Is it time to stop using the term “walking simulator”?

The history of the term “walking simulator” is short but heated. It’s only seen wide usage over the past few years and is often applied frivolously. There’s a lot of uncertainties around it but the one thing that’s for sure it it’s a divisive term. Some people see it as a useful way to bunch together a group of games with similar interests—typically slower games, ones about exploration and contemplation. While others abhor it and wish it would go away. But it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, at least, not any time soon. “Walking simulator” seemed to come into popularity around the…


Dear Esther: Landmark Edition is a delicate, embalmed object

Heterotopias is a series of visual investigations into virtual spaces performed by artist and writer Gareth Damian Martin. /// Videogames have always had something of a preference for islands. These closed spaces, limited by a shoreline, are the perfect conceit for creating an enclosed simulation—an isolated section of “reality” split off from the world. Despite this, thematically, games rarely have anything to say about their own predisposition towards landscapes of isolation, separation, and abandonment. For Dear Esther, these are central themes. It’s easy to imagine that Dan Pinchbeck’s choice of an island setting for the original 2008 Half-Life 2 mod, built…

Dan Pinchbeck

A short video on how to make videogame spaces for storytelling

How does a videogame introduce story to the player? Better yet, how does a game invoke emotion in the constrained physical world space of a game? We’ve seen it done in ham-fisted fashion: see the much maligned “Press F to Pay Your Respects” from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, or consider the traditional “fight the baddies now pause for some story” route that many other big-budget games go. “We’re creating an architecture for a story to exist in” In a video from the Future of Storytelling series, Dear Esther (2012) director Dan Pinchbeck talks about how games often take for granted one…

Dear Esther

More people will soon be able to play The Chinese Room’s poetic videogames

Very soon, thousands more will have the opportunity to get lonely with a videogame in the most beautiful way. Yes, The Chinese Room is bringing both its poetic narrative games, Dear Esther (2012) and last year’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, to new platforms—the former is coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4, while the latter makes its way to PC. Other than a few pleasant additional touches, like a developer’s commentary for Dear Esther and a few bug fixes, the games will remain essentially unchanged. That means each of these games will, once again, invite you into their virtual…


Null Operator is the videogame that refuses to die

One of the more common pieces of advice given to aspiring writers is to “kill your darlings.” It simply means that writers should be willing to remove passages or ideas from their work that they might personally enjoy in service of the reader. Over the course of developing his game Null Operator, Anton from game development studio Rust Ltd., has killed several darlings. When it was first announced to the internet as a whole in a blog post in October of 2014, Null Operator was pitched as a game where players fly a spaceship through a cramped, mechanical environment shooting…


The Year in Feels

If we had access to some grand compendium filled with every single emotion that videogames make us feel, it would probably waste most of its words trying to describe fun. But as a concept, fun is primitive. Fun is escape. Like a dog chasing a tennis ball or a crow sliding down a tin roof, fun is intuitive. Fun is smashing your thumb down on the square button while Kratos slings around his orange blades. Fun is nailing that QTE and watching Kratos pull out the cyclops’ eye. Fun is when the red blobs come out and makes Kratos stronger,…


Against child protagonists

Videogames don’t like people. Of that, the overwhelming amount of fantasy, war and sci-fi games, the ones set around goblins, androids and super-soldiers—the ones patently uninterested in real human beings—are proof enough. But even when games profess an interest in personhood and human experience they avoid substantive fiction. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture seems to focus on a village in England, and the relationships between the people that live there, but the people are all dead and instead of seeing them and how they interact with one another you find, merely, their ghosts and some recordings of their voices. Gone…