How to play The Path

perjensendanishanimeconvention-rubyPlaying The Path is a very moving and enjoyable experience to many. But others just get bored and cannot detect any point or find any joy in it. We tend to dismiss this issue by accepting that The Path is not for everyone. But maybe that’s too simple.

Enjoying The Path is not difficult. You don’t need to have special skills for it, or have read any heavy literature or seen any particular artworks. From observing play behaviour and listening to reports of experiences, we have learned that the difference between enjoying The Path and not is often simply a difference in attitude.

For some people this attitude comes naturally. But others may need to do an extra effort, or perhaps simply learn about it. It is for them that I’m writing this post. Because I have a feeling that many might be looking for an answer in the distance while it’s actually right in front of them.

“Once I figured out that the demo is solely attempting to establish an atmosphere, I enjoyed it quite a bit.”
– from a comment referring to “The Path – Prologue” from WK on TigSource

Tip #1: It’s about the girls
We realize that in many videogames, your avatar is mostly a vehicle that allows you to navigate through a virtual world. In The Path, however, the behaviour and personality of the girls is crucial. If you witness them carefully and try to imagine what they are thinking -and perhaps respond to that by caring for them- the game will become a lot more meaningful.

“Each girl’s journey through the forest is not so much a series of plot points but a non-sequential, undirected character study of the girl herself, leading up to a confrontation between that psyche and the adult world.”
– from a review by Rebecca Wigandt on Gamer’s Intuition

Tip #2: It’s about playing together
The avatars in The Path have a certain degree of autonomy. And sometimes they do things that you did not expect or do not want. This is on purpose. The idea is that you try to develop a relationship with the avatar and play the game together. You do your part, she does hers.

“Do not even try to fight against the pace, just surrender.”
– from a blog post by Tetelo on Femina Ludens

Tip #3: Everything is meaningful
While some things might appear absurd or the result of bad design at first sight, in most cases they are the fruit of careful consideration. The Path becomes much more enjoyable if you take everything that you see seriously and interpret it as part of the story. This is a very playful activity (feel free to even include technical errors in this “game”: it’s fun!).

“The effort put into The Path is equal to the enjoyment received. Look at the game like a difficult piece of literature that needs to be sampled over and over again.”
– from a review by Aaron Thayer on The Silicon Sasquatch

Tip #4: Play pretend
The Path is a fiction. It is not real. The girls are composed of polygons and pixels and algorithms, the leaves of the trees are abstract ornaments, day turns into night depending on place, etc. But you need to forget about all that and pretend that everything is real. The Path asks you to suspend your disbelief but it doesn’t force you to. If you can willingly do this, you will enjoy the game much more.

“The joy of it comes not from the way in which the journey ends but rather in the full immersion that one experiences on the way.”
– from a blog post by Joshua on Mouseandcat

Tip #5: Play, don’t game
Elements in The Path that appear to be traditional (rules, goals, collecting, grading, inventory, etc) form part of the narrative that we invite you to ponder. They are not the point of the game. Traditional gaming behaviour (like trying to completely explore the forest or collect all the flowers or beat the game in a minimum amount of time) is not rewarded. For joy, ignore those urges and approach things with wonder instead. Delight in what you receive and don’t go “hunting”.

“I found the game more enjoyable when approaching it more as an interactive narrative than a traditional “game”.”
– from a review by Dan Liebman on Game Zone

Tip #6: It’s pretty
If all else fails, just enjoy the sights and sounds that The Path brings. If music can be simply beautiful and a painting can be enjoyed purely for its aesthetics, why not a game? Just look, listen and enjoy. Don’t even try to find meaning. Indulge yourself. The gameplay will not get in your way in this game.

The whole environment is beautiful, and I love how the look and feel changes depending on whether you’re on the path, in the woods, or near a wolf. The game IS artwork.
– from a review by Allison Boyer on Binge Gamer

I may have missed some possible tips. Maybe I’ll create a second post like this in the future, with more tips. If you have enjoyed The Path, please comment about how you did it, what attitude you assumed versus the game, what expectations you brought, etc.

Awesome Ruby cosplay photo, sent to us by Per Janssen, as seen at an anime convention.

