“The Path” Screenshots, Video and Review
NPR All Things Considered, July 15, 2009 · The classic story of Little Red Riding Hood is a warning to girls about the dangers of strangers — particularly male strangers. The video game The Path begins with a warning, too: When you’re going to grandmother’s house, it says, best stay on the path.
But that warning’s a ruse.
“Whenever you go to grandmother’s house without meeting the wolf, the game will tell you that you failed,” says game co-designer Michael Samyn. “You can roam around in the forest quite a bit without meeting the wolf.”
Facing the wolf, you see, is what The Path is about.
In each level of the game, you play as one of six sisters. They range in age from 9 to 19, and each of them must make the long trek through the forest. Each must meet her own personal wolf.
The moment you step off the path and into the forest, the terror of the game begins. Sunshine fades to murky darkness. You hear low moans but can’t tell if they’re from pleasure or pain.
And you know, all the time, that the wolf is out there waiting. In one of his incarnations, he’s a white light that sweeps you into the sky. It feels ecstatic and horrifying at the same time. When it’s over, you’re left lying in a heap.
The game is nothing so much as a rumination on the vulnerabilities of girlhood.
“In some ways, the girls are all one girl,” observes Auriea Harvey, The Path‘s other co-designer. “Or one girl at different stages of her life. In some ways, this [game] is about the various stages of life a girl has to go through in order to become a woman.”
This is seriously unusual terrain for a video game, says Brenda Brathwaite. She’s been playing video games for 20 years, and she says The Path is the most emotional game she’s discovered.
Brathwaite was particularly struck by a moment in the game where Ruby, the 15-year-old sister, stumbles into a deserted playground in the forest where a young man, sitting on a bench, offers her a cigarette. Then he sits back on the bench.
“He’s just sitting there,” says Brathwaite. Still: “The actual thought that ran through my head at the time was, ‘Oh my God, am I going to be raped?’ ”
Brathwaite says she herself was violently attacked when she was younger. Playing The Path resonated deeply with her life experience; it allowed her to think about being a victim of violence in terms that felt safe to her.
“I think we’ve succeeded in making a game that’s about the player,” says Samyn. “What’s frightening about it is the confrontation with your own interpretation of things, and probably realizing that they’re your own.”
Before playing The Path, Brathwaite had talked about her experience with just a few close friends, no more. She said playing the game somehow made it OK for her to speak publicly about it.
“The vulnerabilities of girls — it’s something that people don’t deal with much in this particular format,” says Harvey. She observes that most games for girls are about pink or ice skating or horses — things that are safe and unchallenging for them.
Harvey says ultimately she wants people to come away from The Path with a different idea of what a video game can be.
Harvey and Samyn’s next game is based on the play Salome, about the beheading of John the Baptist. And who knows what else will follow. Players everywhere: beware.