Why are Walking Sims a Joke?


Okay, so first up, I agree with him that FPE, First Person Explorer, is a more appropriate term for the genre than Walking Simulator. His joke about how FPS might get misnamed in some alternate timeline reminds me of how I joked with a friend some time back that Bioshock is a “head-clicking simulator,” but his example is ultimately unconvincing, because there’s nothing to make fun of with FPS games, they’re not pretenders, they simply are.

(Spoiler: he’s a little shit for saying walking sims are games, immediately after saying some have enough platforming or puzzle aspects that there’s no doubt about them being games, which implicitly acknowledges that he knows damn well what a game is and isn’t)

One thing that irks me is all the things he lists off as advantages of the walking sim genre, they focus on story, they have this sense of mystery, they have nice looking environments, they can get in touch with your emotions on a sympathetic level, immerse you (HAH), or engage your patience. (???) None of these things are things a game can even deliver. These aren’t things games can communicate through their medium, they’re things restricted to other mediums than games. Now to someone not familiar with my rhetoric, this probably sounds rather closeminded, so allow me to make an analogy.

Imagine that through a quirk of technology, we developed movies before music, and music came afterwards as a component of movies first. In this analogy, movies are to represent games, music to represent the simulation of virtual space. Music is something totally distinct from the moving image that can be coupled and made a part of moving images. Imagine that then people go on to distribute reels of film containing a static picture, and an audio track, and use these reels of film to play what is essentially music by itself, much like how in modern day you get videos on youtube that are literally just music. Occasionally the picture may be slightly animated, like a gif, so you might get combinations of gif-like things and sound that resemble movies, but don’t quite fit.

In our current language, we have no simple word for simulations of virtual space, to serve as an equivalent to the word “film” here. The situation we have with walking simulators is much like these music listeners insisting that the things they enjoy are movies, and movie watchers scoffing at how you can call something a movie that doesn’t even move, perhaps even mock the music listeners by calling these music reels, “stills”. The music listeners might opine about how these “movies” bring out some of the greatest things movies can offer, like symphonies, note composition, tone and timbre, or other fine qualities of music, and they’re completely right that the works they appreciate have these qualities, but they fail to recognize that those qualities aren’t of the movie medium, they’re of a secondary medium that was introduced to movies that has its entirely own properties.

The grand vistas, subtle storytelling, sympathetic emotional connection, and so on of walking simulators aren’t a quality that is a product of the game medium. These qualities don’t exist in chess, poker, hopscotch, cricket, or dice rolling. They’re something that was added in in the transition to digital simulated spaces. These things aren’t developing the medium of games, they’re qualities found in say, the live action production of Sleep No More.

Walking simulators deserve to be made fun of because their advocates are pretenders. They’re intellectually dishonest. They know they’re wrong, but want to push that tired meme of, “pushing games forward as a story-telling medium”, which is like ranting about how you want to “push music forwards as a visual-communication medium.”

What’s Dear Esther then? It’s an environmental designer’s portfolio and a rather nice looking one. I can appreciate it, and other walking simulators as just that. I took a lot of screenshots of it after all.


Walking simulators will earn the name FPE when they stop being a joke, which is what videos like this make them out to be. It keeps being funny as long as they keep trying to lie to themselves and others that these are games. Games are defined by what you do. If these are games, they are games about walking.

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