Skip to main content

Can you play a story? What are Walking Simulators and how do they immerse us?

Colthup, Heidi A. (2021) Can you play a story? What are Walking Simulators and how do they immerse us? Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.91199) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:91199)

Language: English

Restricted to Repository staff only until September 2024.

Contact us about this Publication
[thumbnail of 47COLTHUP2020PhD.pdf]
Official URL:


This thesis sets out to define the genre of Walking Simulators within a domain located between videogames and literary texts and investigate how they immerse participants. Existing scholarship into the relatively recent discipline of digital humanities and video games tends to fall into the narrow boundaries of game studies (ludology) or narratology. In 2014 Astrid Ensslin published Literary Gaming (2014) in which she sets out the problematic nature of video game study. Ensslin argues that video games are a 'hybrid' text that can be plotted on a cline from literary through to ludic, thus reinforcing the divide between academic approaches and schools of thought - literary analysis and narratology on one side, opposing game studies and ludology on the other. These two approaches, in attempting to understand and explain how and why players and developers have turned the video game industry into a billion-dollar industry worldwide, according to Ensslin tend to focus upon 'the study of storyworlds and the techniques of in-game storytelling' (Ensslin 2014: 5). In recognising this divide and seeking to find a method of 'fusing' these two approaches, Ensslin has created an analytical framework that maps 'a distinctive body of such hybrid texts along a literary-ludic spectrum' (2014: 5), and her cline stops at 'Quasi-Literary Games' (2014: 45). This thesis seeks to extend the use of Astrid Ensslin's analytical framework beyond her 'Quasi-Literary Games' and firmly into a more commercial and widely-known sub-set of video games called Walking Simulators. This thesis analyses three commercially available Walking Simulators: Dear Esther (Pinchbeck and Morgan 2012), Firewatch (Campo Santo 2016), and The Novelist (Orthogonal Games 2013), and examines participant responses found on the Steam gaming platform public forums. By taking approaches drawn from cognitive poetics, usually reserved for literary texts, this thesis sets out to confirm the location of Walking Simulators in the lacuna between the domains of videogames and literary texts by identifying how participants report their experiences.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Scott, Jeremy
Thesis advisor: Hornsby, David
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.91199
Uncontrolled keywords: walking simulators, videogames, ludostylistics, stylistics, digital humanities, immersion, literary games, ludology, narratology
Subjects: P Language and Literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2021 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 18 May 2022 11:25 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
  • Depositors only (login required):


Downloads per month over past year