Lake’s video game portrait in rural Oregon is shallow but pleasantly meditative
In rural, pristine Providence Oaks, Oregon, circa 1986, a woman delivers the mail.
The premise of Lake is no stranger to indie gamers: A software developer trades his career in a big city for an idyllic life in a small town. What is perhaps interesting to Oregonians, however, is how Lake was created by Gamious, a company founded by two brothers from the Netherlands.
In the game description on the Steam video game distribution site, Lake is billed as an “escape to a beautiful, rustic environment without cell phones or the Internet”. The marketing surrounding the game reiterates this promise, describing a silent alternative to the conventional noise of the video game world.
Providence Oaks is, indeed, rustic in beauty. And it’s a testament to the creators’ love for the region that, despite being in one hemisphere, Gamious has created such an instantly recognizable rendition of the Pacific Northwest. Aesthetic touches as small as contemporary Oregon license plates and as obvious as VCR tapes from Jaws and Nightmare on Elm Street reinforce the frame of the period piece while the naturalistic landscapes and an omnipresent mountain in the distance lend an aura of the Pacific Northwest.
Unfortunately, this all only looks like a frame. Although the story takes place over seven hours and 14 days of play, Lake contains only the lightest sketch of his characters.
The narrative centers on Meredith Weiss, the aforementioned IT worker, and her indecision over whether to stay in her hometown or return to the competing IT society for her time.
In practice, this should mean that the separate interactions between the characters in the story would be designed to either show Meredith something that is missing from her life or shut the door of Providence Oaks to her.
However, while the people of Providence Oaks are memorable, they are only so because they each have some sort of calling card quirk. There’s the cynical older woman, the young computer geek, the over-excited artistic childhood friend, et al. None of them have enough screen time or meaningful dialogue to become more than their archetype. Even Meredith is ultimately a character with little internal life.
With so many characters at surface level, Lake begins to feel strangely disconnected from the real world. The virtual city is on the verge of strangeness.
That said, Lake is full of quiet moments, and it feels like a game designed to shine more in its negative space than in its actual content.
Driving around Providence Oaks, listening to the hoarse radio and rolling the tires of the mail truck, it feels like one is meant to be gazing. The question is: contemplate what?
Lake tells a story that ultimately seems to say that life is unpredictable and that we have to roll with the punches in order to find where we truly belong. It is a noble theme, which has been the basis of many great literatures and narratives in all mediums, but Lake doesn’t seem to know what to do except… report it.
Lake is like a beautiful idyllic postcard. In all of its intentions and executions it portrays the image of pastoral Americana and the fulfillment of a quiet life. However, postcards are intended to be as ephemeral as the messages they convey. And very few would choose to consider a postcard for seven hours of play.
TO PLAY: Lake is available on Steam starting Wednesday, September 1.