Sexualized Saturdays: The Path, an Indie Horror Game about Women

The Path is one of those games no one quite understands, including myself. I’ve tried watching different Let’s Play videos and reading up on the development of the game, but nothing eased my countless queries. During my research I found this quote from one of the producers of the game, Auriea Harvey, which says:

…The Path doesn’t just give girls a female avatar to play boy games with and it doesn’t paint everything pink with smiling faces and hearts. The Path is a game that is about things that can be deeply important to women and it is played in a feminine way. (source)

While making a game for women might have been the developers’ intention, I’d argue that anyone can relate to this game, regardless of their origins.

Spoilers and a trigger warning for rape and murder after the jump.

The Six Sisters

If you’re up for the challenge of playing the game and have $10 to spare, I say go for it! Otherwise, I found vexxus5’s LPs to be the most thorough videos of gameplay. Trigger warning, though: The Path provokes thoughts of rape, murder, and other morbid musings. While nothing graphic is shown, it uses heavy symbolism. If you are sensitive about these subjects, I suggest passing on the game.

The Path, made by Tale of Tales, is a rendition of the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood. You begin in “The Red Room”, where you choose which character you’d like to play. There are 6 sisters, all varying in age from nine to nineteen. Every sister has a certain perspective on life, which affects what kind of “boss” you have to face in the end.

Once you start the game, the only instructions you’re given are “Go to grandmother’s house, and stay on the path.” When you go down the path, you get to grandmother’s safely, but once you get inside you’re forced to stumble through the ominous house. Oddly, you get to your grandmother, alive and well. A menu shows up, listing everything you’ve missed, including your wolf (or “the boss”), and that you’ve failed. At this point there’s no choice but to explore the forest.

You’re taken to the Red Room to choose any of the girls again. From there you explore the forest until you find your wolf. There’s a certain way you have to interact with each wolf to continue the game. Sometimes you just have to walk in front of it, other times you have to find an item, or explore another part of the area. The eldest sister, Scarlet, has one of these evasive wolves. If you stand by it, it will completely ignore you. When you walk towards a stage and play the piano, her wolf will stand by her and play too. Every wolf is different for each girl. For the youngest girl, Robin, the “wolf” is literal, as it takes the form of a werewolf you find in a graveyard. Other times the “wolf” is another person; there’s even an older genderless individual the programmers describe as “The Fey Wolf”, or fairy-like wolf.

The Fey Wolf

The Fey Wolf

Once you have met your wolf, the screen goes black and you’re dropped in front of grandmother’s house. You’re still forced to wander her house room by room, but the scenery changes depending on each girl’s psyche. By the end you’ll reach a final room, where your character presumably dies.

The question remains, is this a feminine game? By saying “a feminine way”, it seems clear that Harvey’s describing how the game shows a girl maturing through life. While I agree that some of these tales will touch on important social issues for women, they can be just as important to anyone else.

The tricky thing about the game is that there’s no definite answer to anything. The developers left everything open-ended so people could come to their own conclusions. Even though The Path’s official forums were wiped clean of old debates and theories, older LPs mentioned explanations for every girl’s ending. Out of all the sisters, Ginger’s and Carmen’s final rooms are the only two about women maturing into adulthood, rather than growing up in general (for example, Robin’s naive view of death and dangerous situations is challenged). Most agree Ginger’s ending is about puberty, and Carmen’s is about rape.

Ginger's Wolf

Ginger’s wolf

Ginger’s wolf is very curious, as it’s a girl in a red dress. She seems to be thirteen, the same age as Ginger. You find her appearing and disappearing in a field of flowers. Once her wolf decides to see you, she’ll come up from behind and cover your eyes. They chase each other around, and her wolf lies on the ground, and pulls Ginger down with her. Vexxus5 mentions in his playthrough that nothing bad seems to have happened; why would playing in a field be her “ravaging from the wolf”? As you explore grandmother’s house, Ginger’s viewpoint becomes clearer. The most striking thing to me is that everything looks like it’s seen through a red lens. The whole area is cast in a vivid shade of red. There are chain link fences covering the walls, and black strings spread across the room. In her final room, there are barbed wires everywhere, feathers falling from the ceiling, and mattresses plastered on the walls.

