Monday, August 17, 2009

Veering From The Path

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“Go to grandmother’s house… And stay on the path.”

Six different granddaughters, with six different ages and six different personalities, are all given the same set of instructions.

Following those instructions could not be simpler. Doing so results in a pleasant meeting as the girl climbs into bed with her grandmother, comforting her with a touch and a smile. It’s warm and cozy… and ultimately a failure. At least that is the game’s assessment if a granddaughter adheres to the given objective.

Few videogames punish players for following the rules. The Path however, is unlike any other game. It encourages players to break the rules and veer off the path; much in the same way the game itself veers from the beaten path that so many videogames traverse today.

The Loss of Innocence

In an exploration of non-linear interactive storytelling, the personalities of each girl are revealed as the forest beyond the beaten path is explored. Each girl can collect certain objects. As an object is collected, the girl remarks on it, revealing a bit about her personality, her likes, and her dislikes.

In coming across a graveyard, Robin, the youngest granddaughter remarks, “People die. It’s hard to imagine for a kid like me. They die and we put them in the ground. Like flowers.”

Ultimately, when following the light presented in-game, each girl will come across her own personal wolf. Representing the epitome of danger and desire, the wolf should be avoided at all costs, but always proves too irresistible to do so.

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Carmen, one of the six granddaughters, is a seventeen year old flirt. She clearly enjoys all the attention she gets from men, especially much older men. Exploring the forest, she comes across a lumberjack’s campsite. Being young and naïve she openly approaches the forester, who is clearly hard at work. Carmen flirts with the man, stealing his hat and modeling it for him while shaking her hips. The balding lumberjack attempts to ignore her and continue his work. Ultimately however, Carmen succeeds in seducing the clearly older man.

What occurs next is unknown. In a sequence shared by all girls after meeting their wolf, Carmen simply wakes up right outside of her grandmother’s house. Hours have gone by since she first encountered the lumberjack and it is raining heavily. She stands up and makes her way towards the house. She moves slowly, hunched and dejected.

Through some sort of violent rape, be it mental, emotional, or physical, Carmen has grown up and will never be the same. Upon seeing the surreal and unsettling state of her grandmother’s house, it is fairly clear that her innocence and naivety have been obliterated.

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Grayish Browns & Piano Pieces

Tale of Tales, developer of The Path, uses the word horror to describe its game. It however is not scary, startling, or adrenaline-pumping in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, it is disturbing, haunting, and brutal on a more psychological level.

The game deals with mature themes typically absent from the videogame genre, albeit in a subtle manner. The use of drugs and alcohol make an appearance, along with sex and death. All themes are accentuated by the fact that the subject matter revolves around seemingly innocent children.

An appropriately dark mood is set to the thematic material through graphical and aural means. A largely dull palette of dark greens and grayish browns permeates the forest. The faded visuals are further accented by occasional brightness, when traversing the path or first encountering the wolf.

The musical score follows the same pattern, though in a much more oppressive manner. When first encountering the path, the music is high pitched. Piano pieces are combined with non-lyrical singing, and the occasional giggle from an unseen girl. Entering the forest brings a much deeper and robust musical accompaniment with the introduction of bowed string instruments, along with the same pianistic pieces.

However, regardless of the circumstances, the music is always slow, drawn-out, and meandering. More so than the graphics, or any other aspect of the game, the music sets the tone of the game and remains the strongest presence throughout.

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Is The Path fun? No. Fun is definitely not a word that can be used to describe this game. The gameplay does not evolve beyond basic movement and exploration, both of which are very slowly paced.

However, The Path is engaging, layered, and to a certain extent, beautiful. It deals with subject matter not seen in videogames, and does so through the use of innovative mechanics and the creation of a saturating atmosphere. Simply put, The Path is an experience that stands out in videogaming, and is not something that can be easily forgotten.

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