“The Path” and avant-garde gaming

I absolutely love it when something about a piece in any medium is different, pushes this boundary and that and, above all, makes me think a little to understand what I’m seeing and why I’m feeling it the way I am. Maybe it’s because I just watched Walt Disney and Salvador Dali’s “Destino” and Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” but I find myself both excited about surrealism and the avant-garde in gaming “” and frustrated at the lack of examples of it. This scarcity, though unfortunate, does make games that do attempts to do something innovative with gaming all the more important.

Such is the case with 2009’s “The Path” from developer by Tale of Tales, who describe the work as a “short horror game.” The game takes its inspiration from the story of Little Red Riding Hood and twists it into a fascinatingly surreal study of several distinct characters along their journey to grandma’s house. In it, players assume the role of one of six girls ranging from ages nine to 19 and varying greatly in personality and style. From there, players appear on a path leading to a shrouded wood and are prompted to go to grandma’s house “” and to stay on the path.

But nobody stays on “The Path,” although players can if they want. That’s the beauty of this game as an art piece: whatever prompts the player received at the journey’s outset, they are completely free to disregard everything and go where they please. Players can walk and sprint a little and stop near objects to examine them, but there are no other inputs. Without combat and a slew of other things that typically make games games, players instead wander the forest, happening upon landmarks and sights specific to their character.

The experience is surreal. Players will catch passing glimpses of a mysterious little girl in white with whom they can interact, the environment; most importantly, in the shrouded wood lurks the (big bad) Wolf, which is represented not as a literal wolf, but as a malady or trauma specific to each girl. Once players find their wolf, they are whisked off to Grandma’s house for a mind-boggling walk through a horrific surreal dream.

After said dream, the player begins again with a different girl “” although any girls that players have taken to the house will be ominously absent. And that, in a nutshell, is “The Path.” It’s not the best looking, best controlling and most action packed game ever made because it doesn’t need to be. Critics have had issues deciding if this is even really a video game or something else; however, just as Michael Bay-esque big-breasted explosion romps and films that depict a flock of hats flying about are both considered movies, so too is this a game. Color me excited for more like “The Path.”

Also, it’s $10, so there’s that.

Score: 9/10