34 thoughts on “How to play The Path”

  1. Thank you. I will keep this in mind as I continue to explore The Path.

    Being an Explorer type, I naturally approach the game with curiosity and am not bothered by the lack of “action” or whatever it is that people complain about this game. But I’m not sure that I would have known how to get the most out of it without reading this player guide. Thanks. :)

  2. it’s not a game, it’s art. and the most serious kind of art. so no jokes(maybe just the useless score) or funny moments. the most “right for me” way to enjoy the path was using the same mood as i was in a museum of contemporary art or to an installation of contemporary art. But more interactive and immersive. If you enjoy the place walk around for some minutes, if you are bored run everywhere trying to put this at end or stop a while for a coffee, if you are scared run away. do what you feel without thinking about items, success or failure.
    try at night with headphones and let it live.

  3. Great tips! Perhaps spelling it out like this will help traditional gamers to broaden their horizons. 😉

  4. Oh, this is beautiful!
    I’ve been playing it and have found some interesting glitches and easter eggs that have added greatly to my enjoyment of the game. (especially the Possessed Cart, that one is my favorite)

  5. When I first dived into The Path, I did just that. I had been to the site, explored the tidbits and hints about each girl and so I already had my spirit of exploration and curiosity awakened.

    Bottom line; Don’t start playing expecting to play a video game!

    The Path breaks most of the ‘unwritten laws’ of gaming;
    -You don’t NEED to collect every item.
    -Getting where your going isn’t everything.
    -Death is not the end.
    -The ‘bad guys’ can be avoided, but you’ll be missing out.

    I could go on and on, but don’t think this is a negative review. What makes The Path so mold-breaking is that it challenges these rules, casts them down and says “No, there can be more to this than gold rings and princesses in castles!” I recommend The Path to anyone who enjoys games but who is open minded enough to see it as more than just that.

  6. So, I’m running around this forest, guiding the girls to their doom, which the program considers as a “success”. The “technical” advise in this blog entry, how to play The Path, are something that could be said about so many other games, or forms of art. What I’m still lacking in understanding is, what am I doing here, and why am I doing this? “See what it tells you about yourself” is another advise that you can take for everything. For The Path, if there’s no meaningful nor positive outcome, should we enjoy it? Because we paid for it? Because wrong things can be displayed beautiful? Nothing wrong with a little rape and murder, after all, art has no limits nor has a definition, and what ever one gets out of it, depends on the personal case. What I learned from The Path is, not to expect answers from creators. Or different: If I through a bucket of paint to a wall and call it art, some people will pay to see and consider the message, or what it tells them about whatever possible. Or even different: Don’t think about it, if you want to enjoy.

  7. Your comment would have been more valuable if it wasn’t posted anonymously, Guest. Sorry that the tips weren’t helpful. Maybe it is true what they say. That The Path is not for everyone. We can only hope that you are not representative of the people for whom The Path is not.

  8. I don’t know for whom I am representative, I’m just positing my opinion. It actually would require a longer analysis, but bringing all my thoughts to paper would require more time than I have at the moment; further, I don’t think it’s worth it. I am searching for critical reviews at the web, albeit most are just praises, I found some very substancial. Trying to be different itself is neither good nor bad in general, it depends on, what it gives you, I’d agree. I’m not complaining that not everything gets explained, nor do I mind exploration games. I read some analysis concerning game dynamics and also fairy tales and it’s purpose, and I agree your game missed that point. I consider the “learn your lesson” line being quite cynical, since the player is forced to do what he can see will lead to no good and therefor wouldn’t want to. Not enough, the bad happens apparently for the pure sake of itself. Afterwards you are left with no explanation, no additional knowledge, thinking: “I had seen it coming”, but had no different choice. For the case of the folk tale of little red, it’s the fact that she is not understanding the meaning of the rule, when she tries to do something good (for granny) and ignores them. In case you wanted to create something similar, you should have drawn this aspect into consideration. In its actual form the game is just a hunt for the bad things that can happen, cause you know, you just don’t know how. It’s like searching for news and pictures or clips of misfortunes at the web.

    I didn’t posted intentionally “anonymous”, I just had a look at the forms and boards, and didn’t wanted to register. Seems though not necessary at the blog.

  9. The Path is not just another version of Little Red Ridinghood. It is also a story about the fairy tale. And it questions the validity of its moral and the simplicity of its message. Especially considering our contemporary existence.

    But the existence that is being discussed may be completely alien to you. And as such you encounter nothing but absurdity and negativity. Other players, however, discover in The Path a metaphor for life as they see it, or for events that they have experienced.

    The Path is very much about not being in control, about false choices, about the horror that comes with freedom. And to a large extent, it is about how, most of the time, there is no pay-off, no reward, no clarity, no resolution. No winners, no losers.

    This is not a negative message in our eyes. Because the story of the hero is a lie. In reality, we are all losers. We are all monsters. In The Path we try to figure out how to accept that and find a way to enjoy life nonetheless.

