Analysis: The Path

The Path, from Tale of Tales

Sorry to say, this one isn’t a free title, but it’s very worth talking about and it’s not expensive! Take a look at the trailers and judge for yourself, but I quite enjoyed the experience I got with this game. The Path is a re-imagining of the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, in the shell of a short horror game. It’s a creepy, atmospheric game that anyone can play through successfully; it’s also intensely interpretive and refuses to spoon-feed you its story.

Everyone knows the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. It’s a very common story, told in a number of ways, some more sanitized than others. The Path doesn’t bother with a literal retelling, but rather interprets the story and makes a world of it.

The game starts with the Red Apartment, where six sisters live; each of which is named after a different color of red — Robin, Ruby, Rose, Ginger, Carmen, and Scarlet. You select one and she sets off to visit their ailing grandmother. The game deposits the selected sister at the end of the road from the city, on the path through the woods to Grandmother’s. It gives you two instructions; ‘Go to Grandmother’s house’, and ‘Stay on the path’. You’ll quickly learn that following these instructions will result in failure; you’ll arrive uneventfully at Grandmother’s house deep in the woods. But that’s not what the game wants from you; it wants you to risk the forest.

From here on out, I’m going to talk about the game in depth, so beware of spoilers!What you can quickly find out is that the game is risk free. Tale of Tales did a magnificent job is making the woods FEEL threatening, but there is nothing out there that can actually end the game without player consent.

First; I must stress that the flavor of this game is magnificent. The woods are beautifully realized and creepy. The writing and stylization is provoking. It all came together in a way that even upon finishing the game, I felt I needed to keep playing.

Now, I’ll come back to the flavor shortly, but the mechanics are also worth mentioning. A lot of reviews I’ve read of The Path so far have been hesitant or confused because it’s a strange animal to most gamers. The Path doesn’t make a lot of sense in terms of traditional mechanics. You can walk and run, and interact with some of the things in the woods in preset ways. The game however has only three things for you to do; collect ‘Flower Coins’, find Memories, and encounter the ‘Wolf’. Any girl can find all of the the Flowers, there’s some slight cross over in Memories, and each girl has a unique ‘Wolf’. Additionally, finding the ‘Wolf’ is the only way to succeed with each sister; after which, the girl is removed from the Apartment and cannot be selected again (until a new game is started or the epilogue is completed).

The game is thus, a collect-a-thon. If the flavor were removed, the path would be an awful excuse of gaming; dull, featureless and without any kind of challenge. Normally, this would really bother me, but the Path cleverly includes the collecting elements only as a kind of string to keep the player wandering, so that they’ll seek out the story.

There’s a few other clever mechanics in play, including the Girl in White, a girl you’ll find easily running about the woods. She serves a number of purposes; she explores areas of interest and thus can lead you to them, and she can return you to the path through the woods — this is important as the path vanishes once you leave it for too long, leaving you lost in the woods. The game also uses very clever camera angles to hide a number or mechanical processes.
So let’s get back to the flavor. ‘Game’ is probably the wrong term for The Path as it’s more honestly delivering an experience than a traditional game. The game offers you a story without giving you enough context to legitimately understand it, and thus you are forced to interpret it.

So we have our three collectibles to deliver the story; the Flowers (which only serve to direct you to memories), the Memories (which alter Grandmother’s house and provide snippets of insight in to each girl) and the wolf (which provides a large amount of story but is the most ambiguous element).

Memories are found as you walk through the woods; there are a large number of them, marked by small objects that the girls take with them and by large objects which they interpret it some way (and the recollection of which is taken with them). Some of the memories include wild flowers, bullets, spray paint, a piano, a wrecked car, a TV and more. Not every girl can find each memory and even if they can find them, they don’t always react to them. (The game does helpfully inform you which sister reacts to that memory if the one you’re controlling doesn’t.)

When each girl collects a memory, she’ll say/think something about it. These little clips of text provide our clearest insight in to each of the girls, letting us learn about how they think and who they are. Robin, the youngest talks mostly about how she doesn’t understand adults. Scarlet, the oldest, has more concrete and practical thoughts. Ginger is a tomboy, Carmen is a fashionable party girl, Rose is something of a philosopher who pontificates on the soul, and Ruby has a darker, outsider mentality.

