"Bringing ... Uncertain Geographies Under ... Control"? Exploring the Lovecraftian 'Walking Simulator'

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The last ten years have witnessed a spate of critically revered videogames that focus on exploration, object collection, and simple puzzle solving. Sometimes referred to as ‘walking simulators,’ examples of such games include Gone Home (2013), Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (2015), Firewatch (2016), and What Remains of Edith Finch (2017). Often made by independent studios, these games intentionally shun many of the usual mechanics involved in big-budget, mainstream videogames (combat, fast-paced action) in favour of something more cerebral. Indeed, if, as James Newman claims “space is key to videogames” (31), then ‘walking simulators’ and related games take this centrality to its logical extreme by making the exploration of virtual space the only significant ludic task that the player needs to achieve. Yet this apparent emphasis on the “mastery of space” (Newman, 115) makes it all the odder that an increasing number of ‘walking simulator’ games have used Lovecraftian elements in their narratives. Lovecraft’s fiction seems to fundamentally undermine the notion of ontological mastery or control, with the narrator of the writer’s perhaps best-known story famously exclaiming that “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far” [my italics] (Lovecraft,139). Similarly, Tanya Krzywinska, in one of the only academic pieces on Lovecraft and videogames notes of the static nature of the author’s protagonists: “the stories are marked by inaction and characters are frozen in terror; rather than act on their situation in an attempt to master it, they are more likely to be consumed by dread” (277). Despite this seeming contradiction, games including The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014), Conarium (2017), Call of Cthulhu (2018), The Sinking City (2019), and Moons of Madness (2019) employ recognisably Lovecraftian elements while still adhering to the basics of the ‘walking simulator’ subgenre. This chapter explores the inherent tensions created by the fusion of the ontological uncertainty of Lovecraft’s writing with the videogame form’s conventional “eradication of the unknown and … bringing of uncertain geographies under the control and influence of the player.” (Newman, 115). The chapter charts the historical precedents for the contemporary spate of Lovecraftian ‘walking simulators,’ examines the formal characteristics of recent key examples of the form, and analyses what the ludic and narrative benefits of such ideologically incongruous cross-medial appropriation might be.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLovecraft in the 21st Century
Subtitle of host publicationDead, But Still Dreaming
EditorsAntonio Alcala Gonzalez, Carl H. Sederholm
Place of PublicationNew York and London
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9780367713041
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021


  • Lovecraft
  • Videogames
  • geography
  • virtual space


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