Some of the most memorable and meaningful moments in video games have involved being alone in beautiful landscapes. Getting completely lost in the Canadian wilderness of The Long Dark, wandering through the pixelated meadows of Proteus or the ancient, forgotten deserts of Journey—they all surround the player with beautiful virtual worlds and relaxing places where you can be left alone with your thoughts. Discovering and exploring these worlds is a quiet and meaningful process, but can be somewhat isolating.
Occasionally, it’s good to walk with company, and Florian Veltman’s pocket-sized game Lieve Oma celebrates the idea of walking as a shared experience. The game acknowledges how walking with someone special can be meaningful, and that there is sometimes more said in silence than with dialogue.
Lieve Oma is a short narrative game where you play as a child who has reluctantly agreed to go mushroom-picking in the forest with her Grandma. As you both stroll through the autumn woodland, it’s hinted that the young girl has something troubling her. With patience and kind words, Grandma gets the young girl to open up and talk about her personal troubles. It’s a sweet and thoughtful game that understands the therapeutic process of momentarily escaping life and civilization while forgetting your worries to just walk through nature. Grandma definitely knows best.
In Lieve Oma, walking and talking with Grandma becomes a healing process for the young girl, as she needs to “take her mind off things for a bit.” Grandma comes across as a sweet and caring person, and makes quite the incredible walking partner. She is patient with the little girl, not pushing her to talk, and so there are moments of silence between the girl and Grandma highlighted by the ellipses in the dialogue bubbles. What could have been filled with more filler dialogue was left silent. You can hear a humble piano motif and ambient nature sounds as the time passes.
It is in these quiet moments that the game speaks volumes. The act of walking with someone in comfortable silence holds a great deal of meaning. You follow Grandma as she guides you along the forest path. You relax and absorb the beauty around you—the pink and orange trees and colorful flowers. It’s refreshing to play a game where it isn’t afraid to allow silence and ambience play out, which give the little girl—and the player—space to reflect. It’s important to the narrative and to the player experience.
The mushroom outing has turned into a way that Grandma can speak to her grandchild. It’s to help her talk and for the little girl to separate herself from her problems, if only for a short time. Grandma observes that they usually see a blue heron by the stream and jokes that maybe it went on vacation—a subtle point that applies to everyone.
Walking is known to have a powerful affect upon the body and mind. You separate yourself from an identity and become just a moving body. To walk is to leave behind your worries, and it might even give you the space you need to reflect and think about your doubts and anxieties. It gives you a certain mental freedom. Walking becomes a powerful process for the young girl, who is liberated from her worries in a beautiful forest. We do not see her return to her problems or know if she ever resolved them, but we are shown glimpses of her future, or what is now understood as the ‘present.’
The sequences of walking with Grandma in the autumn are interwoven with parts from the present where the girl is older. She walks the same forest path, but this time, she is alone and independent and old enough to drive. The winter landscape is all frozen and covered in snow. She has returned to the same part of the forest to re-walk Grandma’s path. The landscape is now a site of remembrance and a place for her to return to. Maybe it has turned into a place of happy memories, or a place for her to escape to? But the return indicates that it holds meaning.
Grandma said that there was a terrible fire in the forest years ago, but that it has recovered since then. The landscape went through regeneration, and now it is thriving and beautiful. The history of the landscape echoes the mindfulness of Grandma and the young girl, a regeneration of the landscape and a regeneration of the self.
Florian released the game on their grandmother’s birthday as an ode to her and other caring people. Everyone should take Grandma’s advice, take a break, and go for a quiet walk.