Some thoughts on... The Park

Today, some thoughts on The Park (Funcom, 2015).

The anguish of the parent
If we decided to create a list with what we consider our universal fears - those fears we can claim almost without a doubt that everybody experiences regardless of their cultural and historical contexts, I am certain that the fear of losing our children would be among them. Not only am I alluding to the terrible experience - always traumatic - of their passing, but to the horror of realising that one of your children has disappeared in the crowd or is not where she or he was supposed to be. The Park (Funcom, 2015), a spin-off from the MMO The Secret World (Funcom, 2012), is based on that anguish, which works as the foundation for the development of a story about loss - literal and emotional - of the loved ones, maternity, and misery - moral and material.

That's the starting point of The Park. We play the role of a mother who is looking for her son inside a closed, semi-abandoned, amusement park. One of the original mechanics of the game, almost the only one, involves calling Callum, the boy, who occasionally answers with short phrases such as 'You can't catch me', 'This way, mommy!', 'Over here!', 'Come on, this way!', and 'Catch me mommy!'. The protagonist's shout also triggers visual clues that tell the player what to look for (find a document or an event that can be activated). We mainly interact with the video game through those cries of distress, using a language of anguish, and as the game progresses the initial nervousness turns into desperation. In that sense, The Park seeks to cause a sense of permanent uneasiness among players, putting them in that state of mind throughout the game.

Funcom's work is clearly divided into two parts. The first part is set in an amusement park - more open, with more references to the universe of The Secret World - while the second one situates us in an oppressive representation of the family home, a section reminiscent of P.T. (a benchmark for these kinds of games) that shakes the conscience (hers and ours). In both parts we sense - or rather we know - that everything is headed towards a disastrous denouement. The game does not hide the outcome, since the ending is not the most important thing, but the journey, the ride that sinks into the darkest corners of the human being and will inevitably derail.

The Park is short and does not challenge the player with any worth mentioning obstacle. It is not possible to die, there are no puzzles or major impediments, and the probabilities to get lost in the game's map are close to none. It seem evident that its aim is not to propose an ordinary gameplay challenge to players; it is more about presenting an emotional challenge to them. What does it mean to grow up in a broken home? How do you survive the loss of a loved one? How do you deal with your material needs when we live in a system that is hostile to those who cannot provide for themselves? What does it mean to be a parent in a context of family, economic and social helplessness?

Throughout the game, we find numerous truculent references to the already grotesque Grimm brothers' tale, Hansel and Gretel. These allusions are not gratuitous; they are essential to understand The Park. It's the anguish of the parent who, unable to take care of his or her children, leaves them to their fate. However, that does not reduce their anxiety, on the contrary, it grows until it swallows them up. There are several things that we can isolate, forgot, or even stop loving. Our children do not seem to be one of them.