Electron Dance

Screw Your Walking Simulators


It’s while I’m pacing through the haunting, empty megalopolis of NaissanceE (LimasseFive, 2014) that it occurs to me. I’ve had enough of the derogatory phrase “walking simulators” even though some are attempting to adopt the term as a positive label. Ya know... that doesn't mean I have to like it.

This kind of crap goes a lot further than “walking simulator”. Games have also been characterized negatively as toys. Or theme park rides. It's all about the magic ambrosia known as “interactivity” which is as well defined as a drop of water in a puddle, because “sitting, walking, listening, looking, playing, just fucking being is interaction”.

Attempting to rigorously define interactivity is about as joyous as rigorously defining the word game into your preferred pigeon hole. You might see healthy debate in this conversation. I see a black hole event horizon through which my will to live is disappearing.

Anyway, that's enough of that. Especially as you've probably figured out that today I want to discuss “himitsu-bako”.   

The Japanese phrase “himitsu-bako” (秘密箱) is normally translated to English as “puzzle box” or, more precisely, a Japanese puzzle box. The himitsu-bako is a wooden box that only opens with the right sequence of moves and twists – which may be simple or complex.

I want to put the standard English translation aside because it focuses on the word puzzle. A direct translation is “secret box” which puts the emphasis on the secret at the heart of the box, rather than any puzzle. I think the secret box is a much better analogy for a broad swathe of games that eschew challenge in favour of pursuit of a secret, the little magic a developer wants to share with you.

The GROW series (On, 2002-present) of puzzle games are really about randomly clicking components until you find the right order of clicks to produce success; even bad moves sometimes generate interesting outcomes. There's little reasoning required to solve the game, mainly persistence to figure out the right sequence. The Hoshi Saga (NEKOGAMES, 2007-present) games are also more about finding the right trick rather than invoking mental ingenuity to smite a problem. It's not difficult to view these games as digital secret boxes.


You remember room escapes? Limited point-and-click games where you had to find some way of “escaping the room”. They were popular a few years ago, when Newgrounds and Kongregate were the places where all the interesting things were happening. Some of these behaved like secret boxes, where the brain workout was minimal and the player spent most of their time hunting for important pixels. Not all games were so light, however; in the game Vision (Neutral, 2008) some of puzzle solutions required lateral thinking and random button pressing did not save the day. (The close cousin of the room escape is the hidden object game, extensive pixel hunts which have also proved to be popular.)


The conventional point-and-click adventure is built from puzzles and the fun arises from figuring out solutions. Yet, when I look at Machinarium (2009) and Botanicula (2012) from Amanita Design, I see that a substantial part of these games is clicking around just to see what happens and there's far more secret box to them than conventional game.

Vectorpark’s work such as Feed the Head (2007) and Windosill (2009) are pure click-and-see secret boxes. There are little patterns to learn if the player wishes to progress, but how to progress is often so random that we can hardly label these games intellectual stimulation. It is their unique child-like quality that charms and engages the player.


One might also argue twines are secret box games, because all of the options are laid out and it's a matter of brute forcing through the decision tree to see everything. Aside from tree mapping, thought normally isn't really required to uncover a twine's secrets.

Secret box elements inhabit many “traditional” games. All those easter eggs – from the body bags in the desert in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Rockstar North, 2004) to the hidden sound nodes in Obsolete (Orihaus, 2012) – are secret boxes within existing mechanic-based frameworks.

Obsolete City

Let's get back to walking simulators. Titles like Dear Esther (The Chinese Room, 2012) and Proteus (Key & Kanaga, 2013) are lamented for not having “real challenge” and are thus judged “not games”. What they seem to be about is “simulating walking” with no other quality to vouch for them. But we've just spent most of this post discussing games that are not about challenge, but about poking around inside some developer-made structure to see how it works, what secrets it contains. That's precisely what these “walking simulators” offer. Walking forms part of the experience, but the purpose of walking in these games is to take you to the developer's secrets, whether that be the synaesthetic melodies of a Proteus pixelscape or the random monologues scattered around the island of Dear Esther.

