The Path and the slow video game movement.

The art of play.
May 26 2009 6:53 AM

The Slow Video Game Movement

The Path asks gamers to stop shooting and start soaking in their surroundings.

(Continued from Page 1)

And that is, perhaps, the point, to ask gamers to resist the "fast food" of twitchy action spectacles and shoot-'em-ups in exchange for something more contemplative. The Path does at least try to present an interactive way for game players to experience empathy rather than to exert agency—to walk in the footsteps of young girls without trying to author their stories for them. And it's also worth praising a game for having girl characters who look like neither Lara Croft nor Barbie.

The game has hit a nerve with many players and critics because we're so used to eating french fries instead of steak, even if the meat is a bit mediocre. Like Michael Abbott, Tom Chick (of Sci Fi's Fidgit site) gives The Path an A for effort, for presenting an experience that is "a set of powerful images revolving around a unique theme" instead of a set of impenetrable puzzles. Nevertheless, The Path's poor design makes it feel like a puzzle—after all, I spent the majority of my time with the game figuring out what I was supposed to do.

Advertisement

The Path's concept, while laudable, is also not as innovative as some would have it. The game it most reminds me of is 2006's Dreamfall, which also jettisoned most of the trappings of gameplay in exchange for interactive storytelling. Granted, Dreamfall did include the occasional bit of fighting or traditional puzzle-solving, so it was not as pure an attempt as The Path. But it was also better designed, with a more ambitious story.

Too often, The Path unfolds like Dragon's Lair or Space Ace (crossed with Flowers in the Attic), those animated 1980s arcade games that required one to guess the right combination of joystick moves in order to earn the privilege of watching an animated sequence. The scenes are intriguing and sometimes haunting. In the forest, I stumbled across a playground, a teddy bear, a knife, a lonely bit of chain-link fence. A girl in a white dress, the sounds of locusts, the snarls of a wolf, the gasps of a girl in very serious trouble. Did it unsettle me? A little. Was it pretty? Definitely. Was the journey that led me there fun or interesting? Not really.

Fun is not everything, of course, and games are often hobbled by the requirement that they be "fun," rather than simply engaging or attention-grabbing. Choice is also wildly overrated as a characteristic of video games: "Games let us author experiences," designer Jonathan Blow told game journalist Stephen Totilo in an interview two years ago. That mandate allows for narratives like The Path that require players to interact with them without allowing players to insert themselves into them.

It's a promising path (pardon the expression) for games to take. If you want to see the seeds of how such a game might work someday, then The Path is for you. It's interesting, head-scratching, exasperating, and occasionally rewarding. Too bad it more often feels like a promising false start rather than a satisfying journey in its own right.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.