Monday, September 14, 2009

Wandering The Path

For the first time in almost half a year, I decided to login to Steam this past Friday. There was no real intent for a purchase or anything on my part, but I did finally fall into downloading The Path. All of my impressions on the title have come from nothing more than anecdotal tirades on how frustrating it is. When I booted it up for myself however, I didn't receive nearly what I had conjured up in my head to expect. Instead I found a title that expressed curiosity for most of the things I rant about here myself. I won’t profess that the game expressed such curiosity with great or even exemplary incentive (nor will I grant it too much praise for depicting yet another take on the questionable underpinnings of Little Red Riding Hood), but it stood forth on that question with enough innocence that leads me to dote on it now.

I should first state that I’ve only played two very quick sit-downs with the game, so it’s possible that my opinion may shift dramatically as I devote more time to it. I’m intent on doing this very gradually over the next few months as well. I don’t consider this game one I can sit down with and play though in one consistent chunk, even over the course of a week or so. Since games are roughly still being designed that way in general, it’s no surprise that so many ‘game junkies’ fell into utter irritation with a game such as this. I consider The Path a title which makes an outright joke out of what games are seen as by most of their avid fans.

The first thing I questioned when exiting out of Steam (after about an hour with the game) was what it said about gamers instead of how much I ‘enjoyed’ it.

The first thing I noticed about it was its fundamental interface/presentation; it absolutely demanded commitment. As for a quick synopsis for what the game actually is, I’d call it a ‘third person wanderer’ at its core. That’s what players will spend most of their time doing and it’s what makes the title’s most culminating moments stand out. It’s structured so that people will walk around doing very minor tasks which meaning can be applied to once a conclusion is reached. The story is presented in the context of the player wandering through the woods to their grandmother’s house, while being told very specifically to ‘stay on the path’ (which the most players will be led to inherently disobey anyway). As they wander off the path, they’ll encounter seemingly random structures, events, or items which their character (one out of six sisters chosen at the game’s ‘start screen’) will comment on or interact with.

As that basically sums up the game (withholding the arrival to grandma’s house and the instances with the wolf), there’s an investment which is paid at the game up front in order to enjoy it. The small touches such as graphics and sounds breaking up the player’s trek will (and I’d argue should) affect them somehow. The title opens up to tropes which are just now being properly addressed by games; these include ambiguous thematics, minimalist designs, and non-invasive mechanics.

If someone is playing The Path under the grand gaming delusion for instant gratification, they will probably walk away sorely disappointed. Everything from how the avatar moves to what the payoffs are/become require a default level of patience on the player’s part. The things which force them to get off their ass and exercise a little bit of mental elbow grease is something I’ll always applaud. Nine times out of ten, a pissed off gamer now means a developer inadvertently did something right.

What I’ll probably be able to come back and comment on is how sexual imagery is played with regarding the loosest motif of things like a little girl in red with a wolf. The slant aimed at how a title like this is meant to be seen is contingent on how helpless a little girl in the woods is meant to be seen as. I’d love pick at the wound of how society would have to be kicked in the nuts to see a male in the same position, even a child. James Sunderland could use some company in the realm of sexually tormented males. So until further discussion…

~sLs~