Take Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013). For players to move forward they have to exhaust spaces – it's effectively a 3D hidden object game. Players don't really have to work aside from rummaging through every drawer and cupboard. The content gating of Gone Home is enforced to control the delivery of narrative to the player, not to provide artificial challenge. That's the real point of the game, the slow release of the story payload. Again: secret box design. Challenge is minimal; the primary purpose is reveal the game’s secrets.

Just this week I tried out a new, short “walking simulator”, a free game called Heartwood (Turner & Bibby, 2014). When I played I didn't look for challenge, I wondered what developer Kerry Turner had hidden inside it. It's not a walking simulator. It's a secret box. (I highly recommend it too, only takes five minutes.)


If you've really got to have a definition, let me draft one up for you. A secret box is a game which is built around some form of content and challenge is trivial or absent. The emphasis is on conveying moments or ideas to the player rather than testing the player's abilities. A secret box game would say narrative is the whole point, rather than offer narrative as feedback such as in cutscene-focused titles such as The Last of Us (Naughty Dog, 2013).

You might wonder why I don't just embrace a term like notgame, because that seems to make a grab for the same space of work. But I dislike any term which implies negativity or insinuates a definition of game. What I also like about the secret box moniker is that it collects together many different experiences, some of which never been doubted to be proper games. I also view notgames less of a category but more of a challenge to find out what happens when you start fucking around with seemingly immutable game conventions - just like Dear Esther was a first-person shooter heavy on environmental storytelling with the shooting removed.

A game is not about walking from A to B, but about the things that happen to the player at A and B - a panorama, a conversation, a moment of madness... The act of walking is often vital to the experience, embedding a player inside the activity in ways that a static image or short film would not. But to claim it's about walking is as absurd as describing Half-Life (Valve, 1998) as a game about moving the mouse around and pressing some keys.

So screw your “walking simulators”. I've got a mountain of secret boxes over here that I'm anxious to explore.


  • Is a game about secret boxes actually a secret box game? Consider mobile game The Room (Fireproof Games, 2012) which is a game based around secret boxes.
  • Leigh Alexander made the association between puzzle boxes and room escape games in 2012, when writing about The Room.
  • Chasing after challenge or thinking there needs to be some "goal" is a common secret box design error. A potentially brilliant secret box can be fatally wounded by this addiction to challenge. Looking back at Polymorphous Perversity (Nicolau Chaud, 2012), many would-be players were attracted to this "game about sex" yet walked away frustrated because of the complexity of the "sex-as-combat" system. The game was full of fascinating stories - but did it need sex combat? (Read the Electron Dance essay on the game.)
  • There are games which do not fall under the secret box category but are outliers in a different sense. As noted in Stop Crying About Choice, games that focus on content can still exploit challenge. For example, the works of Pippin Barr are often notoriously difficult or require the player to tolerate the intolerable. They are not “good games” - but neither are they secret boxes.

If you enjoyed this post then why not follow Electron Dance on Twitter or signup for updates via email?

You can also subscribe to the monthly Electron Dance Newsletter!

Electron Dance Highlights

Comments (28) Trackbacks (8)
  1. I was dead tired when I was writing this so no idea if it makes sense. I think the words flow, at least.

    Originally I was going to keep saying himitsu-bako instead of secret box. Oh my god, that felt like an unwieldy term and a half.

  2. “sitting, walking, listening, looking, playing, just fucking being is interaction”

    “Being” is the word I am most disappointed ever to have read.

    “Attempting to rigorously define interactivity is about as joyous as rigorously defining the word game into your preferred pigeon hole. You might see healthy debate in this conversation. I see”


  3. I second Duck dongs.

    Good piece and it articulates perfectly what my frustration is with ‘Walking simulator’ definition. It is almost always meant as a pejorative and therefor only used by others to belittle the accomplishments while the people who like them bend over backwards trying to defend their enjoyment of the game.

