you to explore, and gives you only a map, a compass, and the landmarks and signposts to help you navigate that space. The space isn't super large or complicated, but if you turn off the location indicator in the settings menu, navigating the space turns into a little exploratory puzzle.

The implication that something sinister may be afoot is designed to make the player more curious about the environment. It plants the idea that if you look closely at your environment, and explore off the beaten path, you might find secrets within the game world that may expose the conspiracy against you. Further, your interactions with the NPC Delilah add an element of social simulation that implies the possibility of achieving different outcomes between the two characters. Is she part of the conspiracy? Is it possible for me to catch her in a lie that exposes her involvement or complicity? Or is all of this just a delusion in the mind of a forest ranger who's gone stir-crazy due to his isolation in the great outdoors?

Firewatch creates an atmosphere of suspicion that encourages exploring for clues;.

Like with Gone Home, Firewatch gives the player the opportunity to earn the story that the game is telling by engaging with the player's curiosity in more real and tangible ways. It isn't simply taking you on a guided tour of the environment and spoon-feeding you bite-sized chunks of story as you go, and simply hoping that the player plays along. Firewatch puts in the legwork to try to earn the buy-in of the player.

Despite providing more player-driven, and open exploratory experiences than games like Dear Esther or Layers of Fear, these other games, Gone Home, Firewatch, and Edith Finch are still firmly in the category of "walking simulator". I don't think anybody is going to dispute that, even if you do think that they are "good" examples of walking sims. But what about something a little more ... out there? What about Outer Wilds? Is Outer Wilds a "walking simulator"? After all, Outer Wilds isn't asking the player to do all that much more than Firewatch. Both require you to use a compass and landmarks to navigate an environment with some light-to-moderate obstacles adding a navigational puzzle element. The big difference is that Outer Wilds gives you a spaceship and a jet pack and asks you to navigate low or zero-gravity environments in 3-D space. It's a walking simulator in three dimentions. It's a ... "space-walking simulator".

Outer Wilds is arguably just a walking sim in the 3rd dimension.

There's no enemies to shoot. No Metroid-vania style upgrades that allow you to unlock or bypass progress gates. Only the light survival mechanics of a depleting oxygen reserve. But surely that doesn't make a difference, right? Would adding a depleting stamina bar to Firewatch, that requires you to actually eat that protein bar, have made that game not a walking simulator anymore? And if it did, would it be a better game for it?

Outer Wilds does have one instance in which you have to silently sneak past some hostile wildlife. But it isn't asking any more of the player than avoiding the pig monsters in A Machine For Pigs or avoiding the abominations in Soma. Does that slight stealth element make A Machine For Pigs or Soma not a walking simulator?

Soma asks players to apply the
sci-fi concepts that it showcases.

As a quick side-note, Soma is also a very good walking sim, and an exceptional science-fiction game, because of how it not only presents some heady sci-fi ideas, but also asks the player to apply those ideas, and then consider the moral, ethical, and metaphysical implications of those applications.

Most other walking sims are deeply personal, contemplative experiences. Outer Wilds is a bit more metaphysical and grandiose about its introspective qualities, but it's still deeply personal. It's about our place in the universe. Even though we are each small and insignificant in the grand scope of the cosmos, we are still, each of us, important to ourselves and to each other.

"We are a way for the cosmos to know itself".

Outer Wilds is also a game about discovery. It's a Metroid-Vania in which your only "upgrades" are your knowledge of the game world [or "game universe", more appropriately] and how it works. Everything you need to beat the game is given to you right from the start. If you cheat and look up a walkthrough, you can grab the launch codes and go straight to the end-game within 30 minutes. But then you miss the 10-or-so-hour act of discovery, which is the whole point of the game. The only thing that stops you is that you don't know yet.

If you actually do play the game as its intended (which I highly recommend that you do, because this is one of my favorite games ever), then you'll basically just be moving from place to place, learning the story from notes placed throughout the world, and solving the occasional puzzle. The whole game is piecing together the mystery of the story from the fragments that you learn through your exploration. Just the same as in Dear Esther, Gone Home, Edith Finch, or any so-called "walking sim". The only difference is that Outer Wilds is more open-ended. It's an "open world [open worlds?] walking simulator".

Outer Wilds works exceptionally well as a "mystery game" because the entire game space is one big puzzle for the player to solve, using your own intuition and ever-expanding knowledge of the space and how it works. But talking about how Outer Wilds works as a mystery game is a bit out of the scope of this essay. But I really love Outer Wilds, and I really love talking about it, so I might have to earmark this "mystery game" topic for a future topic.

The emergence of AAA-Walking Sims

For practically its entire history so far (up through early 2021), the walking sim genre has been almost exclusively in the realm of indie gaming. AAA publishers and developers haven't really touched this particular sub-genre with only a few exceptions.

You could argue that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was the first modern horror walking sim, and that, ironically, was funded by a major publisher. Until Dawn could maybe also be liberally classified as a "horror walking sim". I can't really think of any others off the top of my head, unless you want to include the first half of Final Fantasy XIII (haha!).

I've already done a video essay on Death Stranding as an innovative open world game.
It's also potentially in innovative big-budget walking sim.

