Worlds at our fingertips. Navigating the multiple readings of walking simulators

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


This paper engages with walking as a form of reading a game (in terms of both spatial progression or traversal, as well as unlocking potential layers of meaning), and reflects on the design of five walking simulators to analyse the style of ‘writing’ in these game spaces.

Since the launch of Dear Esther (The Chinese Room, 2012) multiple titles have emerged that reclaim the derisive genre-name coined by a frustrated player community. This frustration was in response to an alternative style of gameplay that eschews complex challenge, objectives and goal-oriented systems. In walking simulators, you ‘just’ walk. But walking is “a mode of inquiry, a politics and an aesthetic practice” (Bassett, 2014, p399) that engages the walker in critical acts of reading, challenging and/or performing a landscape. The player becomes a wayfarer (Ingold, 2016) in the virtual world.

In order to understand the language and design of walking simulators we read closely some notable examples of the genre, each with unique vocabulary and style of ‘writing’: Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (The Chinese Room, 2015), What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow, 2017), Tacoma (Fullbright, 2017) and Proteus (Key and Kanaga, Curve Digital, 2013). We argue that the walking simulator genre is an ideal medium for experimentation with literary and interactive forms because of its accessible design and its creative engagement with walking as an aesthetic practice. They invite diverse readers by lowering the barrier to entry, while the ambiguity embraced in their design (Muscat, 2016), lacunary narratives, environmental storytelling and evocative settings (Jenkins, 2004; Smith and Worch, 2010) makes them an ideal playground for storytelling in which stories are weaved in innovative and playful ways.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2018
EventLiterature and video games: beyond stereotypes
- University of St Andrews, St Andrews, United Kingdom
Duration: 20 Jun 201821 Jun 2018


ConferenceLiterature and video games: beyond stereotypes
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CitySt Andrews


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