Running, walking and Remember Me

I’ve started walking more in videogames because I was irritated by the way I felt compelled to run.

Obviously in some games, you have to run. I’m not going to stroll through a Super Mario Bros. level because I’d run out of time. No; strolling through Super Mario Bros. is the stuff of tedious art projects. I’m thinking of games that feature a world that ostensibly can be wandered around in, with cities or villages or whatnot. The Fable series, for instance. It’s all “Done that? Great, now go there and do this. Chop chop.”; I look at the on-screen pointer that tells me where I need to be and off I go, jamming the stick forward or holding down the sprint button or whichever other method the game designer has provided me to hurry things along a bit. Jumping, maybe.

It’s a rare game that really handles running gracefully1. Nobody gets knocked over if I run into them, I don’t fall down unconscious if I run into a wall, I don’t stagger to a halt if I run too close to the edge of a cliff and nobody gasps in horror as I leap off to my death. I lurch implausibly around at the behest of an over-sensitive control system, the game’s camera struggling as I unnaturally twist 180 degrees mid-step because I spotted something shiny in a corner.

Running is lunacy. If I need to be somewhere in real life, I allow enough time to walk or I use public transport. I certainly don’t jog. How many people do you see running, generally? Who really runs, even when they have somewhere to be urgently? It’s a brisk walk for most, or they take a car, bus or train. They might cycle. What I’m saying is, running is pretty much the option reserved for a zombie apocalypse when all other modes of transport have broken down along with all societal norms.

I wondered for a while if the fault was that of the games themselves, if the reason I was sprinting everywhere was because the game was padded out to give the illusion of value for money, with game designers and developers boasting play spaces that take up to 15 minutes to traverse2. You’re at point A? Great! Now go to point B for MORE GAMEPLAY. Off I’d dash, and maybe I’d find a couple of side-quests along the way if I could be bothered to interact with anyone. Why is it here, all this space between events, all this scenery, all these non-player characters burbling away to themselves and each other?

It was Remember Me that made me think differently. Remember Me is set in Paris, 2084 and in a wonderful nod to people as pretentious as me, allows you to play the whole game with French dialogue and English subtitles. It bugged me that these were French characters in France speaking English in American accents, and it’s also much easier to hide bad acting this way, as badly-acted French to me actually sounds more French than well-acted French.

The act of fiddling the language options meant that, suddenly, I’m really playing a game set in France. There’s French graffiti and signage, there are Parisian landmarks, the background chatter is in French. With the scene-breaking incongruity of language gone, the only thing that’s acting game-like now is me, sprinting everywhere for no reason and charging headlong into knee-high piles of rubble.

So, I started walking. I stopped just trying to get from A to B as quickly as I could to trigger another melee fight sequence or cutscene, and I noticed little details and spent more time exploring my surroundings. The world of Remember Me is beautifully-realised and finely-detailed, and I learnt more about the story the game was telling from that than anything it told me directly. Walking was slower, but I enjoyed the game more.

There’s a French word that’s appropriate here, Flâneur, referring to a person of leisure involved in the art of urban exploration, strolling through the modern city as a detached observer, taking the time to enjoy it, learn it, and exist within it. There’s not a lot to actually interact with in Remember Me, but that’s fine; that’s how I exist in cities anyway, wandering around and eyeballing everything but rarely spending money or speaking to anyone.

Most of the actual gameplay of Remember Me isn’t going to win any prizes; it’s a pretty simplistic and repetitive brawler at heart, though it has a few neat moments involving editing cutscenes to change their outcome. But, because I took the time to walk through the game and not run, I’ll remember it fondly for the world it was set in.

1. I love how running is handled in this Beyond Good & Evil 2 prototype footage. The way the character is grabbing corners and pushing her hands against walls to steady herself and pull herself into different directions without losing speed – this is how running within game worlds ought to be handled.

2. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is infamous for the slow pace of its game space traversal, with long (by game standards) stretches of empty water between islands and very little to do but sail determinedly on. I love it; nothing to do but sail and watch the sea disappear into the horizon. Such a peaceful game. Sadly an option exists in the Wii U re-release of the game to allow players to sail faster and with the wind always behind their sail. Why are people in such a hurry? There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.