At what point does gaming become art? I asked this question and the answer came in the form of the new Tale of Tales game The Path.
Read my brain words over at Square Go
Expectations, they’re a problem with videogames. Usually while playing it’s a plain old system of getting exactly what you’re used to seeing, at other times a game will defy your imagination and make you think in a few new directions.
What happens then if something doesn’t fit to normal expectations? When it actively defies them and attempts to subvert the normal tenets of gaming logic to use the platform more as a medium to create an emotionally moving and thought-provoking reaction? Generally that’s when it could start to be considered as being art and frankly, The Path is the first truly arthouse game. It’s a bold claim, and it comes not without some reservations but then again art is always subjective.
In plainest terms, it’s a 3rd person horror game, recounting an abstracted modernised version of Little Red Riding Hood with six playable sisters all with red-based names. Once you’ve picked your young lady, she’ll arrive where a road becomes a dirt path. Far off in the distance the road behind and track ahead vanish into the mists. On either side stands a heavy and vibrant forest filled with colour and echoing with birdsong and sweet music.
The instructions are simple; get to Grandma’s house a little further on and stay on the path. However doing so simply leads to failure, as The Path wants you to explore, wants you to disobey, wants you to meet the consequences as it spins out a complex and ambiguous story. Each girl’s experience is revealed through the places they discover in the maddeningly ever-changing forest. Each girl has personally significant things to find amongst the trees, a burnt-out car, a graveyard, and ultimately each will meet their metaphorical ‘Wolf’.
The Path has a surprising depth of meaning and an ambiguity that is rarely seen in many titles as well as enough atmosphere to make the moon habitable. It’s also slightly frustrating at the beginning as it forces you to take your time and play slowly, as even running skews the viewpoint, nearly blinding you and brings forth harsh and unnerving music. It also brilliantly undermines the player by subtly inverting the usual workings of a game.
Whilst you can roam the forest unabated, the locations change depending on the characters. They can be found using the subtle abstract lines and shapes which flit about the edges of the screen and the sunlight flashing through the trees. There are also a host of golden flowers that can be collected to more obviously signpost the locations of interest but to subvert things even more ingame actions are accomplished by releasing control. You have to stop and stay still to complete actions. It could almost be said that you don’t play The Path, you are played by it.
It’s not surprising that such a curious game came from the minds behind the smartly challenging project The Graveyard; a game where the only object was to sit down on a bench and possibly die. Here they’ve created an experience that will either captivate or infuriate anyone who tries it. Not only is it one of the most hauntingly beautiful games ever made, it’s meaning is left it open to interpretation. Whether it’s a story of one girls sad life, a treatise on the pressures of living, the agonising nightmares of a rape victim or something else entirely is up to the player. Ultimately what The Path leads to is nothing more or less than what you bring with you.