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While re-playing Myst for the first time in ages brought back many childhood memories of endless frustration, I was struck by how clearly the development in the past few years of many indie games dubbed “walking simulators” resonate back to its influence, and found myself wondering about the phenomenology and political dimensions of this developing undercurrent in “game” development, especially in light of Manovich’s essay. Two works in particular, “Dear Esther” and “Proteus,” seem to me to critically engage with two of Manovich’s most insightful points, that many games seem focused on the distinctly “American mythology in which the individual discovers his identity and builds character by moving through space,” and the important connection he draws between the development of navigable 3D environments and the military-industrial complex, which now seem inextricably linked in the field of mainstream video game development.

“Dear Esther” is a game in which one does nothing but walk across a seemingly empty island and occasionally wait for the extremely fragmented voice-over narration of the character one plays. The story does not become any more or less clear as one progresses, and the psychological stability of the character, if it can be said to develop at all, deteriorates as one progresses towards a cryptic and climactic ending along a single, linear path. Numerous “walk-throughs” and guides for the game have been written which say nothing more than “press w.” Proteus, similarly, is a game where one simply wanders through a pixelated natural landscape, designed to be nothing more than an ambient experience with no goals or aims, a pure journey through navigable space.

Dear Esther’s release was timely, as critical reaction to the popular gaming exposition E3 that same year, 2012, was particularly, and somewhat unusually, taken aback by the extreme violence of many of the games presented, and caused many to question the direction interactive media was headed in. Within a market oversaturated with first person shooters and Call of Duty clones, it is relieving to see that there are avenues in which developers are exploring other means of dealing with the possibilities of navigable space that may still reach a broad audience.