While creeping around in the woods, we learn more about them. Unlike the Wolf, the memories provide a fairly contextual amount of information about each girl. The Wolf, however, seems to represent something far more significant.

The Wolf appears for each girl in a different location within the woods. There’s the Cemetery, the Misty Lake, The Abandoned Theatre, the Abandoned Playground, the Campsite, and the Flower Field. Only Robin encounters an actual wolf, though, and in her case it’s something of an anthropomorphic werewolf than an actual wolf. In every case, however, the wolf is symbolic, of predators and of trauma. After encountering the wolf in each scenario, the girl is then found deposited outside the Grandmother’s house in the rain, collapsed on the ground. When she stands, she’ll only stumble forward slowly, often looking injured, worn out or distraught.

This is very interesting, because the wolf encounters are not uniform at all. Robin rides her wolf around the cemetery; playing with it like a large dog. Rose encounters a misty figure on the lake who takes her in to the air and dances across the water. Ginger finds a playmate, a Girl in Red who she plays with through the Flower Field. Ruby encounters a boy in black who seems to chat her up at the Playground. Carmen goes hangs out with an older man at the Campsite and they drink. Scarlet plays piano at the Theatre under the watchful eye of some kind of spectre.

None of these seem all that traumatic and ‘wolflife’ without guessing about what we’re not seeing. Scenes of violence that occur between when the screen goes black and when the girls wake up in front of Grandmother’s house.
I won’t claim to have great insight here, but this is how I interpreted the story. Robin’s encounter with the wolf is a loss of child like wonder. She spends her time trying to figure out adults, but only time can truly produce that understanding. In the Cemetery, she started piecing together the cycle of life and death, and the Wolf she encounters is both the last child-like fantasy she has, but is also a symbol of the darker understanding that comes with growing up; a symbol of the harshness of reality.

Rose’s encounter with the misty figure is a near death experience with drowning. In her memories, she talks about the soul and the idea of floating in water being the closest you can feel to be disembodied (being buoyant as being weightless). The misty figure, taken literally, was her ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, mixed with the already misty quality of the lake.

Ginger encounters a girl — this colorful scene seems to be nothing but pleasant. However, taken in the lense of the other ‘wolves’, it would seem that Ginger had a gay experience of some sort. Something that left her feeling uncomfortable or confused, or filled her with regret or shame — common reactions for people who’ve yet to uncover their own sexuality.

Ruby, like Ginger has a sexual experience, but with a boy. It’s important to note that we can learn through her memories that she’d been in a car crash, leading her to being in a leg brace; between the hospital stay and the injury (and the brace), she drifted away from her peers. Ultimately, the encounter with the boy seems to be a regretted early sex experience; she accepts the affects of a boy she doesn’t know because of the feeling that she isn’t accepted or isn’t valued.

Carmen has a similar experience to Ruby, drinking at the campsite with the older man. Unlike her younger sister though, she didn’t regret the experience because it was too soon, but because she drank her way too it. Uninhibited from alcohol, her company had their way with her, possibly in spite of earlier objections.

Finally Scarlet, playing piano overseen by a spectre of a woman, is trying her hardest to be an adult and be responsible to gain the approval of the matronly figure who will not give it to her. It’s also possible that she aspired to do music and was incapable of it atop of her other responsibilities.

Now; after each of the wolf encounters, there’s a twisted journey through Grandmother’s house, and when all the girl’s are gone, the Girl in White appears in the Red Apartment. When you use her to enter the woods, she can’t get lost. She can find each of the major locations easily, and can run through them unlike the other girls. She never loses track of the path, and can quickly go to Grandmother’s house. Because she encounters no wolf, she can arrive there quickly, and only ever experience a normal house — only instead of a normal house, she tours through a combination of all the strange experiences of each of the girls before her.

After she reaches Grandmother, you’re returned to the Red Apartment where her white dress becomes stained in blood, and then each of the other girls return before she leaves.

