Geek [Path]ology: Melancholy, Self Harm, and Fun

In order to provide a succinct analysis of what I found enjoyable in A Tale of Tales, “The Path,” this post will be broken down into three sections; things I found fun, things I found less than savory, and how The Path provides an experience unlike any other game I have ever played.

Part 1: What I Found Enjoyable

To begin, as someone who enjoys a dejected aesthetic, things that are “creepy,” and playing exclusively as female-bodied people, I found The Path to be quite entertaining to play. The game is sprinkled with a childlike essence in the scribbles appearing on screen during certain encounters with landmarks. Furthermore, the writing that appears on screen during the first command of the game, “Go To Grandmother’s House,” is truly a pleasure to read and really sets the mood of the game. In addition to the beautiful fonts, The Path’s soundtrack is incredibly soothing and unsettling at the same time. In my experience, the soundtrack rotated between about three location specific songs; changing when the player leaves the main road and wanders into the dark forest, and changing again when the player finds themselves in specific landmarks.

All of these wonderful elements are coupled with an extremely simple control system that the player can master within virtually seconds. Walking up to landmarks, items, and people is very intuitive and the interaction with these things is integrated into the same controls as literally walking forward. When the player encounters one of these gameplay features a medium sized silhouette of the thing the player may interact with clearly showing the player what they may or may not experience or collect. The game is broken down fairly simply into two main features; collecting items and collecting experiences. Both of these are fairly enjoyable since it means somewhat aimlessly wandering slowly through a beautiful dark forest excited to see what would pop up in the game next.

According to Koster, fun may happen “via physical stimuli, aesthetic appreciation, or direct chemical manipulation.” (40). While the game is dark, and honestly quite sad, it provides the player with an incredible experience of crushing melancholy that is the opposite of terrible gameplay. Aesthetically, this game is a powerhouse of slow paced sadness, beautiful visuals, and brilliantly simple gameplay. To exist within such a bright scene of emptiness is utterly fantastic and it is something The Path does flawlessly. As someone fascinated with depression, and is diagnosed with it as well, this game provides a wonderful landscape to explore emptiness, meaning, and most of all, beauty.

 

art-games-the-path-1 

 

Part 2: Things I Found Unsavory

The existence of the wolf is something built up to be completely mysterious and up to the player to determine what it would look like, how it would act, and where it would be. During my first, second, and third runs throughout the game I was on frequent edge looking around the dark forest hoping some wolf would not come out and kill me. Not only this, the game’s music integrates non-musical sounds that are meant to unsettle the player into thinking there is something around every corner. This being the case, all of these features of the game are incredibly enjoyable, however, this section is called “things I found unsavory.”

Leaving the mystique and mental creation of the wolf up to the player at the start of the game is both a blessing and a curse. As someone who thought the wolf was going to spring on me in any situation, I found myself somewhat lost after hours of gameplay without seeing a single wolf. Thinking experiencing the wolf would be truly frightening, something the game does well to make the player think, leads the player to try to avoid this experience, something the game does poorly. However, The Path wants the player to encounter the wolf, being a requirement at the end of each “level.” This lead me to become desperate for a wolf experience so that I could complete the game. I found myself walking throughout the forest praying to be attacked and murdered by the wolf. I wanted so desperately to die by the claws of the wolf so I may complete the game. However, if you are reading this and have completed the game, you would know that I am making a big mistake. Something the game does well is making you look for the wolf and find that each separate girl character has her own version of the “wolf.” This is a wonderful surprise I was not able to experience in game since after frustratingly running through the forest finding no wolf I decided to look online to see just where the wolf exists. The concept of having a different “wolf” for each character is absolutely wonderful and is an incredible surprise for the player. However, since initially the movements, mannerisms, and profile of the wolf is left to the player, people like me will not think of any of these possibilities (as one should not) and simply run around trying to either avoid the wolf or find it somewhere. This creates an environment to which the player is forcibly wandering around simply praying for an experience and harm. While aimlessly wandering through the forest is truly enjoyable, being desperate for my own death is fascinating but alas makes for boring, frustrating, and un-engaging gameplay.

