Computer games are not movies. Get over it.

There. Got your attention.


What's eating you?

Was rummaging around for treatments of the Little Red Riding Hood story. Last year I got the Kunstlers to read Riding Hood and try to develop plot points, treatment, character outlines and script. Good for them to see how such a simple story still takes sweat to make into a shootable form. So this time I thought I’d give them a basket full of treatments to look at, everything from The Company Of Wolves to this. You know, expand their minds a bit.

And this… in rummage, stumbled across The Path, a recently released game(?) by Tale of Tales in Belgium. The last known thing by these people was The Endless Forest, an online community where players are represented by deer with human faces. That don’t do much. (I recall the Something Awful goon squad attempting to hijack this site and finding the only thing the deer did that was remotely amusing was moo. Hence a mooing macro and much kicking off of antisocial gangs of bleating deer).

The Path is more directed. We have not one but six riding hoods, all dollied up and ready to go get wolfed. Although they’re supposedly sisters at range of ages and personalities each one is wrapped up in some variation of red and black kinky suit and ‘sex me’ boots, a household of over mascaraed emo teenagers with hard synchronised menstrual cycles. The writers plead that the game is ‘slow’, that it’s ‘poetry’, that we should take it as ‘an experience’. All this special pleading can’t hide that the game play is 6 horny teenagers go out in the woods and get murdered. One after the other. Art Hentai.

[vimeo 4014742 nolink]

Pick one pre-teen and set her off down the path, idling along at about 1km a year. This is designed to be boring so you take a shortcut through the woods, where another mysterious girl in white can be seen doing cartwheels off in the distance. You’ll come across derelict cars, gramophones, bathtubs and each time you see one your riding hood will write some emo lyrics about it on the level of  ‘that bathtub is empty and so is my heart’. Each piece of junk evokes an image of your grandmother’s house, which you will store up for later. Eventually you’ll come across a scene where some figure will appear and inspire your riding hood’s hidden lusts. The point where they actually assault her is hidden in a bashful fade, but it’s pretty obvious that after the fade that Red is walking in some considerable pain, and is very likely dead.

I am being necessarily cruel because the majority of reviews are of the ‘this is so wonderfully new so don’t dare hurt it’ type, and I think that time is long up for the infant industry stance. THIS IS NOT NEW. Games that try not be games have been with us a long time now, like Gadget and The Residents’ Freakshow, both from 1995 when the ‘don’t hurt it’ excuse was forgiveable. Both had the same kind of wandering around and not much happening that was slightly disappointing 14 years ago & still leaves one slightly disappointed.

There are no ticking clocks or monsters to defeat. No hard puzzles will ever halt your progress. Most activities in the game are entirely optional and voluntary…

If I was to sit down and list what I wanted from an experimental game, I might write something like this. And I would probably set to making it, until the point where it started to run, at which point I’d be faced with my error. Think of ARGs where puzzles, timing and urgent activity are everything. Take that all out and what have you left? Neither fish nor fowl, less engrossing than a movie or even a good game of poker.

Chris Crawford is a curmudgeon and a stuck record. His Storytron project is stillborn. But he holds the fort about what a game is and is not – without conflict there is no game (WARNING: PDF). You might like to choose another name for this kind of thing – a toy maybe. But a toy soldier can be used in many fantasy missions, whereas The Path stolidly forces you along, from home, to rape, to haunted house. I tried to walk my corpse the other way, towards home. I was punished for breaking the rules, my Red was dumped out in the woods. That’s not even a toy.

I like a lot of things about The Path otherwise I wouldn’t bother with the critique. Example – the overlays of images when the girl is thinking of something works very well. The mood is there, the forest is brooding. I am very pleased to have bought it as an artwork. But  just what is so bad about games? It’s like cooties. Why do we have to hold this ambivalent position of  ‘oh it’s not a game but I just happen to be using a game engine’… come on. Games involve conflict. Embrace it.

At very least – we don’t need 6 riding hoods. We need one hero and a hell of a lot of Jung.