walking games

In reflecting on our reading and the games we played this week, I’m thinking a lot about the role of walking as exploration and the theory of dérive. I’m interesting in putting these ideas together primarily because I wonder if we can think about these two games – and others like it – as a kind of digital, solo dérive.

As Debord notes in the introduction, “Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.” It strikes me that games also involve this kind of psychogeographical awareness, especially in something like Obra Dinn. In the game, the time warp mechanic takes us deeper into the past and the character’s lives, but also changes the way we interact with each space. One thing I experimented with while I was playing was to just keep going farther and farther into the past, passing from one memory into a deeper one, even if the memories were from different chapters of the game. This left me profoundly disoriented in terms of time and location, and made it harder for me to piece together the identities and events I was watching. This also reminds me of the quote that notes that a dérive might be “precisely delimited or vague” depending on the participant’s goal (Debord). Since I took a vague route through this game, it seems like my goal might have been to “emotionally disorient” myself rather than studying the terrain closely.

Playing something like Tacoma or Obra Dinn also speaks to the way that the dérive involves a “letting-go” and a “domination” of space – in some ways, we let the games guide us where to go, but we also make choices about what we want to see next. Both of these games also allow us to experience the content in different orders, depending on what paths and areas we travel to first. Again, I sometimes find this disorienting because I’m faced with so many choices and rooms to explore. In a sense, I’m overwhelmed and have to take a moment to decide where I’ll go next, or I’ll try to make a plan that makes going through the space easy. In Tacoma, I often start in the farthest rooms and work my way back, which is perhaps not how the developers intended the journey to happen. For my play through of Obra Dinn, I started by trying to follow patterns with the bodies, but then I devolved into randomly choosing paths and going as deeply into memories as I could.

Other times, though, I might base my exploration off of the first thing that attracts me, or the first thing made available to me. In Obra Dinn, the tutorial portion leads us to particular bodies, but then we can choose to explore memories from bodies around the same areas. This ties into the quote that states that “the first psychogeographical attractions discovered by dérivers may tend to fixate them around new habitual axes, to which they will constantly be drawn back.” In my first experience of Obra Dinn, I definitely felt more tied to those first bodies, but then my play style made it difficult for me to locate the “firsts” of the next chapters to tie myself to,

I suppose in connecting the these two games with this theory of the dérive, I’m trying to think about the various ways that these experiences turn walking into a game – whether in the “real” or a game space. When we have this expansive spaces to explore coupled with the freedom of choosing what to interact with and in what order, it creates a really fascinating mix of random play and organization/strategy. This strikes me as especially applicable to these two games, which ask us to piece stories together despite sometimes encountering these parts out of order. Though games with walking often get insulted, I do think it’s interesting to gamify our experience of exploration, asking us to look at the world we travel through in new ways.

Works Cited

Debord, Guy-Ernest. “Theory of the Dérive.” http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/314

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