    I also don’t like notgame as a definition as I don’t really think that really exists. Also because of the negative connotations.

    Although I am not sure ‘Secret Box games’ is ideal (not particularly descriptive and is way too broad a template to apply to all that would fall into it) I much prefer it.

    What I am saying is that I now use the term ‘Secret Box game’; it is Badger Commander approved

  4. Matt, please don’t ever say “duck dongs” so close to the phrase “pigeon hole”.

  5. This mirrors my thinking when I was playing Monument Valley. Once I started turning whole buildings around and fiddling with them, I felt like I was playing with a virtual busy box. The jingly-jangly noises these actions made didn’t hurt this feeling, either.

    It may not have been a “game” but it sure was a fun toy!

  6. I think there’s a fine but essential distinction between the ‘secret box’ and ‘walking simulator’ games, one that’s raised and then left aside at the end: ‘secret box’ still implies (at least to me) that quite a bit of effort has to be undertaken to progress in the experience. This effort has no more direction than exhaustive enumeration (that’s what really distinguishes a secret-box from a ‘proper’ puzzle, that the latter involves logical deduction while the former is just trying everything), but it’s still an effort; by contrast, to me at least a real ‘walking simulator’ (and I also hate that term – I’d love to hear something better!) is a title where there’s effectively no unlocking to be done, where the player just has to roam around and can explore what they choose to explore. Both types are still wholly content-centric, with no gameplay challenges to speak of, but in some sense the former actually ‘gates’ on the exhaustion of its content, while the latter offers a more purely exploratory experience that the user can take at their leisure. Both are fine genres, but I think they _are_ distinct ones.

  7. @Matt: Sorry being is much disappoint. I should’ve known someone would bring ducks into the story.

    @Badger Commander: I think Shaun shared with me on Twitter the uncomfortable fact that some users are now using “walking simulator” as useful tag to find the kind of game they might be interested in. I had a quick look at the tag after this and wasn’t sure what to make of it.

    Notgames took over from the “art game” which used to be the go-to fuck-you word for games that were judged as not-really-games. Jim Sterling did a whole video on the art game movement. What happened? It felt out of favour, possibly because of the negative association. The notgames thing was basically Tale of Tales’ call to shake things up. Paraphrasing: videogames aren’t games, let’s acknowledge this and make “notgames”, cast aside game conventions that are holding back videogames from becoming an proper artistic medium. It wasn’t an invention of a category but an inspiration/framing… however, it became appropriated as a category, something that inadvertently wasn’t helped by having a “notgames fest”. The notgames mantle, then, is also very broad. Kairo featured in the notgames fest but that’s full of puzzles.

    Thanks for approving! I might well invoke “secret box” down the line to snappily announce that it’s not a skill-based game but, yeah, it’s not really a perfect term. I’m railing more against the inadequacies of the “walking simulator” and the secret box is just an example of a category that is has more positive spin; I just want to think about these things differently. It doesn’t really help the people who are looking for the “walking simulators” because it’s much too broad.

    @Egypt: Ah, Monument Valley, one of many games I avoid like the plague to keep my game playing focused on PC! I have broken that rule from time to time (Threes was this year’s biggest transgression) but Monument Valley hasn’t made it through. Yet.

    I feel like I have problems with the word “toy” to describe a game as well, although I’m sure I’ve used it over the years. Ed Key said on Twitter in response to this article that he didn’t like “toy” for Proteus as it wasn’t like a ball, something you make your own game with. Indeed, Proteus doesn’t feel like a toy and secret box does seem much more fitting.

    I don’t want to police terms, though! The field of games is pretty crazy right now, and I leave definitions to others who like that sort of thing. We do need better definitions to make writing more concrete, but I’m not really into that myself. I just wanted to reframe the “walking simulator” jibe as being way off the mark.

