First-Person Exploration Games

I love that the current gaming landscape has more options than ever for anyone and everyone. I’ve always been a firm believer that video games are an inclusive lot, where admission is the price of entry.

I’ve never been into labels and over-typing a genre. Certain genre labels can be off-putting for various people. Some people hear the term “first-person shooter” and they immediately think everyone playing those games is some real-world lunatic. I’d like to point out that Duck Hunt could technically be a first-person shooter and I doubt most of the people who played that game back in the day would have been looked at as some sort of monster.

I find that labels leave me wanting.

This week I was gleeful when What Remains of Edith Finch finally released. I’d been excited for this game for years, and when it finally launched, I kept hearing people refer to it as one of many recent “walking simulators.”

Now I don’t have any derogatory associations with that term, but I find it to be lacking in just about every way. Some of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in recent years have been from games that fall into that category. For some time now, I’ve personally referred to them as “first-person exploration” games, and I wish, if any label caught on, it would be that one.

How many games are you walking in? Pretty much all of them, across genres. Sure, they might be in first or third person, but you are still traversing environments. Technically wouldn’t just about every game be a “walking simulator?”

As I was thinking about the term, I was reminded of some of the recent games I’ve played that fall into the first-person exploration category, and I realized I’ve had all these varied experiences that involve far more than simply walking.

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Asemblance was a game I had no foreknowledge of, which I think was the best way for me to go into it. As I was making my way through it, it got me thinking about the seemingly tiny things we do and how those choices ripple out and open other doors to us (in this case, sometimes literally). I had the faintest whiff of P.T. while playing Asemblance, and it was worth playing for sure.

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Firewatch was a game I didn’t love, but was absolutely taken in by the art style. Making my way through the wilderness while also trying to figure out exactly where I was, was a delight. It allowed me to play out a fantasy of actually living in a fire tower in the forest.

Also, Turt Reynolds.

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Proteus was rudimentary in graphics, but beautiful all the same. Seeing the four seasons play out in front of you was deeply delightful. While, in this case, walking makes up most of what you are doing, the game was no less interesting for the relative lack of objectives. I enjoyed exploring for the sake of exploring.

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The Park was one of my favorite games from last year. I will admit, I’m a huge fan of the atmosphere of amusement parks, and The Park didn’t disappoint. The tension built in a way I’ve not experienced before, and by the time I made my way into the haunted house attraction, the tension was at a fever pitch. If the descriptor of The Park had simply been “walking sim,” it would be a disservice to the experience.

.

Virginia was my favorite game from last year. It managed to tell a deeply emotional story without ever saying a word. Granted, you are mostly walking from place to place and interacting with a handful of options in the environment, but by the time the credits roll, you’ve gone on a definite journey. There is a montage towards the end that conveys certain feelings better than any collection of words could.

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I haven’t yet played What Remains of Edith Finch. I’m hoping I can find a way to do so this weekend. I hope that in the future, people out there will rethink their use of the term “walking simulator” and try on “first-person exploration” instead. Because really, that’s what you are doing. You are exploring the world around you.

I would never refer to life as a “walking.” It’s an exploration.

So when forced to use a label, that’s what mine will be.

With that I ask: what first-person exploration games have you played? Did you enjoy them? Are there others you are hoping to play? If so, which ones?

Also, what are you hoping to play this weekend?

For my part, I’m hoping to try to play some of the Overwatch PvE event, as well as get to at least a couple smaller games just to work my way back into playing. We’ll see how that goes.

18 replies »

  1. I think “walking simulator” was a slightly derogatory term given by people who think that if you aren’t shooting something, it isn’t a game.

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    • I think it definitely carries a negative connotation, whether that was intended or not. Now it seems to be said by people in a dismissive fashion and I feel “first-person exploration” far better encompasses those experiences.

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      • I’m inclined to agree. I’m withholding judgment on Edith Finch until I finish, but you know what’s an amazing game?

        Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture :-)

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      • I agree 100% Another is shooter genre. There are some games that are multigenre or crossgenre(if that makes sense). Also, still “going through the motions” in Andromeda. Almost at the finish line. Might do the additional tasks; at the moment, highly doubtful!