But if you want an example of the emergence of AAA walking sims, you should look no further than Hideo Kojima's highly experimental Death Stranding. I've already looked closely at Death Stranding in an essay about open world gaming, but it definitely warrants a little bit more examination here. In his review on Polygon, Russ Frushtick called Death Stranding "the most advanced walking simulator the world has ever seen." In fact, Death Stranding probably deserves the label "walking simulator" much more than any of the other games mentioned previously, since it is the only game that I've discussed that actually attempst to systematize the very act of walking itself. While the game does include enemies and the weapons and combat mechanics to fight those enemies, the core challenge of the game is really on navigating the environment. Rabid package thieves are really only one of many obstacles between you and delivering the mail that you are sworn to deliver, rain, snow, apocalyptic ghost monsters, or shine. Finding (or creating) safe paths through the environment is the real gameplay challenge here.

And this is where Death Stranding really does deviate the most from the more typical definition of "walking sim": it actually does include fail states. So it's classification as a walking sim is debatable, even though the vast majority of the game is literally about walking across the countryside, delivering mail to people's front doors.

In hindsight, I really think that Sony and Kojima Productions should have saved Death Stranding so it could be a PS5 launch title. In addition to giving the console a high-profile exclusive that is a new IP, instead of a remake to a game from 10 years and 2 console generations ago and a pseudo-sequel to a game from 2 years ago, it might have also built up extra hype and excitement for Death Stranding itself. All the PlayStation fanboys would certainly have been much more zealous about defending Death Stranding from critics (or apologizing for it, depending on how you think Death Stranding turned out), because they would not only be defending the game, but also their $400 console purchase.

Death Stranding could have been a showcase of the PS5's haptic feedback -- if only it had been a launch title.

Perhaps more importantly though is that Death Stranding had the potential to have been an excellent showcase for the PS5's novel haptic feedback features. Feeling all the different types of terrain under your feet, and having the controller itself resist your attempts to hold the triggers to balance Sam Porter as he descends a steep slope probably would have gone a long way towards making Death Stranding's hiking mechanics feel more like a genuinely innovative gaming concept, and less like the boring "lack of gameplay" that some people criticize the game for.

It's also kind of amazing how prescient Death Stranding is now in the context of the COVID pandemic. It's amazing how the themes of social isolation, societal collapse, and working towards the public good are relevant to our real world in the year or two after the game was released...

Regardless of whether it was ahead of its time, Death Stranding may have been a watershed game by opening up the possibility for other high-profile developers to get funding from publishers to create and release bigger-budget variations or iterations of the walking sim genre. That process was already starting, and once again, horror has been the earliest successful adopter of the big-budget walking sim genre. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was heavily inspired by Amnesia, and Alien: Isolation and Resident Evil VII show similar inspirations years later. Kojima's own P.T. demo for the cancelled Silent Hills proved that there is an appetite for avante garde big budget, horror walking sims. Sadly, that project was never fully realized, and indie games like Visage have come along to fill the gap while we wait for a major publisher to pick up the ball and run with it.

P.T. was a big-budget walking sim. Would Silent Hills have been one as well?

Visage itself is an interesting example because it takes many of the ideas behind earlier horror walking sims, and then re-introduces some old school survival horror concepts such as puzzles and resource-management. Whether Visage qualifies as a "walking sim" is probably debatable. After all, it does include monsters and fail states.

The line is blurring

I was never one to argue that a walking sim isn't a video game to begin with. But each passing year, the line between a "walking sim" and a "real game" seems to get blurrier and blurrier. It's to the point that I'm playing some games and genuinely, un-ironically asking myself "was that a walking sim?" Seriously, is Outer Wilds a walking sim? Is Visage? Are Death Stranding and P.T. walking sims? Would Silent Hills have been a walking sim if it had actually been released? I honestly cannot give a definitive answer.

That doesn't mean that the classic example of a walking sim has gone away. Those are still being made, especially within the indie market, where a creator can create a walking sim in order to get your ideas out there for comparatively low cost and less work compared to more traditional games. As game development tools become easier to use and more accessible, I imagine that even the lowest-budget of indie walking sims will offer more complex and player-driven experiences. And between P.T. and Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima has made a compelling case for the emergence of big-budget walking sims from major publishers.

And when I say "big budget", I don't mean every publisher making games of the scope and cost of Death Stranding. But with EA's recent success with Star Wars: Squadrons, we could see major publishers green-lighting developers to create more mid-budget games that they want to make. This could create a great market niche for major developers to release highly-polished games that are higher-budget than what indie developers can afford (hence the term "big budget"), and which can iterate, expand, and innovate on the ideas of the traditional indie walking sims.

I feel like it's only a matter of time before we start seeing those sorts of games, and when that happens the line between walking sim and "real game" will only get blurrier.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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FTC guidelines require me to disclose that as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made by clicking on Amazon product links on this site. All Amazon Associate links are for products relevant to the given blog post, and are usually posted because I recommend the product.

Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

Featured Post

The Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season RecruitingThe Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season Recruiting08/01/2022 If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations...

Random Post

The little details are important in Red Dead Redemption II; except when they aren'tThe little details are important in Red Dead Redemption II; except when they aren't02/04/2019 Once again, Rockstar is absolutely abysmal when it comes to its tutorials. It gets the very first one right, by displaying the prompts on the bottom center of the screen, below the subtitles. That's for the basic movement controls that should be common sense. Once it gets into the more complicated and esoteric stuff that isn't...

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