Meditation should be way easier than it is. The theory is easy: a clearing of the mind brought about by focusing on something simple and repetitive, like breathing or a chant. But I can tell you firsthand from the hours I have spent trying and failing to do so in the woods behind Yates Field House, it is usually an exercise in frustration. One place I have found solace, however, is playing “A Short Hike.”
In a world where information and communication are so quickly and easily accessible, it is hard to be comfortable with turning off your brain and doing nothing for a while, especially in a fast paced, high-performance environment like Georgetown University’s. It is for this reason that games like “A Short Hike” are such valuable works of art for their meditative qualities. Just look at how omnipresent a remarkably similar video game experience, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020),” has become in the circumstances since its release.
Released in 2019 online for Windows, MacOS and Linux and created by indie developer adamgryu, “A Short Hike” is about, well, a short hike. You play as Claire, a young, anthropomorphized bird on an idyllic national park island with her ranger aunt, May.
The crux of the gameplay is that Claire is waiting for an important phone call but lacks reception on the island. She is starved for ways to take her mind off her anxiety, so she takes a hike up the mountain at the center of the island. Along the way, she indulges in small diversions like minigames, island exploration and short vignettes with the charming, hilarious residents of the island.
There is a lot to do in “A Short Hike” despite its relatively short three- to five-hour playtime, and almost all of it is praiseworthy. Aesthetically, the characters are vivid, the soundtrack is beautiful and seamlessly adapts to new locations, and the visuals are elegant in their simplicity.
In terms of gameplay, the minigames are addictive and the main locomotion controls feel well-crafted and comfortable, as Claire can climb and glide around the island with a stamina meter increased by collectibles. But none of these finely-tuned systems are what really sold me on “A Short Hike.”
For all the fun I have had in this game, perhaps my favorite part was actually right after I beat the main story. For all intents and purposes, the game was finished, but rather than shut it off and move on to the next one, I was struck with an overwhelming desire to meander around the island without a goal in mind. I had, by this point, unlocked basically all the movement upgrades and could glide around aimlessly with ease, stopping to check on my favorite characters or add a new entry to my fishing log here or there.
I simply wanted to soak in the world and relax and live in this peaceful, calming place for a little while longer before returning to the stress and bustle of real life. I’d found my version of meditation, and “A Short Hike” was more than happy to oblige.
That’s the genius of games like “A Short Hike.” On the one hand, they exist as these therapeutic, soothing meditation devices that allow for players to turn their brains off and soak in the serenity of living in the moment. More than any other comparable media geared toward relaxation, pacifying video games are willing to meet players at their desired level of engagement, whatever that may be.
However, because video games inherently require a level of active player input, it does not feel like you’re wasting time doing nothing — this is an active experience, something productive. That’s the real trick to achieving meditation for sometimes high-strung people like myself; we have to trick our brain, so to speak, into thinking it’s doing something in order to truly shut it down.
This calming type of game has been on my mind recently and evidently on other people’s minds as well with the hype over “Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020).” In this cramped, stressful world of quarantine and sickness, I think everyone is desperate for an excuse to shut down and try and soak up a little bit of joyful calmness.
So if you’re like me, and you have a hard time really unwinding — maybe try “A Short Hike.” It won’t take you long or exert much brain power, and it might be exactly what you need.
Mac Riga is a junior in the College. START/SELECT will appear online every other week.