    @Steven: I’m not married to the “secret box” term but I will have a go at your distinction between the secret box and what we understand as a walking simulator.

    On one hand, some secret boxes are really easy. Just a couple of moves and, voila, the box is open. I mean, it feels like it undersells the whole “secret box” concept! But some secret boxes are pretty straightforward.

    On the other, and this is the more significant point, I think the lack of effort in a walking simulator is wholly oversold. The effort to complete is minimal, but the effort to know/understand is quite different. From my secret box perspective, the goal is to uncover the secrets, and that’s where most “walking simulators” pour on the difficulty.

    There’s a lot to miss in Dear Esther: the ghostly reflections, the randomized narration, there’s also branching in the journey, (wander the beach first or go straight up the cliff?), and odd moments like the cairns that emit noise when you get close to them.

    Gone Home requires you to exhaust drawers and cupboards, interpret the story from what you find in the house. This is not a trivial exercise.

    Proteus: Do the towers do anything? How many different types of frogs are there? Do different things happen at night? Or each season? The game has to be experienced multiple times to be able to see everything.

    This is not to say there aren’t straightforward “walking simulators” that are A to B adventures – there are loads of 2D free games that have no secrets to speak of, but they are mini-stories like Terry Cavanagh’s “Hero Adventure”. That’s where I would throw in the “easy secret box” side of the argument.

    However, if I was looking for a real replacement for the phrase “walking simulator”, I’d probably select something like “sojourn” which is far more accurate in terms of what these titles are all about: a brief stay in another place. But the damage may already be done as I mentioned above – it’s a Steam tag that people find useful.

    Again – I don’t want to police terms, I just wanted to be angry a bit about a term I didn’t like =)

  8. I liked this piece! But you may not like this response… :>

    ‘Secret Box’ to me implies a focus on the kernel over the nut – or a view of the nut as mainly a route to the kernel. This is pretty on par with the structure of trad optimality-focused puzzle games, where getting to ‘the answer’ is an excuse to go through a series of convoluted actions which are actually the real point of the exercise (see Monkey Island 4, where Guybrush exclaims: “My life is just a series of meaningless obstacles!”). A lot of the discourse around Secret-Boxy games depicts them as recognizing that the kernel was only ever an excuse and therefore removing it – or at the very least to relocating it from a button to be pressed to some more ethereal idea of understanding or even oneness. Put more simply, my experience of these games is rarely one of being focused on what is ‘within’ them.

    So I’m going to make the argument for ‘walking simulator’ – not as a jibe, but used with genuine affection – as a pretty useful term…

    …even though I totally agree with you about the “lack of effort” which it was originally intended to designate/mock.

    1) ‘Walk’ is a word we already apply to activities of varying optimality. It encompasses the good-natured ambling of going for a walk, the focused athleticism of going /on/ a walk, and the purposeful intent with which characters in the West Wing walk and talk (what is walking there but a signifier of how busy they all are?)

    2) ‘Walk’ is a word which describes a type of movement without specifying its purpose. Walking simulators likewise tend to involve movement but rarely prescribe its purpose. Sometimes the movement in these games is about moving, the texture of moving, of being in a world?

    3) ‘Simulator’ is a word which already stands slightly to the side of ‘game’. The latter has endured all sorts of nonsense about its relationship to optimality but with the former it has always been uncontroversially optional. Some people (hardcore sim fans I guess?) even hold that a simulator is DEFINITELY NOT A (ugh) GAME and never the twain shall meet. And why do people play simulators? Often merely to do the thing. Or to feel like they are doing the thing. Or to explore the characteristics of doing the thing. So, despite the connotations of technical detail, this actually seems like an appropriate word.

    The argument against all this is that I am playing up wayy to much some kind of opposition between optimal play or ‘gaming’ vs playing, being, etc. And/or that the concept of optimality is actually incoherent. Maybe I am playing into Enemy Hands w/r/t policing the boundaries of ‘game’. Still, I think there is something here? Like I’m vaguely aware there is some Big Secret in Proteus but I have never found the secret, have enjoyed it without knowing there’s a secret, and it is not called The Secret of Proteus.

