The term "walking simulator" for a game has gotten a lot of negative attention lately so I wanted to sit down and defend this particular genre a bit, as unpopular an opinion as it might be. This is in no way shape or form meant to defend games like Virginia or Gone Home as good games, but rather a defense of the type of game itself as being a valid style for video games in general.
Let me preface that I do not consider walking simulators a video game in the traditional sense, but rather an experience much akin to what an interactive movie would be or a choose your own adventure style book that is intertwined with minimal gameplay elements. These include the ability to move, jump, or occasionally interact with characters and or items. Now at a basic level, this is not going to necessarily entertain many gamers as the simplicity leaves many wanting, but walking simulators have the capacity to tell a story in a way that can be more emotionally touching than other platforms have a chance to be because it puts you in the shoes of the character going through the story.
I'm Sorry, Even Though I Don't Believe Graphics Make A Game This Looks Like Trash Virginia. Screenshot From The Steam Store.
Recently an influx of bad walking simulators has given the term a lot of negative connotation, but try and remember that the term itself can be applied to almost all of the games done by Telltale Games, including games such as The Walking Dead which has sold over 28 million individual episodes, which adds up to over 2 and a half million complete copies of the games released so far. Now some may be quick to cry foul and say that these games do not count as walking simulators but rather adventure games, but the reality is that practically the only thing that changes is a switch to the third person point of view as opposed to the first person point of view.
I am not going to lie: The Walking Dead, even though it is one of my favorite video games of all time, is something I am hesitant to call it a "video game" because of the many elements I think it lacks to be called a video game in the traditional sense. However, it is something I would recommend to anyone who asked if it is a worthwhile game to buy.
No One Is Paying Me To Praise This Game I Just Love It. Screenshot From The Steam Store.
One of the most beautiful things about walking simulators is the simplicity in making them. This is where artists, music composers, and story writers really have a moment to shine. Because of the relative ease associated with making the game a lot more detail can be placed in things that are often ignored. Sometimes because of the difficulty to implement these elements alongside with the gameplay, or the fact that it might bore gamers too quickly if they combined both. A good story is hard to tell in a video game without having heavy use of cutscenes and long segments of dialogue between characters. Games like the Xenosaga series, for example, had a wonderful story to tell, but many of its critics found themselves bored by the extensive cutscenes and long interludes between gameplay.
Walking simulators have a chance to break that mold and tell a more compelling story, place a higher emphasis on art and visuals and give you immersive music to really make you feel like you are inside that world as the person you are playing as. Unfortunately, many of the games that fit the walking simulator genre end up not nearly as grandiose as say, The Walking Dead. We usually end up with games that are either just average or downright awful when really this style of "game" is the perfect opportunity to shine in areas where more traditional video games struggle. Telling you a compelling story where you feel you are a part of the game.
Look, This Is Not A Spectacular Game It Is Average At Best
Some might say "Why not just make a movie?" or perhaps "Why not just write a book?". In this particular case, it is about the feel. Movies and books are entertaining in their own rights but putting you in control of the character experiencing these things gives you a different scale of immersion. When this is combined with excellent story telling, beautiful art and a touching musical score you end up with something that can impact people in a way that movies and books can't quite give.
This is not to say that walking simulators have been particularly good recently. In fact, many of them are not taking advantage of their excellent opportunities that they have with the platform they are using. A large reason this happens is because of their focus on a message, usually a political one that serves as a detriment to the story that they could possibly be telling. To be clear I am not against political messages, I am writing for a site called Gamertics after all. However, in video games, especially walking simulators, the insertion of politics should be the flavor text (If I may borrow a term from CCG's and TCG's) as opposed to in the meat of the game. Focus on telling a compelling story as opposed to sending a political message. Focus on making the artwork something to behold, and give the players a musical score they will remember.
Even Sites Defending How Good This Game Was Recommended You Beat It Under Two Hours To Get A Refund
Walking simulators have an opportunity to deliver what other video games are probably going to constantly struggle with, but as gamers, we shouldn't be dismissing them entirely, but rather encourage them to focus on where they can be strongest at. Whether you think they are legitimately deserving of being called a video game or not, they have their place, and they should be encouraged to do their best.