Are Walking Simulators Actually Video Games?

For some, gameplay has been and always will be the determining factor in whether a game is enjoyable. A game like Rocket League features no story or lore, but simply thrives on stellar mechanics. Gameplay that is easy to grasp, but hard to master creates an addictive loop. Accompanied by a high level of quality, gameplay alone can carry a game to success.

Other titles push storytelling as their main rationale for purchase. While games such as The Last of Us and the Uncharted franchise feature more than serviceable gameplay, their stories and character developments contained within their respective plots drive player enjoyment.

Graphics are also an important factor in the creation of an enticing game. But from my experience, graphics should never be used as the main component driving game purchases. Gran Turismo is successful because of its realistic driving simulation that stems in part from a history of increased graphical fidelity, but more importantly is hinged upon realistic gameplay.

Titles such as Knack and The Order: 1886 demonstrate the faults with relying too much on advanced particle physics and other cliche tech demo features when creating a title. While these games are remarkable to look at initially, the awe of lens flare and water physics will fade at some point.

If the task of navigating through the world is cumbersome or the story plays out like an episode of Dora the Explorer, it’s highly unlikely players will be encouraged to progress through the sludge.

Enter the most recent game I completed: Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture.

egttr2(Coutesy Playstation.com)

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is what many in the gaming industry would define as a ‘walking simulator’. A game that presents an area to explore with little more than a quick inspection of particular items in the world as the gameplay.  

These so-called walking simulators usually hinge their success on story and world-building that often calls for graphically stunning places to explore. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is no exception. It attempts to execute a story focusing on the events occurring in a small English town just before the apocalypse with mixed results.

With the only mechanics being walking forward or backwards and interacting with very certain items (door, phones, radios), the game uses a stunning recreation of the English countryside as its backdrop. And while I overall enjoyed my time with Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, I couldn’t help but think that what I was playing wasn’t a game, but an experience.

Maybe I would feel differently if I was able to navigate in Virtual Reality, where I could play an active role in the investigative nature of the game, but while using only a PS4 controller I felt as if I was participating in the most boring out of body experience I had ever encountered.

The inability to sprint definitely added to this feeling. If I ever felt like wandering off the beaten path I was met with tangled bits of story and minutes of back-tracking just to return to forward progression of the plot. I understand a developer not wanting you to miss any important interactions and story bits while in an open-world walking simulator, but slowing movement to a crawl certainly isn’t the solution.

The gameplay of Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture simply doesn’t warrant its classification as a game. And trust me, it isn’t because of the game’s length.

I’ve played shorter walking simulators that I would classify as games. Gone Home offers little more than 90 minutes of gameplay but is an experience I would still classify as a game. Almost every object in the house you explore in Gone Home has a story or interactive element to it. Puzzles must be solved to explore different areas of the house and they aren’t as simple as just listening to a radio.

gone home(Courtesy thenerdist.com)

While I appreciate the experience EveryBody’s Gone To The Rapture provides, I can’t shake the feeling that I’d much prefer the experience be transformed into a visual only format, one that eliminates the tediousness of movement and drip-feed of story information that hinders its ability to exist as a game.

While I’m disenchanted with calling Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture as a game, others might immensely disagree. Our definitions of what can be designated a game exists on a spectrum, one that heavily relies on individual interpretation to constitute what is a visual experience and what is an interactive piece of media.

One comment

  1. I don’t know if I’d consider something like “Everybody’s Gone to Rapture” a game, but more interactive storytelling. I really enjoyed “playing” it and I was moved by the story, but a ‘game’ it is not. It’s definitely a good topic for discussion.

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