I make no secret of the fact I no longer consider myself a hardcore gamer. I play to experience the worlds games have to offer. Developer Tale of Tales manage to cater to my touristic sensibilities. They design interactive experiences that provide portals to exploration and narrative rather than game play. I understand that this isn’t something that is to everyone’s tastes, unguided experiences that offer little in the way of action, but to me they prove a beautiful escape.
Tale of Tales most notable title to date is The Path, and while it would be misleading to call it a game, it is fascinating interactive world. The Path essentially retells the story of Little Red Riding Hood, but with six Ms. Hood to select from. Each of the young ladies sits in a room with a distinctly gothic aesthetic engaged in a pass time that communicates more of their personality than text ever could. From the youngest that plays with toys, to eldest who talks on the phone, you feel like you know each instantly. Their age and personality affects their desires and the stories they later experience. After choosing your Ms Hood you are set on a path (or The Path) and are tasked with simply following the straight trail to grandmothers house.
As a gamer I set off along the path, intent on achieving the objective set to me. It struck me how distinctively my character walked, how suggestive it was and how indicative it was of the personality she had displayed when I selected her. She, I, continued on, it was slow and after a few minutes it became tedious. The lush scenery and dream like effects around me soon wore thin as I made my way ever forward. After five minutes I arrived at the house and entered.
Inside grandmas’ the world switched to first person, but movement was limited. My options reduced to hammering the ‘W’ key to move onward toward grandma. I found her, in bed with a stuffed wolf watching over her. I sat on the bed and slept next to her. According to the result screen that followed this, I had failed.
It became clear my task was to explore the forest (and somewhat ominously according to the site, learn my lesson). Ignore the one rule the game had set me. With this revelation I jump back in and was gifted with an onscreen prompt teaching me how to run. I set off in to the forest in search of… anything, before heading to grandma’s house for my ‘reward’. The world felt ephemeral and every interaction magical, though not always in a good way. It was like a fairytale come to life, but with no white knight, just a young girl playing in a forest, for better or worse.
It is an acquired taste, and you have to be open to the idea of being a young girl alone in the forest, of the excitement and fear it could elicit. It is a world that is poetic and enticing to me and so I cannot help but recommend that you at least download the prologue.
After some time with The Path I visited the site again to see if they had any other offerings for my Mac, and I found The Graveyard. Where The Path offers you a storybook unfolding in a fairyland dreamscape and a tales of lost youth, The Graveyard offers something far grounded in reality and at the opposite end of life. It unfolds the last minutes (or not) of an old woman’s life on her visit to a cemetery. It is simple, but it its simplicity that makes it powerful.
The Graveyard offers nothing more to do than sit on a bench, but to reach the bench the old woman must walk painfully slowly past the tombstones of friends and family. As she travels its clear to see how the effort of the journey is effecting her, the pain she exhibits as she shift her weight to her cane and hobbles her way forward. She can deviate from her path, look at the headstones, but this achieves nothing but more pain for her. Upon arriving and the bench she slowly sits, and you hear a wistful song of her lost friends and family. Then you can hobble her out of the cemetery, unless you have bought the full game, in which case there is a chance she will die on the bench. Dropping the cane at her feet.
People talk about how Metal Gear Solid 4’s final ‘microwave’ scene managed to create a connection with the protagonist (Snake) through the pounding of the ‘X’ button as he crawled painfully forward. But by some point in the game Snake became capable of that feat. He was a hero, and despite all of his frailties you knew he could do it. There is none of this in The Graveyard, the woman is simply old, and struggling to make it to a bench. Nothing she does in your time with her shows her as anything but frail and weak. The empathy you feel for her pain is created through the struggle portrayed through her animation, and the length of time you have to spend with her in reaching her mundane goal.
I actually bought both games in full, costing me a total of less that £10. The Graveyard’s value over that of its demo is questionable, but I was happy to purchase it to support Tale of Tales and their continued work, in the hope that some of their more ambitious projects will come to fruition.
Most notably of the group’s upcoming offerings is Fatale, a tale inspired by the biblical tale of Salome. My new found love of the Tale of Tales team alone would be enough to make me eagerly anticipate the game, but my excitement reached fever pitch when it was announced that Takayoshi Sato is the games character designer. Sato was also involved with the character creation in the first two (and best) Silent Hill titles, creating unique and evocative characters that supplemented the games story and mood perfectly. To have these two artistic forces combined talents in a single project is fulfilling a fantasy I previously didn’t know I had.
As a game tourist and a horror game fan I look forward to seeing what interactive poetry Tale of Tales will offer in the future. If you have similar sensibilities, or just want to try something different, I would recommend you check out their offerings and keep and eye on their upcoming projects.