Opinion

A Short Hike let me go outside again

I miss outside :(

I’m incredibly thankful each and every day that we have such good systems in place here in Victoria. I’m in rural Vic, so it’s only a stage 3 lockdown here. I can’t imagine what my stage 4 brethren in Melbourne are going through. All the same though, I miss going places and doing things. I think we all do! I’ve even been craving nature walks, something that has never really been high on my priority list until lockdown came around.

It was very much getting to me, and I was, and have been struggling a bit with it. Which, again, is news to no one who has been alive in 2020.

A Short Hike is a game that was first released in 2019 by adamgryu as a Humble Bundle exclusive, and later ported to Nintendo Switch. The game revolves around Claire, a young bird who’s staying with her Aunt May who is a park ranger at Hawk’s Reach Provincial Park. Claire soon finds that unfortunately, out in the sticks, phone reception is a luxury reserved for those who can get high enough to receive a phone signal.

Which means climbing said peak and going on, you guessed it, a short hike!

However, how you want to approach the hike is entirely up to you. There’s several trails up the mountain and essentially it’s a very tiny open world game, with players being given total freedom in terms of how they progress. It’s possible to just go straight to the summit, but that would be entirely silly of you (unless it’s a speedrun).

So instead, a player is likely to follow the twists and turns and simply explore the island. And, being a small game, every single nook and cranny holds something delightful to find and explore. Similar to going on a real hike, this game offers the same emotional joys that legitimately make it the next best thing.

I live near a rainforest, several beaches, and some beautiful bushland, so, as you can imagine, nature trails and hikes, while i don’t go on them often, are still commonplace in my life and scenery. It was only a few weeks ago I drove up to see said rainforest covered in snow in possibly the most surreal imagery. I don’t want to start telling you it was out of a postcard but I literally saw kangaroos, rosellas and other parrots, a lyrebird and even an absolutely excellently rotund wombat all chilling out in the snow amongst ferns and tropical plants.

That is to say, literally every moment is filled with a sense of wonder and delight at discovering something that just fills the heart with joy to look at. The air is sweet, the sounds are relaxing, it’s a treat for the senses, essentially.

Told you it was pretty

But the difficult thing with these treats is, you don’t want to overdo them or have them outstay their welcome. Snow is, at the end of the day, cold as hell. The roads are tiny and not great. So I leave early, knowing it was a short experience, I wish I could have stayed a little longer, but the time I spent with it was all the better for it.

A Short Hike is, not saying this lightly, this sensation in video game form to me during a time when going outside and experiencing all this is off the cards.

I began the game not really knowing much about it beyond ‘I should play this’, and so I started off and was immediately greeted by cute characters who were happy to see me and offered me extra activities on the hike, which soon developed into a sort of scavenger hunt. Not only was I given fun methods to explore and interact with the world (you are a bird, so, as you could imagine, gliding is a thing), but I’m also given little things here and there to do. Collecting things, running errands.

But wait! That’s normal video game stuff! I could play The Witcher 3 or any open world game and do that!

Sure! You absolutely could. The difference being, this is that on a much smaller scale. The satisfaction of turning in a quest and receiving a reward all around one small island, where each quest might take, at best, a couple of minutes. All that good video game dopamine condensed into something with constant positive reinforcement. Even the map itself is set up in such a way to constantly introduce the players to new areas through quests or sneak peaks of treasure. So, mechanically that’s why it makes sense, sure.

But emotionally?

Emotionally I feel like I’m right back in that rainforest, because of all the delightful characters I’m meeting, the amazing scenery, the sounds as the games music adapts itself to suit the situation. The world itself, if short, feels truly alive for the little while I was playing it and, funnily enough, became one of the most immersive games I’ve played all year as a result.

Early on a character asked me to find them 15 shells. This is actually one of the quests that would take the longest, and at the end? The character explains there’s no reward. There is later on, of course, in video game fashion, but in that moment I wasn’t even mad. I was happy to have had the experience, and the interactions along the way felt like their own rewards. Which is saying something, because if Skyrim told me to find a bunch of stuff and then called me a nerd for it, I’d be madder.

This game is constantly offering me ways to interact and rewards me for my curiosity, while offering cute, comforting dialogue that ensures at no time the player feels pressured, adding to the feeling of freedom and moving at their own pace. Unlike, say, Geralt who has to collect 20 bear asses right now or a village is going to get exploded by magic.

But the key above it all, is that the game is short and it’s condensed. Much like the rainforest is packed tight with different plants and animals to look at, so too does the game constantly offer things to see and do. Rarely did I wander a few seconds before stumbling onto a new area that either offered some kind of collectable, a new character, or just a neat little interaction with the world.

Perhaps it’s just my short attention span combined with the excellent, heartfelt, funny writing that ensured I genuinely wanted to participate in every single one of those interactions, but at the end I found myself thinking, ‘this was too short’.

It was only thinking about it later, the bittersweet ending and my longing for more, did I make the connections that, not only is this a perfect length, but I genuinely felt lighter after playing it. The reward of experiencing an entire journey, of going back to the places I took for granted, was enough to make it a satisfying experience.

I still really miss outside tho.

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