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      • I just feel like most genre classifications limit the audience in silly ways. I understand people will need to find ways to explain games, I just wish there was a “better” way to do it.

        I hope you power through to the end of Andromeda!

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  2. There have been some really excellent ones over the years – I’m surprised to read that you weren’t so taken with Firewatch. Of course ‘Gone Home’ was excellent, but if you havn’t tried it (and are looking for something a little different) then you should give “Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald” a go, from one half of the people who did the excellent Stanley Parable: it’s short, sweet, funny and free!

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    • I was surprised, too honestly. I had really been looking forward to Firewatch and felt very disappointed in the final product. I felt like the story tried to go in three directions, not quite concluding any as well as I’d hoped. I also was frustrated that it had relatively frequent technical issues, as well. It just didn’t come out to be something I enjoyed, sadly. The art style was beautiful, though.

      I also played Gone Home and thought it was okay. I think I had been expecting it to go a more horror-ish route, so my expectations let me astray. However, I love what it did for the genre, and for that I will always appreciate it.

      I will have to look into that. I LOVE The Stanley Parable. I just have no way to play anything on PC, so I will have to find a way. :) Thank you for the recommendation!

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  3. I too wish that people would stop referring to games in this genre as walking simulators. Not only is that term used with a negative connotation far too often, but as you pointed out it’s simply a poor way to describe the content of these games. First Person Exploration works as a much better descriptor and I hope that catches on instead.

    Furthermore, as someone who really enjoys the genre, I look forward to seeing it grow. I especially can’t wait until I get my hands on a VR headset because I feel like that technology is perfectly suited to these types of experiences.

    Until then, I’m eager to play What Remains of Edith Finch in the near future. It looks excellent.

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    • Wheee! I’d love it if the term caught on (I’m considering writing to GI just for giggles to suggest it as an option), as I feel like it encompasses a bit more with an amiable vibe.

      I also love it and look forward to see where it goes.

      Do you not have any GameStops near you? Most have a VR setup on the weekends (from what I’ve seen and heard), where you can try out the tech. I haven’t tried it myself, yet, but I would love to.

      I can’t wait to play it, either!

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  4. I wish someone had brought up Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture before me. What an oversight, everyone, especially Brad. Just to add to the options-for-all that show up in the comments: Dear Esther, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Beyond Eyes and The Beginner’s Guide. Also, +1 for all those mentioned in the piece, Gone Home, The Stanley Parable and Firewatch.

    Thank you, RebekahLang and Hundstrasse, for the recommendations.

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  5. I hope that you’re able to enjoy gaming this week! Absolutely the “walking simulator” label is meant to be negative. I still haven’t played Virginia and I definitely need to soon. Too often I play games when I’m too tired to enjoy the slower pace of both the gameplay and the narrative reveal of the genre. When the genre is done right the experience is jaw dropping. Unfortunately, this I’ve another work weekend ahead of me but it should be the last. I cannot wait to have a long gaming session sometime soon! Maybe I’ll return to gaming next week with Little Nightmares, it seems like a intriguing platformer.

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    • That’s always a weird spot to be in, as far as being in the right mood/state of mind to play certain games.

      I hope work finally eases up on you this week! You deserve that long gaming session!

      I can’t wait to play Little Nightmares, either!

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  6. I’ve never been a fan of the “walking simulator” term either. I’ll admit I’ve had my share of issues with some of these games when I played them, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to insult an entire genre like some unfortunately do. I’ve only played Gone Home, Firewatch and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture but I haven’t found one that’s really wowed me. I still have Soma and Outlast to play in my backlog and hopefully I find them better experiences.

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    • I have, too, for sure. I wasn’t a huge fan of Firewatch (the art style was beautiful, but the game was janky), but I’ve definitely played plenty games from the genre that I loved. The list I had in this piece was in no way complete. I still need to play Rapture, actually. And, for that matter, I haven’t played SOMA or Outlast yet, either. Well, that’s not entirely true. I played part of Outlast, but got stuck in the basement trying to turn on the power or something. Apparently I don’t know how to flip switches without making more noise than an airplane landing.

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