In his review of the peaceful, post-flooding-apocalypse exploration game Submerged, Patrick Lee likened it to the best of kids’ entertainment, the kind of thoughtful experience that isn’t overly graphic but could gently push against the boundaries of a younger audience. The problem, he argued, is that it doesn’t put enough faith in its players—young or old—and just ends up treating them like hapless kids. Down in the comments, The Space Pope remembered a different kind of children’s game, one that aimed to educate as well as entertain yet still didn’t pull its punches:
Just one more reason to mourn the collapse of the edutainment genre. Where are today’s Super Solvers, Pajama Sams, and Math Blasters? It’s been proven that being challenging and fun for kids aren’t mutually exclusive, but very few people seem interested in trying. At least Logical Journey Of The Zoombinis has finally made it onto tablets, now that someone worked out those tangled rights issues.
Thesmokeylife looked for a reason for edutainment’s demise:
It seems like the reason edutainment died out was that the companies making it felt there wasn’t as much of a market anymore. This shift in attitude was generally accompanied by studios like Humongous Entertainment and The Learning Company being taken over by larger companies, like Infogrames and Houghton Miflin Harcourt, that saw less value in edutainment.
I recall how after the Infogrames takeover of Humongous, the new execs believed that games like Kingdom Hearts were the sort of thing the studio should be making—in other words, games with immediate brand recognition and less educational content.
Elsewhere, Duwease argued that we should look to a game like Submerged for the wonder its exploration offers, forgiving factors like the non-existent difficulty Patrick called out:
I think being a mental or reaction challenge is only one way that games can be enjoyed. The awe that comes from exploring a new place is another, and one, I’d argue, that is more important to the appeal of many open-world games than the often bland “challenge” of combat. You’ve also got simple pleasures such as creating order out of chaos, whether by rearranging things to your liking or collecting something, that explains the appeal of Minecraft or so many modern free-to-play games that don’t even really have failure states.
So to focus on challenge in a game like this, which seems to be designed specifically to cater to experiences other than challenge, seems a bit unfair. It’s like knocking on a period romance movie for not having any great action sequences. That’s certainly fair to note to people who are looking for action but also of little consequence to the movie’s intended audience.
This week, John Teti dropped by with a review of Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, the latest release from the developers at The Chinese Room. Its games have been writing-driven affairs that forego player interaction for something closer to narrated walking tours of virtual worlds, and Rapture is no different. Teti wasn’t a fan of its script and pace. Judging by her experience with The Chinese Room’s debut, Dear Esther, Fluka had to wonder whether the problem was Rapture’s length:
I loved Dear Esther, but everything I read about this game makes it sound really tedious. (I can’t play it yet, because Chinese Room went PlayStation 4 exclusive.) Part of it sounds like a function of length. Dear Esther was, if anything, less interactive than the game described here. You walk a mostly linear path, occasionally stopping to look at the lonely scenery and listening to shuffled audio clips. However, it was only one or two hours long. The simplicity worked in its favor, giving the whole experience a bit of poetic surrealism. It showed up, said its piece, and got out before it could get tedious.
From what folks say, this is more like five to six hours, which is a long time to walk very slowly around a quiet village and constantly get blocked by sexy fences. Wandering a beautifully tended garden is nice for an hour or so, but after a couple more, you kind of want to pick up a shovel and start doing some gardening of your own.
Along with the likes of Gone Home and The Stanley Parable, some people have started referring to these kinds of games as “walking simulators,” a label that is deliberately derisive, reductive, and, as Fyodor Douchetoevsky pointed out, inaccurate:
I kind of really hate that “walking simulator” is the genre name that stuck for this. QWOP is a walking simulator. These are more like, I dunno—explore-’em-ups?
And Venerable Monk tackled the same issue:
You wouldn’t call Halo a “Power Armor Simulator” because using power armor is just one part of the game, a means to an end. Same for calling StarCraft a “Resource Gathering Simulator,” since there’s much more to it than just collecting crystals. I would argue that games like Gone Home, Rapture, and Dear Esther are all trying to be more than just an accurate simulation of what it’s like to walk through an empty house or town. They can’t be called “Walking Simulators” because their aim is not simply to let you experience the joys of walking. If Rapture is as bad as Teti says it is, it’s not because the creators wanted the act of walking to carry the game, but because they tried to deliver a compelling story through the act of walking around a town and failed to deliver on that goal.
There’s a large reluctance to just label this stuff “interactive fiction,” but given how much of it there is, it’s worth noting that this is the West building an interactive fiction tradition, much like Japan has had for years. Japanese interactive fiction tends to take the form of visual novels, and if there are “game” elements, they’re usually light role-playing features, like character stats. Western interactive fiction tends to take the form of physical exploration of a 3D world, like taking a first-person or third-person game and stripping out traditional game elements in favor of narative. If there are “game” elements, they’re usually light puzzles or the occasionally light platforming.
That does it for this week, Gameologerinos. As always, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all again next week!