Towards a Virtual Sense of Place: Exploring 'Walking Simulator' Video Games

Jack Lowe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Over the past five years, a trend in the design of narrative video games has developed whereby gameplay is based on the purposeful exploration of intricate virtual environments. Commonly termed ‘walking simulators’, these games avoid many traditional game mechanics – such as win/loss conditions and complex control systems – in favour of presenting worlds that evoke emotionally impactful stories when navigated. According to Carbó-Mascarell (2016), walking simulators represent a digitisation of the Romantic and psychogeographical traditions of exploration as aesthetic practice, in which walking is said to foster a sense of place by inducing a mindful connection with the (hi)stories and affective potentials of locations. Yet the subjective relationships between people and locations that are associated with the notion of place in geography have eluded conceptualisation in virtual settings. Using insights from the autoethnographic playing of 12 video games tagged as ‘walking simulators’, and semi-structured interviews with game developers involved in their production, this presentation discusses the extent to which practices of design and play can enable a sense of place to be experienced in walking simulator games. Invoking post-structural, non-representational and psychogeographical approaches to understanding place, this discussion charts how the interactive, embodied and aesthetic qualities of designing and playing walking simulators can create hybrid, contingent moments of meaning-making in virtual worlds. I use these observations to point towards the conception of a post-phenomenological sense of place in video game environments: an emergent intersubjectivity of human and technological agents through which affects and percepts assemble to generate meaning.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGeographies of Digital Games session at RGS-IBG 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 30 Aug 2017
EventRGS-IBG Annual International Conference - Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers), London, United Kingdom
Duration: 29 Aug 20171 Sept 2017


ConferenceRGS-IBG Annual International Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • video games
  • sense of place
  • post-phenomenology
  • exploration
  • walking
  • virtual
  • attunement

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