It’s common knowledge that our children’s fairy tales descended from older and significantly darker stories. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty had already been Disney-ified once before Uncle Walt ever attempted them.
The Path is an indie game from Tale of Tales. (Not to be confused with Telltale Games.) It goes back to the original stories of Little Red Riding Hood and turns them into a series of disturbing interactive adventures. It’s survival horror, but without the “survival” part. (Maybe.)
When I say “survival horror”, note that I’m talking more about Silent Hill and less about Resident Evil. In fact, The Path is about as far from the narrative of Resident Evil as you can hope to get. You might have trouble understanding The Path because it’s open and ambiguous, while you might have trouble understanding Resident Evil because it was written by drunken chimpanzees. The Path is subtle, unnerving, playful, and full of imagery. This is not a game that tries to scare us with tentacle zombies popping out of closets. This is a game that tries to scare us by showing us the parts of life that usually go unregarded. A lot of games tackle the question of “can games be art?” The Path seems to be asking, “can art be a game?”
In the game, you will guide six girls along the path to grandma’s house. The youngest is the six-year-old Robin. The oldest is the seventeen-year-old Carmen. The game instructs you to “stay on the path”. You can do this, and arrive at grandmothers without incident. Or, you can actually play the game. Leaving the path will lead the girls to their adventure, but also to their undoing.
The events you see will be “open to interpretation”. You can view it as a painful journey of children brushing up against the adult world. Or you can take a literal approach and see it as a game where you steer six girls into situations where they are possibly molested, murdered, menaced, or raped. There’s no blood, no nudity, but both violence and sex are alluded to, so don’t go buying this for your kids just because it has Lil’ Red Riding Hood.
When I was a kid, I found the adult world terrifying. Men were immense hairy beasts. Women were less physically daunting, but their forms had some sort of inexplicable power over my mind. Adults seemed grim and joyless, and their stories were blood-soaked tragedies. (This was particularly true in the 70’s, when movies with happy endings were seen as things for Plastic People. You know what I’m saying, man?) Even their comedy was mean and hurtful. (I remember recoiling at the blood in Holy Grail. Oh! That poor historian! Is he going to be okay?
) Cigarettes, alcohol, cars, heart attacks, jobs. Everything in their lives seemed strange and threatening. I hated the dullness and stupidity of school, but even more I dreaded the day when it would end because what came after seemed to be so much worse. The Path found those long-forgotten ideas laying around in the back of my mind, and woke them from their decades-long slumber. For a moment I was able to be an adult seeing myself as a kid picturing myself as a grown-up. The game reached into my childhood and played with old fears that never even had a name.
I live happily in the adult world now, and I’m a lot more content at thirty-seven than I was at aught-seven. But The Path reminded me of how scary and mysterious this adult world looked to my seven year old mind. I found myself connecting with the girls, even as I led them to foolishness and ruin.
I hate to say too much about events that unfold in the game, because to relate them is to interpret them, and I don’t want to impose too many of my impressions onto your experience. I went into the game with very little idea of what I would find, and so I found a lot of myself in it. If I’d read an overview I might have gone in expecting more and getting less.
The controls are interesting in their near-absence. (I’m using a gamepad, but it also supports the mouse & keyboard duo of old.) You move your character. You look around. Press a button to run. There’s a button to see what items you’ve collected, but it’s not really an inventory. You don’t get things back out. It’s more like a scrapbook of strange crap that you’ve found. And that’s it for the controls. To “interact” – to do something besides walk around – you need to stop giving input
. You steer the girl to some remote place, far off the path. Then you simply let her go and see what she chooses to do.
If you’re like me and you’ve been lamenting about how games have been stuck in a rut of boilerplate storytelling and carbon-copy gameplay, then you owe it to yourself to check out The Path. I don’t give the game my full endorsement as a game, but I give it full marks for having a bold vision and running with it. It’s innovative, unique, and it’s only ten bucks.