Walking Simulator Video Games–A New Digital Storytelling Artefact–Transportation, not flow

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Abstract (in English): 

In the past decade a new genre of video games has emerged; with little action or traditional gameplay this new form has been described as audiovisual novels, ‘freeform unstructured narrative’ (Heron & Belford, 2015), ‘narrative avant-garde’ (Koenitz, 2017), ‘walkers’ (Muscat et al., 2016), ‘literary games’ (Ensslin, 2014), or ‘Walking Simulators’ which was added to the Urban Dictionary in April 2014 as a pejorative description of games where the main purpose appears to be walking around. This new genre has its antecedents in text adventure games, Point and Click adventure games, digital fiction, and art games, yet defining the Walking Simulator as ‘simply’ a game is an unproductive argument in itself (Fest, 2016). Aims and research questions: How do we categorise Walking Simulators? How should we analyse them? What can we find out from that analysis? Methodology and analytical framework Taking a broadly representative sample of Walking Simulators published in the past ten years (most have received critical acclaim and also won BAFTA and similar awards) some common features were identified. Sidestepping (but not ignoring) a definition of ludicity based in game coding and mechanics, and instead exploring how this genre offers narrative experiences that are closer to that of reading is a more productive and effective approach to understanding this new genre (Heron & Belford, 2015, Fest, 2016, Ensslin, 2014). Using an empirical cognitive poetic stylistic analysis developed by Bell, Ensslin, van der Bom, and Smith in 2018, this paper will examine Campo Santo’s 2016 BAFTA award winning game, Firewatch, as a case study to show how Walking Simulators offer transportation and immersion more commonly found in fiction texts rather than the flow of a video game. Player forums on the Steam platform have been used as an anecdotal qualitative sample of responses as a testingground for the possibilities of developing an empirical reader-response study in the future. Emerging Results and Conclusions This is an emerging and dynamic field of research which will continue to expand as more Walking Simulators are published. The results point to ongoing analysis and exploration of this new genre to firmly establish the Walking Simulator as a new digital storytelling artefact that is accessible to a wide range of player/readers. It is also hoped that by setting out a clear working definition for this new genre together with suggested analytical frameworks that there will be wider interdisciplinary scholarly interest.

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Vian Rasheed