  10. >In The Path we try to figure out how to accept that and find a way to enjoy life nonetheless.

    Hmm – it is supposed to leave you with this feeling?

    >Because the story of the hero is a lie.

    Arguable, but would depend on what you consider a “hero”. (not that Little Red originally was a hero-centered tale)

    >In reality, we are all losers. We are all monsters.

    Thanks. That’s a creators statement that helps me understanding a lot more about how to take it. There would be much more to say, but I’ll leave it.

    Thanks for the quick replies anyway.

  11. Whoops. Don’t take it seriously. I said so because I heard the avatar always die if they exploring the area.

    I don’t play the game yet. But of course I will try.

  12. Here’s my problem…I don’t know the mechanical requirements to Make the girls…uh…go any where. Am I supposed to be able to use a mouse. Did I miss something?

  13. Daisy, The Path comes with a manual that explains all this. And you can find a summary of all controls in the Menu (press the ESC key).

    In the first scene you can click on a girl to select her as an avatar. After that, in the forest, you can move her around by holding down the mouse button. Or the up key. Or pressing the joystick forward.

  14. I’ve recently finished the game and found it helpful to take it slowly. I tried rushing through a few of the middle girls and found that it lost some of its feeling. Just try to enjoy the atmosphere and learn more about the character as she encounters things. Note the feelings you have in response to the girl’s thoughts. Think metaphorically. Pay attention to the music (I noticed that it changed during certain moments while moving through the forest). Do whatever seems right. The body language adds to the realism of the game, so take a moment to note that as well.

  15. Somebody on the Steam forums expressed not liking the Prologue because it was just a character running around in a 3D space. But that’s missing the trees for the forest! The content of The Path is in its surface, in its presentation. It’s not a “game with nothing to do”. It’s a painting in which you can run around. Observation of the characters, of the environment, is where the true joy of The Path lies. And this observation is enhanced by interactivity, allowing you to observe through more than one sense.

  16. Heya, Michael. It’s good to see you again. I have played the game now. :)

    You know, you’re quite famous too in my country, in Indonesia. They say your game is amazing because it’s breaking free the traditional way of gaming; What the game gives as objective is leading the character to failure, not to success. (Well, that’s what they say. And so others in another places :P).

    However in my opinion, that’s the weakness of the game. For those who don’t have much curiosity, they will give up easily. Too bad.

  17. After all, art and literature is dulce et utile (fun and useful). As long as it’s fun and useful, it’s an art.

    Anyway, I think the person who like this game must know about this before playing the game since my younger sister (age 15) saw me playing the game and she said that the game has nothing special and it’s looks awful because the character is alone in the middle of shredded forest.

    Well, that’s what she said to me. And that’s true for some people who don’t know about the game yet.

  18. Hmm.. So you don’t care if your game looks awful to those who don’t realize yet? (I think you don’t since you already have a lot of fans.) O.o

    Even my sister said so, she still asked some questions about the game which mean she was interested. But when I said why just looking at me that playing the game and not trying to play, she said she just interested to see. XD

    Oh yeah, I thought at first that the game will looks like playing Silent Hill series that the characters could move on their own when the player don’t take control like The Sims series. They do of course, but still lack of free will and responses to the environment, I think. They just act when there is an object.

    In the end, the game looks great for me. Even I feel it’s weird too if I don’t want to understand the character, ambiguity is the key of this game and the basic of art. People can interpret the game in many ways, not like the other games which are quite simple and easy to understand without any ambiguity happens. (That’s my words for the review :D)

    Keep up the good work! I’m sorry if what I said before is not right for you. Besides, it’s really hard to make a game. I’m really appreciate what you have done.

  19. We really did our best with The Path to make a game that would appeal to a wide variety of people. But we’re well aware that that group far from includes everyone. And that’s ok. We make games for a certain number of people that not a lot of other games appeal too. That’s good enough for us.

    And we had to “tame” Drama Princess quite a bit to prevent our characters from behaving “like The Sims”. That would not have been appropriate.

    Thank you for realizing that a game is hard to make. More people should be aware of this. Every game is a small miracle. We should be more respectful of the effort it takes to make even the most banal game.

  20. Michael, I have a question for you. Is the ‘Girl in White’ in The Path is the same person with the ‘Girl in White’ in 8? It’s make sense that she uses gesture instead of voice to call the girl in ‘The Path if she is the same character in 8. 😕

  21. I thought this post on the Steam forums expresses some aspects of The Path quite well.

    First it is a piece on growing-up which references several sources, the most apparent being the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. It shares many qualities with a painting or a poem in that we are introduced to a setting, some characters, their experiences and thoughts. Although narrative exists it is abstract enough that we are able to create our own opinions and stories on the piece. I see it as a dialogue with other works and as a dialogue between the ‘player’ and the piece. I wouldn’t hesitate to call this aspect of The Path art, but we all know what a subjective label that can be.