This is an interesting element to me, and I’m still undecided as to who the Girl in White really is. I’m caught between two possibilities; that she is either the Wolf (and that she killed the Grandmother) or that she is the Grandmother’s only actual grandchild, and witnesses her Grandmother’s death.

The latter part seems more substantial to me, if we view The Path as a story of dying. The Grandmother in this case is in fact all of the girls; each of the names (spinning off of red) were nicknames throughout her life, and each of the girl’s represent a part of her life wherein something significant happened to her that shaped her future. We can view each of the girl’s personalities as separate, but they also flow well if we take them by age and apply events on to them. Robin loses her child like innocence, but not her playfulness, growing in to tomboy. Rose nearly drowns, but survives. She becomes more interested in activity and becomes the tomboy, Ginger. Ginger has a strange sexual experience; combined with a car accident, she loses her ability to be active and becomes the darker Ruby. Ruby heals up, and though regrets her first experience with a boy, she returns to being social as Carmen. Carmen parties (too much) and eventually after a spin of bad times at the hands of alcohol, she grows up and takes responsibility as Scarlet.

Scarlet loses touch with her childhood and lives long, but uneventfully, eventually dying in her cottage home in the woods, a single granddaughter baring witness to her last breaths as she dreams a strange dream of her most significant memories. The Girl in White’s unusual tour through her Grandmother’s house is really a metaphorical illustration of all of the memories kept within it’s walls.

At least, that’s how I saw the game, and it really drew me in. Maybe we’ll get some other impressions of this excellent, artful game below.

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17 Responses to “Analysis: The Path”

  1. Praveen Says:

    i thought your analysis was the best and least literal / rape heavy i’ve seen on the net. i like thinking that the girls are connected in some way – perhaps grandma, which is a neat twist to me.

    • Greg Says:

      Thanks! I can understand reviewers wanting to go toward the angle of rape — it’s a very common way to interpret the original Red Riding Hood tale, and I think that’s caught hold of a lot of people and been inherited by The Path despite being a radically different thing. The sensation of sexual violence is still present in there, but The Path’s storytelling is too carefully constructed, and too intricate and mysterious, for such a heavy handed theme to be as dominant as other interpretations seem to want it to be. The story is dark, but that doesn’t mean it has to be about rape.

  2. katiemcvay Says:

    I have to say that I loved this game and I have been reading articles all over the internet to find out what other people think about it. To me, it’s something that needs to have a conversation afterwards.

    I have to say though that one’s interpretation has so much to do with the baggage that you took with you when you played it. I agreed with most of your interpretations, but I have such a different perspective on Ginger.

    The Girl in the Red Dress is much faster than Ginger (who prided herself on her agility and quickness during parts of the game) and I see it as an onslaught of insecurity and a fear about her incipient adulthood (red dress, period, blah blah, etc.) and about the expectations that girls face. At the end when you walk through Grandma’s house there is all that barbed wire and the feathers falling through the air. I just saw it so much as Ginger being boxed in by expectations of what girls are and what girls become and also Ginger’s insecurity about not being able to fit that mold.

    Thanks so much for your analysis. I think that most of the game can be interpreted as not having to do with sexual violence. There’s sexuality and violence, but I don’t think that there’s necessarily sexual violence.

    And there’s a hopeful edge to it. The Girl in White becomes the woodsman and the girls are restored to the room again, in seemingly the same fashion. Which I think is very much like life. When we grow up we lose parts of ourselves but you can’t usually tell it by just looking at a person.

    Anyway, it’s a great game and I loved your analysis. The Girl in White gives me so much food for thought and I love your idea about the Grandmother’s life being played for us. I also love your idea of the Girl in White witnessing the passing of the Grandmother. I subscribe more to the Girl in White-as-the-woodsman school of thought, but I think your idea is really fascinating.

    • gekks Says:

      I really like your interpretation of Ginger. This is a good article but I wasn’t quite sold on the idea of a gay sexual encounter. Ginger seems closest to the age where she must accept things like her period, wearing a bra, acting like a lady in general. But she still wants to play kid games like finding aliens and exploring. When she meets her friend in the red dress I assumed it was her coming to terms with the fact that she has to be a “big girl” like everyone else, and in the end she feels despondent because she feels she has to leave all her pretend/kid games behind.

