“A Short Hike’s” Long Respite

It’s been close to 2 years since I posted on this blog. I began working as a professional game designer in that period and, until recently, had convinced myself that I didn’t need to write about games anymore because I had a job and this blog wasn’t useful to that goal anymore. Eight months in and I realized it would probably still be beneficial to my job and future career to continue writing, so I began working on a few drafts. Then COVID-19 struck.

I’m sure I’m not alone, especially among gamers, when I say that I played SO many video games. At first, it was great! I had so much extra time to dedicate to titles I’d been slowly trudging through for ages (RDR2, I’m looking at you) and to newer titles (helloooo, Animal Crossing!). I figured it would be a piece of cake picking up the blog again with all this extra material. And then, slowly at first, my motivation started to flag. The weight of the world and its sicknesses (literal and metaphoric, alike) was picking away at my will to explore, try, fail, and be curious. I told myself, “I’ll do it soon” until ‘soon’ turned into 12 months and 2.6 million deaths later. A sobering realization that has felt in the last couple weeks to be the final nail in my motivation’s coffin.

Cue Kellie Lu, a fellow game designer and UChicago Alum. She reached out to chat about my career path thus far and my experience as a game designer. We talked about all that of course: advice, anecdotes, contacts to reach out to, etc. But then the conversation shifted to discussing some of our favorite games (largely pro-social, indie titles) and what we want to accomplish as game designers. It was a fun and thought-provoking conversation and, even more than that, it was an inspiring conversation. I was excited for the first time in many, many months to dive back in to writing about games. And not just writing…thinking about the games I played: why I liked them; why I didn’t; and why I was sometimes left in awe, thinking about a game months later.

So here we are. Kellie recommended A Short Hike (designed and published by Adam Robinson-Yu) and, given her review and the number of months the game has been sitting in my “To Play” list, it seemed like a great place to start. And wow was it just what I needed. (**minimal spoilers ahead**)

You play as a bird named Claire, visiting her Aunt May in Hawks Peak Provincial Park where May is a ranger. Immediately upon arriving at the island, Claire says she needs to make a call and Aunt May directs her to the only place on the island with cell service—Hawks Peak—which is only “a short hike” away. So you set off. And set off I did! I was intrigued by the colorful, pixelated look that made the environment and characters feel more rustic and well-worn (but in a good way, like your favorite slippers or a good book). I started up the path and then got distracted by a character looking for a shovel. So I helped find his shovel. Then I set off again…and got distracted again by an intriguing looking path going the opposite direction. I told myself I get back on the main trail to Hawks Peak…but I didn’t. In fact, I got pleasantly distracted over and over again all while making steady, albeit slow, progress to the top. I’d wager it could take you 5 minutes to get to the top of the mountain if you stayed on the path. But where’s the fun in that?

After being stuck inside for a year trying to find purpose and entertainment for each day, it was nice to feel so encouraged to follow whims and curiosities. My journey to the top took about 2 hours because I had such a wonderful time interacting with each character, finding golden feathers, and exploring every nook and cranny I could find (even if it set me back in my progress). And when I finally got to the top, I had a real sense of accomplishment: I climbed the mountain MY way, in spite of the all detours and falls backwards.

Claire took her phone call (I won’t spoil it, but it was far more poignant and simple than I was expecting it to be, especially since I often forgot why I was climbing the peak in the first place) and was able to soar back to her Aunt May to have what has become my favorite conversation of any game. They didn’t discuss anything revolutionary or emotional, Claire just sat down and told her Aunt all that she (we) did that day. It was an extremely natural conversation, something people have everyday and don’t think twice about, but I felt so happy to hear these accomplishments listed out, especially when I sometimes chided myself for not sticking to the trail more closely. It made me want to explore more and find new things that I had missed, just so I could share with someone what I did.

Claire (right) and her Aunt May

After playing A Short Hike, I felt as if I had just taken a walk along a calm beach and that a youthful spirit had bubbled up again inside me. My inner child had been encouraged and praised for finding the small moments of joy and beauty, for being distractible, for taking her time. And for an often Type A person like myself, this permission and acceptance was a relief and truly felt like a breath of the fresh air that has felt so hard to come by recently. I look forward to taking these small lessons and reminders with me as I begin working in earnest to reconnect with games. I’m sure I’ll get distracted along the way, but now, I look forward to what those distractions can bring.

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