The message for Ginger’s chapter may be “hey, puberty sucks”, but it’s not the only message here. When I first watched her chapter ending, I felt like I could relate to Ginger. Her profile says “I hate that stupid stuff, with kissing and happy smiles, and dressing up pretty.” I was a tomboy for a long time as well, until I was pressured to change by my family and friends. To me those barbed wires and black strings represented being trapped, stuck somewhere you didn’t want to be. It showed how much other people can restrain who you are and what you want to do with your life. The falling feathers could be seen as a bird losing its wings, being unable to fly or be free. This is something that a lot of people can relate to, either having to change a part of themselves that isn’t acceptable to someone, or losing the freedom to be themselves. Once a person hits puberty, they’re expected to act differently, either for social reasons or because of responsibility. This change can be traumatizing for anyone, and not just for women.

Carmen, on the other hand, is described as a “femme fatale”. The general theory is that she’s raped at the end of her chapter. However, this quote from Tale of Tales made me think otherwise:

Some say blindly that the game is “about rape.” And while that could be one of the interpretations -and I understand it-, for me, those black-out moments after meeting her wolf are the moments of realization. Those are the times when a girl grows. And what happens in Grandmother’s House is not a murder but a shedding of childhood and an initiation to womanhood… (source)

I’d like to argue that her ending isn’t about rape, although it’s not an “initiation” by any means. Her story is this: Carmen’s wolf is an older man, a lumberjack camping in the woods. If you try to interact with him, he continues to cut down the same tree he was hacking at since you arrived. Carmen will snatch his cap and wear it herself, but he won’t flinch, and keeps working. The way you “lure” the lumberjack from his work is lighting a campfire and taking one of his beers to drink. He’ll sit down with you, both of you nursing beers, and the camera zooms out. Once you’re inside Grandmother’s house, you see spray-painted “Xs” on the doors. You can hear the sound of someone sawing something, moaning… You go through tunnels with tree limbs blocking your view, past a bloody saw blade mounted on the wall and a room with lumber on fire, until you get to her final room. It’s one of the simplest rooms of the game, a single bed in the center, and a giant tree bursting out from the middle of the covers.

Carmen's Wolf

Carmen’s Wolf

I see the “Xs” marking the doors as a metaphor that she’s ready to “cut down the doors”, or rather to start something new in her life. The sawing and moaning noises are pretty self-explanatory, a play on words when you think about it. The hallways covered in tree limbs represent being lost. The sawblade, if we go back to the “sawing” metaphor, can represent how Carmen never had sex before this encounter, that she was a “tree cut down”. The lumber on fire can be seen as the lumberjack’s sexual experience. As an older man, he has “cut down many trees” in his lifetime. In the final room, vexxus5 mentions the tree as “phallic” in nature, another sign that Carmen was raped by the lumberjack, but I don’t think the symbolism is that blunt. Much like the saying, “the elephant in the room”, what if there’s a big issue that Carmen has to face? Seeing how we start our days and end them in bed, what if it’s a daily issue? What if the tree growing in the middle of the bed is a sign that Carmen’s now pregnant?

When we tie all these points together we get a better story of what happened. A young girl flirted with an older man, they got tipsy, and then, consent given or not, there was intercourse. Carmen didn’t realize what she was getting into and she got pregnant.  I won’t argue that pregnancy isn’t a serious topic for women, but I see an even bigger issue at the heart of it all: the romanticized view of sex. Movies, other media, and society in general teach us that your first kiss has to be perfect, that you have to have sex in a certain way and by a certain time… There are so many examples of what people want to happen, versus what actually happens. Even though Carmen has the right to be as sexually active as she wants (well, once she hits eighteen), her view of sex was of passion, and not what follows afterwards. This is an important lesson for anyone, that having sex for the first time is something you do at your own discretion, and not when others want you to.

The Path certainly touches on issues women have to face through life, but I stand firm on my point. When presented correctly, anyone can understand and empathize with these girls. It’s a great idea to present social issues in modern life through video games, as it’s probably the most interactive medium anyone can use. I’d love to see more games touching on difficult, or even simple subjects for people to experience for themselves. Even though I still don’t understand everything about the game, I appreciate the effort and the personal touches in this game that push people to see past what’s in front of them and that encourage them to steer from the beaten track.