‘“Games are for kill”: The polarized opinions on the Walking Simulator genre of video games’
If there is one failure that is common in the study of media; it is the time it takes to actually publish research and studies investigating the media. This is especially true of the study of video games. This is not always the fault of academics as technology is progressing so rapidly we can no longer keep up the pace. However, I believe this does not mean we should avoid studying these things when they are most relevant. Part of my attraction to study the game genre of walking simulators for this dissertation was the opportunity to study a form of storytelling that is still in its infancy, only being about five years old. This dissertation will look at this new genre and investigate why it has become somewhat controversial and how it is talked about within the gaming community. The term “walking simulator” has been accepted by developers and fans of the genre. Keogh (2015) finds that the phrase was once used as an insult to this type of game but has now been repurposed since it is a rather apt description of what you do in the game. These games have the player walk from a beginning point to an end point with little to no obstacles hindering their way (Keogh 2012). You, walk, look, listen and occasionally interact with objects in the environment. They are single-player experiences that focus more on story and pleasing aesthetics over gameplay and mechanics. Aesthetics and mechanics are both popular terms used in fan discourse of games. Aesthetics describes the presentation of a game in terms of its art style, while mechanic is used to define a games system of rules indicating what a player can and cannot do in the game. Walking sims tend to tell emotional stories about regular people and often focus on themes of family and tragedy. Prime examples of this are; Dear Esther (2012), Gone Home (2013), Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (2015), Virginia (2016), Firewatch (2016) and What Remains of Edith Finch (2017). The genre has been very divisive within the gaming sphere as some consumers seem to really dislike the lack of traditional gameplay and the slow-paced nature of these games. While on the other hand, critics love walking sims and appreciate this new way of storytelling in the medium. One of the first times this divisiveness within the community was displayed occurred with the release of Gone Home. The game experienced a massive backlash from consumers who dismissed it as a game entirely and believed it was not worth the twenty-dollar purchase price. Interestingly, critics praised the game with high review scores and for some outlets, such a Polygon (2013), Gone Home was their game of the year. This dissertation sets out to investigate why the genre has proven to be contentious, and how it is talking about in the video game community. However, in order to investigate further we need to first establish what has already been said among academics about game studies in general, the walking sim and audiences within the gaming community.