  22. One think i find very odd and i have to confess somewhat frustrating is that i cannot give grandmother’s house any meaning. I arrived to my own ideea as to what the path, the wolf and the ‘late’ arrival at the grandmother’s house signify but the interior itself is a bit to surreal even for me. The only girls i was able to actualy link the interior to were Robin, and partially Ruby (also in a very odd way Rose’s path made more sense for me than i expected). Anyway if you could point me in any direction as to what the interiors of Grandma’s house represent i’d be able to enjoy the game fully.

  23. I’m in awe of this art. A movable feast.I play it just to wander. I’ve been through the six twice and something new is always behind the next door. Delicious. Thank you. I’ve yet to discover the possessed cat. More mystery. More fun.

  24. I have played this game with a lot of interest prior to reading any posts. I immediately settled into just exploring. Almost without effort found all of the flowers, a lot of inventory but not full, no hurry, good music, confused that the character laying on the gound in the rain was not dead, but nevertheless blacked out when returning to the room. Never wanted to go to GrandMa’s house because it meant the end of the game and always failure. But in chapter six there seemed nothing else to do, though I was sure there must be things I missed. But I had done a lot and was ready to end the game and was interested in my end game statistics, and so went to GM’s house. Almost total failure. The one thing was I could not get my last girl to be killed by the lunberjack. He just moved away from her. But I had played many hours, thought it was money well spend, but still left confused why I never found the wolf, and why my score was so bad. I appreciate it is not about the score, but I have seen mention of a surprise ending which I would have enjoyed.

  25. Thank You. That was helpful. I posted this in a different forum and am interested in your opinion as the developer.

    This story pulls for archetypes on a basic level, which is its hook. It is Little Red Riding Hood taken up a notch. Important, I think, not to read too much into it. Just a place to go and hang out, let it trigger some emotions, enjoy the environment, and not get overly bogged down in trying to explain it. It is an interesting place, fun to explore, and much like when one person finds a book boring and the other finds it good, it is subjective in its interpretation.

  26. First thing I did when I started the game is walked straight off the path. After about 5 minutes of slow walking I found my first item. Another 15 minutes and I was wondering, “Am I even supposed to be off the path? If not why am I able to walk so dang far out here!” So I browsed around for a little bit trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. Apparently I’m supposed to do whatever I feel like doing :) It’s a sandbox game with almost no other characters except yourself.

  27. That’s a good description of how I play The Path, David. But other people play it differently. Some people really enjoy interpreting the hell out of it and creating a theory that makes sense. And that’s perfectly valid as well. The crucial thing being that The Path offers a mental environment more than a physical one. You can choose to relax in this environment and flow along or you can actively participate and fantasize.

  28. A good thing to do, Jon, is to simply stop and let go. And to observe the character, try to feel what she feels, imagine being in her place, imagine all of this is real. Or observe your own emotions towards her. The Path is not about achieving any given goals, or accomplishing certain tasks. It’s about exploring your emotions and thoughts. About wondering why people feel how they do, and about thinking about how we respond to situations we find ourselves in.

  29. This is a game that is about what you bring to it as much as what happens on the screen.

    Each girls trip ends with her encountering her Wolf. It is strongly implied that ‘something’ bad happens. When they wake up on the bridge it is now raining and there is a leadenness to their movements, BUT their clothing is not askew nor are they bleeding or bruised. They clearly had an experience that changed them, probably not a good experience, but you don’t really know what it was. The surreal scenes in Grandma’s house give clues to the girls psyche and their fate but no answers.

    The thing is, I’ve read a number of on-line comments around the web that grumble about the sexual violence and murder in The Path. One even called it a Rape-Sim. Because of this I hesitated to purchase the game for a long while. When I finally went ahead and got it I was surprised. There is nothing graphic or gratuitous in the cut scenes at the end of each journey. The Wolf scenes are all quite metaphorical, and the outcome is deliberately ambiguous. What happens when each girl encounters her Wolf can be viewed in many ways. What you think happens to each of them is more about your own psyche than anything else. Those that think they absolutely understand the girls fate are in my opinion being too Freudian and are showing their own Wolf.

    The fate of each of the girls is to a very great extent what you believe it to be.

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