Oct 182012

While I was originally going to go ahead with Prince of Persia as planned, I found my heart wasn’t in it sufficiently to do justice to such a great game. For lack of a better term, I’m stuck on The Path, developing my ideas about what the game says to me. In particular, these thoughts concern my two favorite characters in the game, starting with young Robin.

At nine years of age, Robin is our closest approximation of the “Little Red Riding Hood” image, even going as far as the signature hood. As her age and place in the world would suggest, she is in the curious, questioning stage of youth. She holds the value of pure discovery above all else, and takes no thought to anything beyond surface observations. What thoughts she does have about the objects she sees are representations of bare fact: “A young dead bird. Not me.” or “Is this the balloon I lost on my birthday?” Concepts of good and bad have not yet entered into her mind, so her only goal is to find and do as much as she can. That is, until she meets her wolf…

Unlike the others’, Robin’s wolf is quite unambiguous as far as nomenclature is concerned. A rather cartoonish representation of a werewolf, this figure walks calmly around the graveyard, completely ignoring Robin’s presence, until she decides she wants a ride. One might stop and say she was simply killed by the wolf and this is how her story ends, but keeping in mind the life metaphor I previously mentioned, this is a little shallow for this game. Robin’s character fault was her inability to judge, or to decide what can and cannot be discovered. The wolf is a stand-in for any kind of experience that shows the young, unassuming mind that there is more out there than flowers, birds, and sunshine. At any point in someone’s life they cease to trust anything and everything, and be alert that death is a real danger. We see similar feelings at play with Rose, the next youngest.

Rose, my personal favorite of the six, is eleven years old. In contrast to Robin, she has more knowledge of the world around her, but views it in an interesting way. It is probably likely that the designers had an awareness of the phrase “Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses” when designing her. Everything she sees is a wonderful creation of nature, or somehow representative of the beauty of life. Rose’s thoughts range from odd musings (“If this balloon did not have a string, it would simply float away”), to borderline tear-jerking cuteness (after finding a teddy bear “People love animals so much they make ones just to cuddle”), to adorably naive misunderstandings (after finding a heroin needle “Someone is sick. Where are they now? Perhaps they need their medicine”). If I were to describe her demeanor in one word, it would have to be “angelic,” which is why it’s interesting to see her wolf taking on a semi-supernatural quality.

In her encounter, Rose comes upon a beautiful lake in the woods eclipsed by a strangely localized storm cloud. Despite warnings issued by thunder, Rose floats into the middle of the lake in a boat without oars. In an immensely surreal scene, she is lifted from her boat by the strange, floating figure of a man shrouded in clouds. It is heavily implied later on in the scene that she fell from the boat and collapsed under the water. The storm, personified as male, most likely represents the caprice and randomness inherent in the natural order. Rose, about as pure as it is possible to imagine, delights in the beauty of nature: clouds, flowers, trees, wildlife. However, she remains naive about the darker side of nature, which as she learns can be very dangerous.

I think we can learn a lot about different stages of life by comparing these two. Robin, the younger, has yet to develop any real ideas about the world beyond naming things. Rose does possess ideas about the world, particularly about the beauty of nature, but they remain simple and unrefined. I often view Rose as what Robin may have become had she not run into her wolf, but what I glean from the creators of the game is that each character within it is meant to represent a different stage in development, particularly of women. Not being one myself, I’m likely missing something, but so it goes.

Doubtless, I could do another two or three posts about The Path, but I think it’s time we moved on. After all, anybody willing to shell out the $10 shouldn’t have the game entirely ruined for them, and I feel like I’d be doing the creators an injustice by preventing even one person from wanting to. Hopefully from this post you’re at least slightly more inclined to do so. 😀

Oct 082012

Today we make yet another foray into the indie scene, with a game very like Dear EstherThe Path is an experimental 3D horror-adventure game, similar to old Esther in its lack of traditional gameplay and focus on a narrative. In perhaps an imitation of the literary concept of intertextuality, The Path draws on an older story to provide its framework, the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Gameplay centers around six girls, all of varying ages and personalities. Each in turn is placed on a sunlit brick road flanked by dark woods, and told in very clear terms to “Go to Grandmother’s House, And Stay on the Path.” In a very indie sort of maneuver, following the instructions as they are results in a failure. As it turns out, the game is in disobeying our orders, and venturing into the forest.

The game characters, in order of age.

Once we depart from the path is when we begin to truly meet the characters at the other end of the mouse and keyboard. We get a sense of their personalities, their worldviews, how they deal with the realities of life. These revelations come in the form of thoughts the characters develop in response to the objects strewn throughout the forest, objects that could be anything from a broken television set to a spider web. Objects and the thoughts associated with them are stored in our “basket” as memories.

Scarlet provides some armchair insight.

However, to simply say this would not do justice to the masterful subtlety and atmosphere the game employs. The forest itself has a haunting presence about it. Fog pervades and obscures the landmarks of the forest, and often the screen itself will fill with mysterious imprints and symbols with little apparent rhyme or reason, not to mention the sound. An eerie piano score along with intermittent sounds of heart beats, animal growls, and other mysterious noises really make the experience. Besides the novelty of the experiment itself, sound design is by far the most commendable part of the game.

Not exactly an idyllic walk in the woods.

But, it wouldn’t be Little Red Riding Hood without a wolf. The encounter labeled as the “wolf” is different with each character, and changes according to each one’s individual personality. While most are actually dangerous circumstances, one should be cautious before taking anything in this game at face value. Heavy symbolism is salient enough in this game as is, but with the wolves it reaches a peak. In case anyone wants to explore this game on their own (something I highly recommend), I won’t go into further detail, except to say that the primary allegory the game drives home is simply this: life.

The setting for one of the wolf encounters.

Our characters are in different stages of development, and each has unique challenges to growing up. Perhaps the titular path represents living life “on the straight and narrow” without taking any risks. Maybe the wolves are meant to represent character faults obstructing the path to maturity, significant events that will shape the rest of the characters’ lives, or even the end of their lives. Whatever interpretation you ultimately find the most persuasive, suffice it to say that The Path is an extremely engaging, beautiful work of art that deserves immense respect and consideration now and in perpetuity.

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