 

Part 3: A New Experience

To conclude, The Path is an experience unlike anything I have ever played before. Despite the mildly poor gamble of design in introducing the concept of the “wolf,” the game is quite enjoyable to play given its slow, relaxing, and depressing nature. The Path appeals to a player who is both a casual player and someone looking for interesting story telling and depth interconnected through the parsed experiences of each character. In the three times I ran through the game I chose, in order, Ruby, Ginger, and Carmen. Each of these characters has their own experience of the “wolf” and all have their own distinct personalities and mannerisms. A girl in the forest who runs into a wolf sounds a lot like little red riding hood. However, this game takes something as simple as walking and touching things and turns it into an incredible narrative about sadness, vice, and individuality.

 Academic Source:

Koster, Raph. A Theory of Fun for Game Design. Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press, 2005. Internet resource.

 

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11 thoughts on “Geek [Path]ology: Melancholy, Self Harm, and Fun

  1. Reading your take on the game makes me really interested and wanting to play it. I feel like this game is more of a point and click and interact with things in your way rather than an action based defeat the boss at the end to move on. It’s definitely an interesting type of game. I love story based games, and it sounds like the entire point of the game is to play the story and learn about the girls’ experiences.

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  2. The game sounds pretty interesting to play and simple at that. I usually don’t like games that have little to do but the graphics of this game are kind of drawing me in. I don’t like things jumping out at me and creeping me out so that’s making me all of a sudden not want to play the game anymore. After reading that the wolf is not an actual thing that will surprise you, I’m once again relieved and interested in the game. I think they created their own version of a “wolf” to lure people into the game and make it seem different from others.

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  3. I particularly enjoyed reading your blog! I loved how you married the ideas of the esthetics of the game to an in-depth emotional state.

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  4. So, you have really brought out the “enjoyment” and the “unsavory” feelings, but how are these related to fun? You don’t really go there. Don’t just leave it with an opinion or a “yes, you should play it,” call; bring it back to the theory. Don’t just leave Koster after the first mention, but really bring it out and show how it does (or does not) connect. For example, how does “looking online” connect with Koster’s idea of fun as learning? Is cheating fun? Is getting help fun? Is the doing or the solving fun?

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    • “So, you have really brought out the “enjoyment” and the “unsavory” feelings, but how are these related to fun?”

      To begin, when I discuss enjoyment I should make it more clear that the things I enjoyed in the game caused me to have fun during gameplay. The artistic style of the game, the music, the simple controls, my goals during the game, and so on and so forth are super fun to play. Thinking like Koster, the learning within this game really lets it shine. Since surprise is a form of learning and receiving information, this game is utterly ripe with “Ah Ha!” moments to which the player learns something new that helps aid gameplay.

      Similarly, the unsavory moments indeed caused frustration, pain, and a lack of fun in general (as my rant about the wolf above includes more of).

      “For example, how does “looking online” connect with Koster’s idea of fun as learning?”

      I think this is a fantastic question and something I wish I had considered. I would say looking online is in some way disconnected with Koster’s idea of fun as learning since The Path is not assisting in such teaching alone. The community of players who love the game have created such wiki’s and informational dumps in regards to The Path which are easy to find and read. This ruins the surprise, and more importantly, the learning to which The Path strives to create. While these wiki’s are helpful, it is not the game supplying this fun, it is the games fans (which are not The Path). Since it is not the game creating such moments of learning, how can we possibly apply Koster’s idea of learning as fun within the game if such learning exists outside of The Path? Concluding, we cannot, and therefore The Path itself does a relatively poor job of guiding its players smoothly into it’s surprises, making the game less simple to learn, and therefore less fun to play.

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      • I would have to disagree on your last point as the game for some could be easier to navigate as it was for me when I gave the game a go. I would argue that it does fit with Koster in that it asks you to explore and the experience is subjective to your skill level and game difficulty, or in this case your ability to understand the rules / navigate your surroundings. What would you say to that response?

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  5. Finally a game i have not seen someone blog about before. You presented the game in an incredible way. I had no plans on playing but upon reading this i want to take a look at it. Job well done.

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  6. After reading your post I went out and played the game and had a blast.I enjoyed how immersed you got into the game which conveyed how good the game was. Like you said it was cool to have a separate wolf for each girl and the differences that came with that and the intense music just add to the experience of the game. I did find myself getting bored with just wandering on. I

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