Lieve Oma Review: Changing Seasons
Art//Games was an online journal focusing on the intersection of Art and Games. After many months of trying to get together a second issue, Art//Games sadly announced to their contributors that it would not be able, partially due to funding issues. Instead of letting my piece collect dust on my hard drive, I thought I’d share it with you all. Here’s my review of Florian Veltman’s Lieve Oma (written nearly a year ago).
Lieve Oma — Florian Veltman
If you’re reading Art/Games, it’s very likely that you will have heard of a genre of games called “Walking Simulators”. Initially used as an insult towards slower, more contemplative games, the term has stuck, and is now more widely used, naturally, to describe games where the focus shifts towards something more meditative or, in the majority of cases, narrative. These games tend to be smaller than your typical AAA game, but often explore and push storytelling within games — popular Walking Simulators combine detailed environments with well written narratives.
As the genre has matured, more studios have become more confident with the rather vague definition of a Walking Simulator. Excellent, environmentally driven examples, created to hint at a story or provoke certain feelings can be found within Connor Sherlock’s works or, more abstractly within Strangethink’s works. However, Lieve Oma uses a more explicit narrative, as opposed to implicit environmental storytelling.
Florian Veltman’s initial purpose behind Lieve Oma was to create a “positive consoling game” — a response to a popular trend in modern videogames to create something that whilst emotionally affecting, is usually rather negative and overdramatic. Something missing from games at the moment is storytelling that is both pleasant and positive. Veltman knows this and uses it to his advantage — Lieve Oma doesn’t overplay its positivity, instead giving you time to relax and walk.
Lieve Oma’s plot focuses on you going for a walk in the woods with your Grandma (Lieve Oma means For Grandma in Dutch), in order to pick some penny-bun mushrooms for dinner. Throughout the walk you eventually open up to your Grandma and begin to talk about the issues you’re having with school, with moving house and throughout the turmoil, keeping in contact with your old friends. Veltman brilliantly captures the stress and anxiety of a child going through a rough patch — at first closed and stubborn, but eventually coming out of her shell and talking.
There are two main actions of expression within Lieve Oma — walking/running and picking up mushrooms before handing them to your Grandma. Whilst you don’t have any say in the story, you can still play with it to some sense — running away moodily, refusing to pick up mushrooms, leaving your Grandma on the path whilst you explore. However, you are never chastised for your actions, instead, your Grandma is constantly positive and encouraging, simply enjoying your company.
The main season Veltman sets Lieve Oma in is autumn — a season of transition between the languid heat and enjoyment of summer and the cold harshness of winter. The motif of seasons is used throughout Lieve Oma; autumn used to signify change, a transition to summer signifying you finally opening up to your Grandma and relaxing. However, the most important change is from orange autumn/summer to blue winter. Lieve Oma cuts to a few years later, leaving you alone in a wintery forest. If we follow the common uses of seasons, then this immediately suggests that your Grandma has passed away, implied by the cold blues and the harshness of winter.
Yet here is where Vertman subverts our expectations — after walking for a small while, you get a call from your Grandma. Even when she can’t walk into the forest, she is still able to be with you. It would have been easy for Vertman to use winter to show the contrast between Oma being alive and dead, but instead he goes for a happier, more “consoling” route — a breath of fresh air compared to similar narrative focused games. Whilst sadness and drama has its place, so does happiness. Through this, Vertman creates a wonderful example of a story where a huge negative change is not needed to push the story forward.
Loneliness is something that many walking simulators focus on. Dear Esther and Gone Home (arguably two of the biggest walking simulators) both riff off of the fact you are alone. Whilst they include excellent voice overs, you walk alone. Lieve Oma provides a rather refreshing change, giving you someone to enjoy the walk with whilst simultaneously using Oma to drive the narrative forward and lead the player through scenes.
Lieve Oma is a warm tale about walking with your grandma. It won’t change your life and it won’t reinvent the wheel. Yet what it does, it does well — it fills a gap in personal narrative games for something more positive, something that leaves you happy without being over dramatic or outstaying its welcome.