March 25, 2023

Walking Simulators: Are They Truly Games or Something Else?

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Walking Simulators: Are They Truly Games or Something Else?

By Joel | March 25, 2023

Walking simulators are a relatively new kind of game, and some have been left confused about what they are. Are they games? Do they even serve a purpose? After all, what's the fun in mindlessly walking around? When done right, these types of experiences can be incredibly immersive and emotionally stimulating.

Simulators, specifically walking sims, allow us to connect with our environment like nothing else; to explore exotic locations, wayfaring through a mystical forest with the peaceful sounds of nature echoing around us. So while some argue that walking simulators are not games in the traditional sense, at the end of the day, you should decide what makes an enjoyable experience for you.

This article explores the mechanics of walking simulators and discusses why they're becoming so popular.

Walking Simulators: Are They Truly Games or Something Else?

Introduction to Walking Simulators

A walking simulator is a game where the player's primary goal is to explore their environment and observe events in response to the character's action. These games usually lack any puzzle-solving or complex mechanics, and combat, in any form, usually does not exist.

Instead, players interact with their surroundings and slowly learn about the story they are told as they move forward. This type of game has become increasingly popular recently, but some gamers question whether these games should genuinely be considered games or if they are something else entirely.

History of Walking Simulators

The origin of walking simulators can be traced to the narrative-driven PC game Myst from 1993. The game was designed by two brothers, Robyn and Rand Miller, and focused on exploration and puzzle solving. Mechanics were simplistic, and the storyline was revealed through audio recordings throughout the level. The game design inspired other developers to create games with a heavy focus on storytelling and exploration but without the frustrating tasks or competition.

Walking simulators gained traction in 2008 with the release of Dear Esther, a first-person exploration experience based on an unpublished novel of the same name by Dan Pinchbeck. Utilizing audio logs and script narration to further the story, Dear Esther laid out a framework for what would eventually become walking simulators.

Following Dear Esther's success, The Chinese Room developed several award-winning titles such as Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs in 2013 and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture in 2016, both of which focused heavily on narrative instead of gameplay mechanics like combat or puzzles.

This trend has continued with popular works such as Firewatch (2016), What Remains of Edith Finch (2017) and Tacoma (2017). As developers continue to build experiences emphasizing humanity and story-telling instead of action-packed gameplay loops, it’s difficult to deny that these games cannot be mistaken for anything else but walking simulator games.

Characteristics of Walking Simulators

Walking simulators are a video game genre emphasizing exploration, atmosphere, and storytelling over traditional challenges, such as combat or hand-to-hand fighting. These games feature open levels, which the player is free to explore without the need for haste or direction, as well as simple mechanics and goals. While a walking simulator does not require mechanical skill to play, it does require general knowledge about the topics explored to understand and appreciate the narrative being told.

Characteristics specific to walking simulators include:

  • Nonlinear levels, giving players freedom of exploration with very few in-game restrictions.
  • Ambient stories, where plot is only revealed through exploration rather than cutscenes or dialogue.
  • Nonlethal encounters with opposition that encourages peaceful resolutions over combat scenarios.
  • Contemplative experiences where goal setting is optional instead of mandatory, as well small tasks can be completed at player's own leisure time with minimal consequences.
  • Visually striking environments that are heavily reliant on graphics rather than complex programming, granting better access on less powered gaming systems compared to more action heavy titles.

Benefits of Walking Simulators

As many know, walking simulators have become increasingly popular in recent years. They have often been compared to walking tours and other leisurely activities as they allow players to explore beautifully rendered virtual places. But what is it about walking simulators that makes them so appealing? What makes them different from traditional video games?

By stepping into a world of exploration and discovery free of the constraints of traditional video game mechanics (such as combat, puzzles, and other common game objectives), players can find themselves immersed in an environment unconstrained by particular objectives or rewards.

This allows for a more relaxing and reflective experience as areas can be explored and discovered leisurely, encouraging an appreciation of a digital landscape ranging from the mundane to the fantastic. Rather than briskly traveling from point A to point B, walking sims encourage players to stop, take in their surroundings, and appreciate all the details they would otherwise miss while speeding through linear objectives.