    I DUNNO. I just kind of like the term ‘walking simulator’ and it feels like there is something about its actual substance (inb4 Derrida lololol) which makes it eminently reclaimable by fans of the genre.

    Either way, at the end of the day, I think the damage probably already HAS been done. I don’t see the term losing any traction very soon…

  9. If you want to use walking simulator go ahead, but be notified that you will be banned henceforth on this site.


    I get that “going for a walk” is seen as a simple, leisurely activity and thus “walking simulator” might could be a clever way to convey a digital analogue. But a teenager whispered to me “look at the lady on the walking simulator” as a jibe at sub-l33t first-person skills on The Stanley Parable at IndieCade East once and I can’t see it any other way now.

    As I commented above, I’d be happier with “sojourn” to describe these kind of games (which would incorporate NaissanceE, which is so fucking not a walking simulator) as secret box is too broad as a category to be useful to anyone, really. It’s just a reframing as you note.

    But this is the internet. Walking simulator is out there in the wild. There’s probably little that can be done to put the toothpaste back in the tube, unless we discover the term has been up to no good and is destined for jail so that everyone feels dirty for using it.

    What we are both edging around is a segmentation of what it means to be a game (Raph Koster picked up on this point on Twitter) and with the fast expanding diversity of what it means to be a game, there is an increasing need for smarter terms. The terms that stick are likely to be those that organically emerge from online conversation rather than something suggested in a little-read academic paper. Hence, walking simulator.

  10. Eesh, sad anecdote there at ICE. I can see where the sting in the term comes from.

    I should be clear that I see ‘walking simulator’ as a generic designator within the category of ‘game’ – probably narrower than ‘FPS’ and wider than ‘Qwoplike’ – rather than a description of a new kind of game per se.

    Hopefully we’re moving towards a discussion of genre that admits nuance and hybrid. For instance, I would argue that large portions of The Last Of Us are effectively walking sims, albeit with the interaction of “just fucking being” (or just fucking carrying a ladder) instrumentalised towards more conventional worldbuilding and story goals.

    One way of reading this is that AAA developers are noticing the trend and being like “finally! If people are willing to play this stuff, that means /we/ can be as serious as we already wanted about our narrative.” Another approach would be to claim this kind of play was always present in traditional downtime pacing.

  11. This article makes me sad, because I feel “walking simulator” is a term that is getting rejected by the very group of people I would most like to see use it. The phrase in incredibly accurate, and as you mention it perfectly relates to the idea of “going for a walk,” at least when applied to games like Dear Esther and Proteus.

    Important statement: I was first introduced to the term as a description of Graveyard, in an article that tried to justify Dear Esther as deserving to be called a game. To me, walking simulators are games that use a very simple movement mechanisms (walking) to really draw the player into the game world. This immersion is then used for environmental story telling and narration. I don’t consider many 2D adventures (linear Twines, for example) as “walking simulators” because they don’t use motion as an immersion element. This particular definition is made up by me, but I feel it fits most games currently described as “walking simulators.”

    I understand that the term has been used pejoratively, but I try to avoid people with uninteresting opinions (which includes most people who use “walking simulator” in a pejorative sense). What confounds me is the recent outcrop of people with interesting opinions (such as yourself, and an RPS article I linked below) who are turning away from a perfectly reasonable term because some awful people used it poorly.

    You mention some fine alternatives. I agree with above comments that “secret box” applies much better to games like the GROW series. Gone Home might also fit, but Dear Esther certainly does not. I don’t feel like Stanley Parable does either, because it is missing a “success” condition which is essential to the GROW series and heavily implied by the idea of a secret box (the concept of a secret/internal chamber that you are trying to reach).

