March 4, 2024

In 2008 a small production company took a famous shooter video game and took the shots out of it. In return, in his modified version of half life 2 the soliloquy of a man who was telling his story to the player was added. It was a first person game. In the original version it consisted of walking, dodging and killing. In the modified, just walk and listen. So much so that many users sarcastically commented that they had created a new genre: the walking simulator or ride simulator. But the joke has long since become something very serious.

Today, the walking simulator They are a genre in their own right and Dear Esther (which started as a mode —or modification of the original— of half life 2 and ended up releasing an official version in 2012) is one of the great references of the genre. “The term originated in a derogatory way to make fun of games glasses in which you don’t shoot, but the label ended up taking hold”, explains Jordi de Paco, a video game developer at the production company Deconstructeam. De Paco knows the importance of walking. He is one of the two presenters of Walk, a podcast about creativity and video games that has the peculiarity of being recorded in the street, while De Paco and his partner, Marina González, take a walk. “On walks, very interesting conversations tend to surface, ideas that would never come out sitting at a table,” she explains.

This idea is valid in the physical world, but also in the digital one. games like Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture either Firewatch They have given a good account of it, and their success has made the genre finish settling down. They offer walks through the woods, through a deserted town or through their parents’ house. Talks and walks that turn the player into a flâneur digital. And they serve to popularize other types of games that, although they do not fully fit into the category of walking simulator (because you don’t walk too much), they bet on slower mechanics. It is what has come to be called slow gaming. The movement slownormally linked to food, meditation and consumption, comes to consoles.

Frame from the video game 'Ghost of Tsushima'.
Frame from the video game ‘Ghost of Tsushima’.

There is a game Unpacking, about unpacking moving boxes and placing them in a new house. another, named Walden: a gametries to follow in the footsteps of the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, author of the classic Waldenin his retirement to the field. The Red Strings Club Its main character is a waiter who spends the game creating cocktails and giving small talk to the customers of his bar. De Paco was the director of the latter, a success indie which has shipped more than 300,000 units. “People who see video games as jumping and shooting are going to be difficult to capture,” he explains, “but people who like literature, movies, and series are highly likely to be able to connect with an interactive story, since be in the form of walking simulator or conversational adventure”.

There is yet another reason behind the success of slow and enjoyable games: the social context. When the work and social routine becomes a battle, it is normal that when you turn on the console you do not want to fight another. As the journalist Jorge Morla argued a few months ago in babelia, horror and action are two genres in which video games surpass all other expressive forms. The need for total immersion (you cannot have it in the background, like a series) generates more tension in the player. But this is not always for such intensity. Sometimes, after a hard day at work, you feel like disconnecting and moving to worlds more pleasant than the real one. One only has to see what game people turned to during confinement, the most stressful time that has been experienced in recent years: the very slowvery social and very cute Animal Crossing.

Image from the video game 'Unpacking', in which the main mission is to unpack the boxes of a move.
Image from the video game ‘Unpacking’, in which the main mission is to unpack the boxes of a move.

“I think that the players have tired of the usual game: kill or flee,” explains Sofía Francisco, author of the essay Walking Simulators: exploration made into a video game. “Also, with mental health care so hot right now, many of these games allow for an escape route more needed than ever.” Faced with the stress and adrenaline of playing a classic video game, in which the speed of your reflexes and the skill with your fingers determine if you live or die, the slow gaming it offers a much calmer and more relaxed gratification. “Since there is usually no possibility of dying, they are very peaceful games, which leave you to your own devices, without the need to stress yourself out,” explains Sofía Francisco.

Promotional image of the video game 'Firewatch'.
Promotional image of the video game ‘Firewatch’.

A decade after the small producers demonstrated that these types of games also work, it has been the big ones that have decided to bet on the slow gaming. “Once a game like Dear Esther hits the nail on the head, large companies can join the bandwagon and replicate the formulas with a much larger budget”, confirms De Paco. And there are even more paradigmatic examples than that of Animal Crossing. Adventure games in which contemplative walks have a great plot weight, such as Ghost of Tsushima, red dead redemption 2 either spider man. In them, walking (riding or swinging through the skies thanks to spider webs) becomes part of the playable experience, making the games more enjoyable and reflective. Even the big action titles have added a component slow and the trend for open games, with ever larger maps and more realistic worlds, has helped.

Death Stranding it was the first walking simulator big budget. Although it also used other mechanics, it provided hours (perhaps too many hours) of ride. An adventure and science fiction story thus became a simulator to act as a flâneur through a post-apocalyptic steppe. And it marked the way to introduce the landscape, the walk and the reflection as part of the gaming experience. At the moment, its sequel has already been announced.

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