In addition to providing restful exploration opportunities with beautiful graphics and soothing soundtracks, some walking simulators also create compelling narratives not found in most traditional games. These storylines often compel players to explore further by providing context for observations that might otherwise go unnoticed due to haste or distraction; which often results in an experience filled with emotion rather than simply checking off boxes on a list of goals or achievements.

Lastly, allowing interactive experiences based around meaningful moments rather than large-scale battles gives gamers who may not enjoy the arduous grinds of more complex games something special and impressive when considering that such narrative precision could not be accomplished through other genres.

Challenges of Walking Simulators

Developing walking simulators presents unique challenges, ranging from the storytelling narrative to creating convincing characters and settings. There are three main types of walking simulators: 1). exploration-based 2). story-driven, and 3). experience-style.

Although each one is classified as a walking simulator, the core elements of gameplay differ. Exploration-based sims for example, are focused on traversing an open world without clearly defined goals; story-driven use extensive dialog or motifs to tell stories; and experience types provide emotional or imaginative experiences without traditional interactivity or engaging scenarios.

Creating a compelling story for a walking simulator requires time and effort due to the intricate character development needed for believable narratives within limited run times. Simultaneously capturing a setting that engages an audience visually while avoiding sterile landscapes also poses quite a challenge when designing immersive environments with multiple levels of detail that appear natural with minimal design elements.

Additionally, designers must consider how best to present visuals while avoiding FPS drops due to rendering requirements of detailed characters and landscapes populated with non playable characters behaving independently due to sophisticated artificial intelligence.

Lastly, incorporating interesting mechanics that evade game over states while keeping playtime short enough not to cause frustration is crucial in the game design process when producing event-based games featuring lifelike behaviors associated with exploration genres and their respective subgenres.

Are Walking Simulators Truly Games?

Due to their minimalist design and simplistic nature, the line between what constitutes a game and what constitutes something else has been increasingly chaotic in recent years with the emergence of simulators. With the introduction of titles such as Dear Esther, Firewatch, and What Remains of Edith Finch, that features minimal interactivity and controls, the industry has seen a rise in games closer to interactive stories than traditional tabletop or digital play.

Walking simulators offer players unique gameplay where exploration and discovery are paramount. With limited objectives, players are encouraged to move through virtual spaces, often based on real-world settings, allowing them to speak with characters, uncover hidden secrets within environments, solve puzzles, or even wander aimlessly. This type of laid-back gameplay is often refreshingly peaceful compared to other genres, which rely on significant difficulty levels or intense player skill.

This new wave of down tempo gaming is particularly interesting in that it emphasizes storytelling over challenge and rewards curiosity above all else. Despite this innovative game design however, there appears to be some hesitation in the gaming industry about fully embracing walking sims as games, mainly due because many titles focus so heavily on narrative at the expense of audiovisuals, which some have argued that these experiences can more accurately be labeled as interactive books rather than digital entertainment.

It's clear that while there's still a debate raging as to how legitimately they should be considered “games” due to their unconventional approach and genre conventions, or lack thereof, there's no question that walking sims provide an interesting experience; if nothing else they prove how expansive gaming can really be by demonstrating some truly uncharted territory.

Walk This Way

However, walking simulators can, and should, undoubtedly be considered games, despite no clear-cut rules or objectives. They come in many forms of interactive entertainment experiences, providing environments for the players to explore and fully immerse in the narrative.

Despite what others may think, these games offer a unique way for gamers to virtually explore lovely sceneries and fascinating storylines while being free to pause and wander around as much as they want and provide so many chances to explore different cultures, emotions and experiences.

It is clear that these games, when done correctly, can be incredibly enriching, captivating, and engaging, whether you choose to define them as games or something else. But ultimately, what matters most is how you enjoy and use these experiences. So don’t be afraid to step back and savor the view. After all, only then can you truly appreciate the beauty of life through the eyes of looking and walking through them.


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