      Didn’t mean to babble on about it, just thought your comment deserved a reply. 🙂

  3. Amanda Says:

    I would say that they are seperate girls, however they have similar experience and that Forrest Girl leads them all.

    Also Forrest Girl in my opinion is a ghost of the original Red Riding Hood. She suffered at the hands of a “wolf” and is trying to cure the girls curiosity of going off the path, but tries to lead them back to the path before they meet the wolf. I know sometimes she leads you straight to the wolf. I think this is either telling the girls that a) You need to learn that bad can happen but I can lead you back to the path to avoid this, b) She is leading them both through curiosity and adulthood through the ways that address their own weakness, or c) It’s a glitch, she takes the direct path, which sometimes leads through an area with a wolf.

    I agree with your assesment of the girls for the most part, aside from bits here and there.

    Rose’s encounter with the misty figure is a near death experience with drowning. In her memories, she talks about the soul and the idea of floating in water being the closest you can feel to be disembodied (being buoyant as being weightless). The misty figure seems to be a representation of spirituality, an angel if you will. She saw a misty figure near the trees ( the two trees you float to. I suspected some handsome young man/lad skinny dipping and climbed up) so she took the boat out and he climbed in, attempted something and the boat toppled (it sank) and she nearly drowned.

    Ginger encounters a girl, the only female from what I can tell. This is her questioning her sexuality being a more masculine girl and enjoying more boyish pastimes. There is also the red flowers ( I took this as defloweration and the bleeding tied to it) and the girl is in a red dress which could be menstration since she is of the age to start. Then there is the powerlines and barbed wire. I thing the power lines fell on the GiRD and Ginger ran for help, but the field was surrounded by the fence with the barbed wire. Trying to climb the fence Ginger got caught and either died, or watched the GiRD dies, or both and suffers the loss of her friend (all the dual items).

    Ruby, like Ginger has a sexual experience, but with a boy. I agree that we can suspect she’d been in a car crash, leading her to being in a leg brace; between the hospital stay and the injury (and the brace), she drifted away from her peers. She may have suffered something that is killing her or someone she knew may have died as she speaks of death and decay. She became less social and an outsider. She became depressed and started appreciating decay and the shortness of life. The boy seems like it may be peer pressure to fit in, or else some sort of regretted sexual experience as an attempt to have self appreciation through the advances of an older hot guy.

    Carmen has a similar experience to Ruby, drinking at the campsite with the older man. I feel she regretted the experience because although she flirts with other guys, her interactions and naivity say she was not ready for the complexities of it. She also regrets it because she drank her way to it. Uninhibited from alcohol, her company had their way with her, possibly in spite of earlier objections. She is holding her neck at the end, and another possibility is that there was a drunken accident where the man was trying to chop a tree for more firewood and either hit Carmen in the throat or neck with the axe, or the tree fell on her neck.

    Finally Scarlet, playing piano overseen by a being/ghost of a man in a wolf-en-ish costume, is trying her hardest to be an adult and be responsible to gain the approval of the matronly figure, but resents it because she has less time for her arts, or was unsuccessful at the arts and was asked to give it up to help with the home. It’s also possible that she aspired to do music and was incapable of it atop of her other responsibilities. She ends up resenting art because of the encounter with the stranger (I suspect that he took advantage of her, and possibly slashed her (huge blade like claws)) and covers all of it ( covered by sheets) to focus solely on her responsibilities.

    Much darker, I know, but in truth I am likely a little biased toward the original story and the words in the poem.

    In the original story she is “Devoured” by a stranger friend with a sweet tongue and sharp tooth by straying from the path. Basically she is sexually abused by a man that she thought she could trust by straying from what her mother told her.

    The path of pins likely is much like Scarlet’s ending in that she is the traditional woman of responsibility, taking care of the mending and doing what she is told (pin=seamstress, mother’s tasks).
    The path of needles is the outsider doing unhealthy activities and suffering for it (needles=drugs, medical care, bloodletting/taking blood).

