A sub-genre of ‘experimental games’, often dismissively termed walking simulators use a minimalist approach to game design, toning down traditional interactive elements to concentrate on story and environment. The emergence of this hybrid approach – part interactive fiction, part visual novel, part adventure game – has proved controversial and divisive. Popular on PC for some time now, ‘walking simulators’ are more recently crossing over to the console crowd, 'Virginia', from newcomers Variable State, is one such game, though they describe it more expertly as a “first-person interactive drama.”

The video-game culture wars seem to be blowing up again. I actually think the "is it a game" question has never been treated seriously enough. I understand why. The question first came from a regressive part of the gaming community that sought to attack the existence of an entire subset of games.

However, the question is a legitimate one. What makes a "videogame" distinct from a "video" is the interactivity. To say otherwise is to deny the unique things this medium can do. If the type of interactivity fails to add anything meaningful to the experience compared to a video of someone pulling the right levers to progress the game forward, then it might be a game, but is it really taking advantage of the medium?

I personally am loving the fact that we get games like ‘Gone Home’, ‘Her Story’, ‘Vanishing of Ethan Carter’, ‘Soma’, ‘Kentucky Route Zero’, ‘Stanley Parable’, etc. The game Her Story was one of my favorite games of 2015. The reason is that it created an experience that took advantage of the unique psychology that a game can create in the player. It told a story that you wouldn’t have been able to tell were it not in an interactive format. The simple act of having to queue up the investigation videos through word choice, often getting parts and bits of the story out of order, made the player think intimately about cause/effect, personality, and the motivations of the characters in ways that a video would not have. We had to apply our own experiences, knowledge, and beliefs about the characters in the videos in order to fill out the experience and progress. The interactivity forced us to adopt the meta-role of someone who was personally invested in not just the outcome of the case, but the emotional motivations of the characters as well if we wanted the "full" story.

In the strict definition of "game," I would imagine that skill is involved, reactions, thinking, and variety of challenge, with story or narrative being relatively unimportant to the core mechanics. There’s also the more intangible or subjective notion of "fun." Whereas in these more story driven games they are flipped. So a game like ‘Mass Effect’ I would think would be leaning towards story however still in the middle of the curve. A game like ‘Bloodborne’ would be in the middle leaning toward gameplay. ‘Pong’ (although now crude) would be on the extreme end and ‘Gone Home’ would be the opposite end, and a majority of AAA games would fall firmly in the middle. It is a LONG spectrum mechanically, and IMO…if the only condition is that a game requires interactivity than PLAY the Twin Peaks-esque thriller ‘Virginia’. It might just change your mind.


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Tags: virginia , variable state , ps4