    “Sojourn” is ~fine~, but it is so general you could be talking about a literal sojourn for all I know. Sojourning Game perhaps? Besides, once you peel away the crusty class sojourn bestows on those with erudite vocabularies, all you actually have is a synonym for walking simulator (though I suppose “sojourn” is an even less active verb).

    I don’t mind these other terms. What I don’t understand is the hatred for the term “walking simulator,” especially among the people who claim to enjoy playing them! Why must you give in to the negativity? Rather than allow the ranters on Steam to define what is and is not a game, wear your walking simulator labels with pride!

    See also the recent article on RPS, here:

  12. Speaking of linear twines, I feel bad but I forgot to share my favorite walking simulator of all with you folks. http://www.philome.la/mrtavo/hallowed/play

  13. Thanks for the link – it’s an interesting (and fairly quick) game. Makes me wonder if I was too hasty to dismiss twine games as walking simulator classics.

    I also found it weird that, though the entire game is told in second person, I quickly realized I did not identify with the protagonist. It ends up feeling like I’m snooping on someone else’s thoughts, rather than thinking them myself.

  14. A response is due here in the comments and I’m planning to write it today. Promise.

  15. I had planned to write a response. I promise I planned it. But here it is today instead.

    @John Brindle: I think AAA are in a weird place right now. Like I admitted in this week’s piece How to Stop Making Players Lazy, some games are closer to walking simulator with pretence of challenge. There’s almost a sense of trying to have your cake and eat it, a deception of sorts. I want to make a meaningful game yet I’ve got to put challenge in there to make saleable… but I don’t want it too difficult otherwise no one will play except athletes or see the story glory. So they won’t make a secret box game even though they really want to.

    I feel like in July I’ve been moving much closer to understanding the apparent “game as movie” paradox than ever. I don’t think I have another article here, but I’ve plotted some nice dots which you are free to draw some lines through.

    @Sandy: It’s okay to be sad. I mean, given a few years, the term “walking simulator” will probably be so commonplace that I won’t be able to avoid using it. Saying that, I still try to not use terms like “art” or even “indie” these days. I also have problems with the word “game”. Maybe I should just rebrand myself as “words on PC pastimes”.

    My idea of a secret box isn’t that necessarily there’s a single secret, but a whole series of surprises. Proteus is about the musical harmonies that bleed from the environment and there is no single “secret” to be uncovered. Every twist of the box yields something interesting to you. There is no win. Even GROW, I see as teasing out the weird behaviours of the various elements you have to play with; there are odd interactions not part of the real solution which are still interesting to tease out.

    Of course, the key is in the definition, not the actual words used. In the article you linked, Endless Ocean was cited as a walking simulator even though there’s no walking… I played Glitchhikers and made a joke on Twitter yesterday that even that could be considered a walking simulator. (I’m not sure even sojourn sounds like a good description of that game, either.)

    We have a particular impression of what a “walking simulator” is meant to be – my issue is that I really hate the term due to its origins and use as a stick to beat certain games with. So sojourn was meant to be a synonym, it’s meant to be a more friendly term rather than one which carries an aura of negativity. Walking simulators are about an environment in some sense, spending time there and experiencing it.

  16. My issue with ‘walking simulator’ is that it doesn’t actually simulate the mechanics of walking. You press W to walk forwards. You stop pressing W to stop. The end. Walking is far more complicated than that in the same way any other type of simulator will attest to. Simulators are about real world modelling. I’m inclined to say QWOP or Incredipede are more like walking simulators in that you have to deal with the mechanical elements and complexities of movement even if QWOP is obviously a Ministry of Silly Walks troll. I’d say ‘Ministry of Silly Runs’ but let’s be honest, who runs in QWOP? And Silly Runs sounds ridiculous and a bit disgusting.