  4. Amanda Says:

    I forgot to add that with Ginger (I gotta play through the other girls again, I paid far too much attention to hers) that she has crows feathers in her hair, there were crows on the wires, and crows feathers falling. Crows symbolize death, evil, or loss. Peacocks (she has an image in hers as well, may symbolize showing off for the GiRD, she may “like-like” her)

    In many of the endings there are peacock images. Peacocks symbolize fertility, rebirth, renewal and other similar icons.

    • Greg Says:

      I like your reading of the narrative with classical symbolism; I’m not exceedingly well acquainted with the original Little Red Riding Hood story (only retellings of it) so I’m glad to see some additional perspective on this particular telling.

      I personally can’t shake the feeling of a deep, connected nature of the story, though admittedly there’s little solid evidence on the matter. I may have to replay the game soon for a fresh look at it’s tale.

  5. Amanda Says:

    I am going to replay it and check into the others more.

  6. dreams Says:

    dreams…

    […]Analysis: The Path « The Art of Game[…]…

  7. Ukash Kart Almanın En hızlı ve Güvenli Yolu Says:

    Ukash Kart Almanın En hızlı ve Güvenli Yolu…

    […]Analysis: The Path « The Art of Game[…]…

  8. carlosmcastano Says:

    Excellent analysis
    I still think the game is full of psychoanalytic background that is difficult to uncover, but the way you tie the destiny of every girl is something I hadn’t thought before.
    Although all the experiences can be interpreted as “rape” (and yet too Freudian), I think it is an easy excuse for not to see beyond, for not to get into the sisters own personalities.
    As for the deaths…I still wonder if they were actual deaths or symbolize a transit in the life as you state in your analysis…
    Any way, this game is full of intrigues for us that like it and got immersed in its dark atmosphere…maybe there is no truth at all and it just creates a reflection of our inner dark self as psychoanalytic projection does…

  9. GA Says:

    The verse at the beginning (“Little girls, this seems to say….”) comes from the “Moral” of the story in Perrault’s version. It’s part of what makes Little Red Riding Hood not a rape story, but an anti-rape story, intended to warn girls of the dangers of too easily trusting men (“Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth.”) It might hint that each story is in one way or another about betrayal, the sort of betrayal that triggers a transition from one life stage to another. Robin trusts the wild animal too much and it turns on her; Rose trusts the illusion she sees on the lake and nearly drowns; Ginger trusts her relationship with the Girl in Red but it comes to nothing; Ruby trusts the “cool” boy she meets and comes to grief (remember we see him dragging a wrapped bundle in the forest that looks like a body wrapped in a carpet); Carmen trusts in her own attractiveness but is turned down (I got the impression that she comes onto the man but he gives her some variant of “Beat it kid, you’re too young”); and Scarlet trusts in her own talent but finds it is inadequate to satisfy the “authorities” in her chosen field. When each of the girls reaches grandmother’s house, their naivety and illusions are mocked and brought to closure by Grandmother. The Girl in White I suspect represents the spirit of the girl as she goes through these different stages — sometimes encouraging, sometimes bringing things to their end. Finally she kills the controlling, mocking, negative Grandmother (symbolic of becoming an independent person and making your own judgments instead of having them made for you?) and unites all of the stages in harmony. (I believe at the end the Girl in White is wearing wolf-skin boots……)

  10. Emmy Dumbledore (no joke) Says:

    The girl in white is what i want to know about somebody say something about her and the girl in red!

  11. Rhen Says:

    Well unfortunately I’m extremely allergic to horror games and movies (they give me one hell of a nightmare) so I played a little to figure out the atmosphere and went for the story on websites and blogs. All the analysis I read before were somewhat off and I was sure there are many more points to the story that they missed. So after reading this analysis, I understood many of the unclear parts. I KNEW they could not be sisters and are in some other way connected but I couldn’t really figure it out. It completely makes sense! They’re stages in Grandmother’s life and are remembered before her death. I can find no other explanation for the pictures above her bed. Why would it change every time? And about the girl in white I’m still wondering and making more research. Thank you for sharing your ideas about this game 🙂

  12. Lynn Says:

    Fabulous comment to this game! I love the way you interpreting the story that actually it is a timeline of one girl with different experiences.

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