On the topic of “what the player is doing”, what do you feel about so called walking simulators? How does the design of a game where the player is largely is moving from point a to b is defined?

Even in walking simulators, there's still the active element of moving around the environment and examining each item. The player retains agency in exploration games, even though there aren't too many other overt actions to take.

Consider a "walking simulator" like The Talos Principle. The actions that the player take include exploring environments, collecting puzzle pieces, avoiding obstacles, jamming obstacles, moving boxes, climbing boxes, using boxes to obstruct enemies, and that neat time recording feature. The Talos Principle primarily interweaves the exploration and narrative elements with puzzle solving.

Another "walking simulator" is The Stanley Parable. In it, there's really only exploring and interacting with the environment, but the presence of the narrator enables two major actions the player can take - obey or disobey the narrator and see the results. It is these decisions and actions that provide the engaging gameplay - the players get pulled in by seeing the results of their choices.

The important thing about the actions that the player chooses to undertake is that every action a player does must cause the game to react to that player's specific actions. Moving from point A to point B shows the player more of the world. Choosing to interact with a door means the door opens, revealing what was behind it. Allowing the player to jump should allow the player to reach places that would otherwise be unreachable without the jumping. The actions a player can take must be acknowledged and recognized by the game. This creates a sense of agency and ownership that places the player in the game world. The player experience changes from "Kratos pulled the head off of Helios" to "I pulled the head off of Helios". These active choices cause a sense of self-insertion that would otherwise not exist if everything just happened while the player passively watched the scene unfold.

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