    This is the age of the daft and not-so-daft simulator so it kind of irks me from the the other end why ‘walking simulator’ as a genre title is deemed okay when it doesn’t do the simulation of walking that well, no better than any other game that involves pressing a single key to move. With Proteus and Dear Esther and Gone Home and what have you, yes, walking is probably the main interactive verb of the game but it’s not the focus, let’s be honest. It’s the discovery and the exploration that keeps people playing, not the act of walking. I don’t care if I’m on a moon buggy, a hover board or camel; the exploration, the secrets and discoveries is what makes these games intriguing and compelling hence why secret box sounds better to me, if a little misleading on the surface. If walking simulators are all about walking, that supposes that if there was nothing of interest to find, we’d enjoy the act of walking alone and, news flash: pressing W isn’t fun. I’d be much happier seeing the term ‘exploration’ getting more attention for this genre because it’s much broader (perhaps too broad) and inclusive (so Endless Ocean would fit here), carries far fewer negative connotations (if any!), and is more accurate as far as I’m concerned.

    @HM: Good call on “Some games are closer to walking simulator with pretence of challenge. There’s almost a sense of trying to have your cake and eat it, a deception of sorts. I want to make a meaningful game yet I’ve got to put challenge in there to make saleable… but I don’t want it too difficult otherwise no one will play except athletes or see the story glory. So they won’t make a secret box game even though they really want to.”

    Oh and: hello all! I’m still here, just lurking more than usual!

  17. I don’t know if I agree, Gregg; it seems to me that there’s a long tradition of simulators abstracting away from the low-level mechanical stuff that you’d actually have to do to get stuff done. Like, city sims generally don’t make you go through all the motions* of what you’d have to do in the planning meeting before you build something. At least I assume they don’t. If one did I’d probably play it.


  18. I was just re-reading this article, and then Read The Comments and forgot how great Electron Dance is for good comment discussion and felt guilty about not commenting earlier. So here’s a token late comment:

    I thought this article perfectly (well almost, within error margins) expressed my feelings on why “walking simulator” seems like an unproductive term – both for criticism and development in the “genre” (kill genres)

    I was about to link http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/06/28/walking-simulator-proteus-ed-key-ricky-haggett/ as my recent-ish brain-dump on it, but then saw that it was bizarrely linked already as support for the term!

    As I think I stated there, “simulation” seems like a statement of intent. Look at Euro Truck Simulator etc. Look at point-missing comments like “why simulate something that I can just go outside and do”.

    In retrospect I wonder if the John Muir quote in the Proteus trailer about “a walk in nature” was what started all this.

    Anyway, if you have a Sony console, go and play Hohokum. That’s a wonderful “secret box”.

    Oh, lastly: This video makes me laugh a lot regarding gating progress, game-policing, walking simulators, etc: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RULv6HbgEjY

  19. Thanks for dropping a comment in, Ed. I’d play Hohokum if I could! I played an early, early prototype in the Eurogamer Expo 2010 but I don’t think that resembles the game that was recently released.

    Ooh, I’m sure that CODBLOPS video has been linked here before, somewhere in the Electron Dance past. It’s going to drive me barmy trying to remember when it was. So thanks for that =)

    Yes, I still don’t find the “walking simulator” moniker accurate in any sense, but we may be stuck with the term for the near future.

  20. Oh wow, the comments are active in this blog. I’ve been commenting all over your youtube videos; I guess that was the wrong place to expect you to see it.

  21. Agreed, the definition “Walking Simulator” is very disrespectful to many transmedial narrative experiences.
    NaissanceE was an experience which literally changed my mind. The exploration of urban wastelands forced me to re-think our reality, life and death, and everything inbetween.

    Now I played “Verde Station”, and it was really amazing as well. We need more such experiences, and we have to stop labeling them “walking simulators”.

  22. Merzmensch, welcome to the site! This is still one of my favourite posts so thank you for digging it out in the comments again. I have to say I think we’ve lost the “war” for the name of these experiences; increasingly, game sites have been using the term “walking simulator” without the quotes. And NaissanceE’s difficulty means it barely fits the term! It makes me a little sad. But I’ll never use the term here. Not without quotes :) I won’t go down without a fight!

