Have You Played… The Path?

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Crying wolf

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Weird artsy games were once hard to find. The Path came out in early 2009, just as the indie game renaissance was kicking off, and although we’d seen games Trying To Say Something before, I hadn’t seen anything as experimental and dark and vague as this.

You choose one of six girls (sisters? The same girl at different ages? Archetypes of girlhood?) and control them all in turn as they Red Riding Hood their way to Grandma’s house. You must stay on the path, but if you do what you’re told you get there safely and the game informs you that you’ve failed. You’re meant to find the wolf. But there isn’t a wolf.

I was never sure how I felt about it.

On the surface, it’s about leading each girl to a terrible death (and sometimes implied sexual abuse). That sounds tacky and exploitative and cheap, but The Path is none of those things. That reading of the game is clumsy and literal and clueless, but to say what it’s really about is to interpret, and to do that is to immediately diverge with what other players will conclude about what’s going on.

You’ll probably find anyone talking about it with these kinds of meandering, uncertain, artsy terms. If there’s one thing we’ll all agree on it’s that there’s very little “game” here in the traditional sense, and if it has a genre it’s probably interactive fiction. You interact with a lot of what you’ll find when you inevitably leave the path and start wandering the woods by letting go of the controls, and yes, it absolutely is a bit wanky and overdoes its subversive efforts at times. But it’s memorable and wonderfully uncomfortable in a constructive, thought-provoking way. It’s probably my favourite horror game.

I don’t think I like it. I want to play it again. It’s a weird one.

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