Fairy tales provide a lot of material to work with in modern media, and it’s amazing how many works can get a lot of mileage out of stories like Little Red Riding Hood. The ongoing animated series RWBY is one example. Another is the video game The Path (not to be confused with the Hulu series starring Aaron Paul).
Much like the original fairy tale, the premise of the game is simple. A mother sends her daughter out to Grandmother’s House with a basket of goodies, warning her to stay on the path. However, here we can play 6 different girls, all sisters. And the game itself only works if you leave the path altogether. Exploring the woods on either side reveals hidden items, collectibles, a Girl in White running around, and (for each girl) a mysterious stranger who acts as their “Wolf.”
Every character is fundamentally a Little Red Riding Hood archetype: a cute, somewhat innocent girl having to walk a dangerous road. But what makes these girls so intriguing are the little hints and clues about their personalities (and various traumas) that you can uncover when they find clues in the forest or when they meet their respective Wolves. If all you do is follow the path and go straight to Grandmother’s House, you’ve learned nothing. You’ll never distinguish the sisters from one another, which is what makes this game so damn intriguing.
And what are these girls seeking by straying from the path? Some gamers say it’s all one big metaphor for puberty, for crossing the threshold from innocent childhood to adolescent sexuality and identity-seeking. Others say that the wolves represent rape culture, or that the girls are all tragic deaths played out in different scenarios to highlight our adult fears about young women. I think that each encounter with the Wolf is how the girls stake out their identity in the first place. It’s traumatic and awkward, but so is growing up.
The style can be very confusing at first glance. I played this on PC, and so sometimes I couldn’t immediately figure out how to access certain objects, or how to gain a sense of direction between the path and the woods. The graphics are well done, but they also make it easy to lose your way. Again, maybe that’s the point the developers had in mind, but if you’re expecting anything like a tutorial or hints, you won’t get them right away. As art games go, it’s a little more involved than something like Dear Esther or Gone Home, but not quite as linear as, say, Life is Strange.
I don’t think The Path is something everyone will enjoy. It’s dark and mostly involves walking, with little to no dialogue and very cryptic ideas. If you treat it as more of an art installation, though, it’s fascinating. The haunting music and twisted imagery of girls meeting strange people in a terrible forest will stay with you for a long time.
Bibliography: The Path (video game). Developed by Tale of Tales. Published by Tale of Tales, TransGaming, TopWare, 1C Company, and Zoo Corporation. Microsoft Windows; Mac OS X. Original release date: March 18, 2009.