  23. Who knew interesting comments would keep appearing for years here! This is a great site.

    I thought I’d comment again both because it’s been two years and because I still seem to be the only one who DOESN’T think “walking simulator” is an insult.

    But I have changed my mind and I think I agree with you know that “walking simulator” is a bad term. Not because of the implied insult (again, I am of the opinion that the term has been “reclaimed”) but because games categorized together don’t belong together. The NaissenceE-vs-Proteus example from your article is apt, but when you look across genres there is a lot of weird stuff.

    The issue is that the things besides walking in the game can have a huge impact. For example, I feel like Kentucky Route Zero and Gone Home give me a similar vibe, despite being categorized very differently. And while Ether One is mostly walking about in empty places, the frequent puzzles feel more like a typical “adventure game” to me. There is such a wide range in tone and mechanics that the word feels meaningless to me – all walking simulators have been hit-or-miss in terms of my enjoyment.

    If you compare it with platformers, for example, I like basically all platformers. And while there are some outliers (Braid, for example) they often get shuffled into other categories. So the “platformer” genre feels more consistent to me, and less like a catch-all term.

  24. Thank you, friends! I’m very glad to have found this site – so many awesome stuff to read!

    Actually, I could talk about immersive experiences (codename “Walking simulator”) for hours. Interestingly, even projects not supposed to be “WS” can become one during perception. Experience of virtuality, reaching of interactivities boundaries, this can turn every game to a “WS”. For me a perfect sample is “theHunter”, a free-to-play hunt game (at Steam) with almost hustle in-app-buy practices, which brings only negative ratings. But the free to download nature setting is technically perfect, so I spend hours just to roam around in valleys and forests. Without paying for ammo and without shooting at wild.

    Another sample I was crazy fan about, was an old game JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), a military flight simulation from 1990ies, where you could jump with parachute. But landing didn’t meant the game ending. You could walk around wastelands (and in a flight simulation they are huge). Without any mission or goal. The walking is a goal. Player as virtual flaneur.

    So let’s fight for right to exist of “Walking simulators” or however we can call them! In every implementation :-)

  25. Sandy, I’ve given up on converting the masses who have appropriated the insult as a badge of honour. You’re all dead to me. No, that’s not true. I mean, it’s typically meaningless to fight language when it starts to become accepted nomenclature (although, saying that, much is being fought right now over the Right Words). But my secret box, really, isn’t a replacement for walking simulator – it has the same problem. Looking back, I see it more as a better framing of the what games can be when they are not committed to challenge.

    mermensch, so you got me excited – I’ve installed theHunter already to see what you’re talking about, but I’ve not yet started it up. Have you watched “Into the Black”?

  26. I’m back from theHunter right now – after Skyrim and Witcher the nature visualisation is here not a hq, but this roaming around deep in forests, bushes and other biotopes is a decent experience. Graphically humblier, but unbelievable in form of virtual flaneury across empty planet is Outerra (do you know this project?). Geographically correct clone of _the_whole_freakin’_Earth for free to fly around like a bird. Here is my video test https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXFy-Naw7-c (please be patient till 0:30 – there will be a twist).

    This project has no storyline or plot and is just like a sandbox. But the simulation of nature is perfect – comparisons between virtual and actual views are stunning.

    Which one do you mean with “Into the Black”? The incoming game or indie movie of 2004?

  27. Amazing stuff! I never heard of Outerra before. You’re a great source of exploration material :)

    I assumed you must have come to Electron Dance through my videogame film work – which seems to be how a lot of newcomers end up here these days – so I think you probably need to watch Into the Black.

  28. Thank you! So glad to contribute something useful to this amazing portal here. :)
    Now I know: YOUR Into the Black is one of the greatest things I’ve seen recently (I wrote more over there).

Leave a comment

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.