Top Menu

Subscribe on YouTube

I love a walking sim, so today I ask the future if the walking sim is still a valid videogame genre.


Hey Future Caleb, walking sims are still a thing in the future, right? I mean, I imagine walking itself is no longer a thing. The explosion parts of hoverboards have probably been taken care of and I’m sure the social stigma of the segways no longer blind only to mall cops and Adam Savage. So, with walking having gone out of fashion in the, I’d estimate, late 2050s, I assume the experience of walking is now a thing of luxury and the walking sim game genre must be thought of as vacation from the arduous reality of not walking due to not only the your time’s confusingly prominent sex appeal of segways, but also muscle atrophy. Back in my day we used comas to get at that much-desired no-muscle state. But sure, in the future, you don’t need to walk, so why do it?

You may remember Future Caleb that in my time, 2017, the walking simulator was only just getting the respect it deserved, and the term itself, “walking simulator,” was being re-appropriated from its disparaging origins to become a legitimate moniker. It’s like how in 2017 we call runny poop diarrhea, but in 2078 runny poop has become sentient and it now champions the term diarrhea as an homage to the struggles of their ancestors. (and no that previous joke isn’t a commentary on the contemporary use of the n-word by some african americans. I just think the image of sentient diarrhea is funny).

The walking sim has earned a spot in my top 3 gaming genres, and this includes your standard hyphenates, your action-adventure, your puzzle-platformer, your action-rpg, and so on, so I’m considering literally dozens of genres when I make this claim that the walking sim is so, so good. And notice I didn’t, even in the intolerant days of 2017, avoid use of the term “walking sim” in favor of some defensively constructed descriptor full of implied caveats: “it’s an explorative, non-combat-focused, narrative, casual adventure…” No. I embrace the term walking sim.

I’m not a martyr here. Plenty of people are already defending the genre and the name, just do a Google search, or in the future, a Bing search. But for the most part, walking sims still represent a very peripheral part of the gaming ecosphere. And I’ve been wondering why that is?

I think, unlike many other genres, walking sims require personal vetting prior to getting praise. You can’t get someone excited by the plot of a walking sim.

Consider these scenarios:

You: “So, what’s this game Firewatch about?”

Me: “You walk around looking for forest fires while talking on a radio.”

You: “So, what’s this game Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture about?”

Me: “You walk around looking for spirits while talking to nobody.”

You: “So, what’s this game Gone Home about?”

Me: “You walk around your home while talking to nobody.”

You: “No thanks.”

Conversely, consider this scenario:

You: “So what’s this game Bloodborne about?”

Me: “You hunt out demon monster things with a variety of badass weapons.”

You: “Is there simulated walking?”

Me: “Only if you want to be scythed by a blood-thirsty farmer.”

You: “I…I don’t want that.”

But anyone who has played Firewatch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Gone Home or Dear Esther even, which most consider to be the first official walking sim, knows that it’s hard to properly explain the experience of a walking sim. And that’s their point, really: to provide an experience above all else. Above mechanics. Above gameplay. Above even the traditionally inherent sense of victory with a game, a player is subjected to the experience. This reality simply doesn’t make good let’s play fodder or TV commercial fodder. It’s a hard sell.

Walking sims have earned a place in my top 3 genres because, well, because I took the time to play them. And they’ve simply yet to let me down.

But back to that traditionally inherent sense of victory that I mentioned above. Walking sims are often pushed aside, I think, because walking sims defy what it means to be a game.

Let me explain. Developers (and gamers) love a cross breed. Action game + adventure game = action adventure. Puzzle + platformer = puzzle-platformer. Action + RPG = action-RPG.

But walking sim is the one genre that resists being absorbed into a hyphenate. Its mechanics are defined by exclusion. You wouldn’t have an infinite runner walking sim (not just because the pairing is nominally absurd) but because the genre conventions are polar opposites. Endless runner = go fast, avoid objects. Walking Sim = go slow, explore objects. But even less absurd pairings aren’t​ really possible. You couldn’t have an RPG walking sim or an action adventure walking sim, and this is the case primarily because a defining characteristic of a waking sim is the absence of a lose condition. The only option is completing the game. (though a BitterEmpire article, linked below, does make a good point that the player giving up when the narrative stops being interesting could be considered a sort of lose condition, a point that I’m open to exploring, but also a point that I think adheres to all game genres, so I’m not fully inclined to accept it as unique to the walking sim.). All other game genres insist upon a lose condition. That is, by definition, an important component of what it means to be a game. Sure, micro moments within a walking sim can have binary outcomes (open the desk drawer or don’t), but the genre doesn’t have a single global objective that can be failed.

So the obvious question is, are walking sims even games? Well, for the sake of retail placement and consistency within the industry, yes, they will always be shelved and discussed as games. But I don’t believe they actually are games. This may be a personal belief; I tend to align to the side of game formalists, as opposed to game abstractionists, a distinction that is discussed in a great video by Jamin Warren when he explores the definition of a game as outlined by Jesper Juul. Link in the description below. I highly recommend you watch.

But this refusal by some to accept the walking sim as a proper game is why fans of the genre, as least I speak for me, have this insistent drive to defend it. Walking sims defy what gamers have come to accept as a game. But this is also why the genre has risen so quickly, I think. If a category name is disparaging, defenders will rise. If First person shooters were originally tossed aside via the term murder simulator, fans of the genre would defend it, and arguably, the genre would have taken off much faster. Damn, if I were in video game marketing, entire ad campaigns would be created to artificially disparage. The Sentient diarrhea action platformer would be the fastest growing genre in history, I am certain.

So, what’s the future of the walking sim? I hope that your Future Caleb muscle-atrophied body is connected to a neural interface that lets you feel every pebble under your feet, the breeze in the air, and the sweat on your brow with every virtual step you take. More likely though is that despite my assertion above that walking sims inherently avoid hyphenation, smart developers will find a way to take what’s great about the walking sim and merge those aspects into other genres.

A great example that I recently played is the 3rd person walking sim platformer Bound (walking platformer?, maybe. See I’m already a future smart developer). Bound focuses on the environment. Bound focuses on narrative momentum. Bound lacks a lose condition. Sure you can fall off the edge, but when you do you immediately respawn. But it’s not just the perspective that bucks the walking sim establishment. The game is a platformer. The game even has minor combat elements, but not enough to pull the genre away from walking sim and toward action.

The point is, I’m jealous, Future Caleb, that you get to see what comes of the walking sim and that your future society is generally pretty cool with immobility. Not moving is pretty much my favoring thing right now, but people look down on me for it in 2017. Oh to be born 30 years from now, when the shackles of movement have been removed.

Thank you current viewer for watching. Please, leave a comment. Tell me what you think of walking sims and if they will be around in the future. Tell me your favorite walking sim. Subscribe to this channel. Give this video a thumbs up. And future Caleb, say hi to your grandkids for me.

These thoughts were originally vomited out at the Cartridge Club:

What is a game? And why it matters! | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
In Defense of the Walking Simulator, from Bitter Empire

The following are YouTube videos licensed under CC BY 3.0