Paperbark review: a sleepy wombat and a powerful story
Author: Laura Chalk
Why is a game about a wombat ambling through the Australian bush important? Admittedly, this is the question I asked when I found out about the game, and that it took years to make and received funding from the state government to produce, according to the game's website and Press Start.
The answer gradually became clear to me as I played Paperbark. And by the end, I held no doubts about its significance.
In an interview with Mashable, one of the creators, Terry Burdak, explained why they chose rural Victoria as the setting for a game about the Australian natural environment. Other games showcase Australia extremely well, but focus on the popularly portrayed rainforest, desert and coast.
“I’ve never been to the desert…that feels foreign to me. We wanted to show what was familiar to us, and probably a lot more familiar to other people as well.”
I agreed, having grown up in Central West NSW – a landscape closely resembling the dusty pink earth and muted greens and greys of the Paperbark world.
A point-and-click exploration game, the user takes a (native) bird’s eye view and directs a wombat through its domain – over logs, through thickets of wild grass, across dry river beds. The objective is to collect fauna and flora along the way and provide the marsupial safe passage as it negotiates rivers, hills, and a ferocious bush fire.
Mostly, there’s not a lot of drama. And while it may seem slow to some users, this is precisely the point. "It has a lot of quiet time, and I think some people get a little scared of that. They're so used to having media throttling them with sound and action," Burdak said.
In an age of over-stimulation, and lightning-fast pace of the digital world, Paperbark slows us down. In order to identify the plants to collect, we must be patient and observant. To really gain the most from the experience, we must allow ourselves to breathe and simply soak up the authentic sounds of the bush – crickets, birds, flies, wind, frogs.
As we direct the furry protagonist of the game, we’re confronted with the issues facing its survival. We may read about wildlife concerns but rarely are we placed in the shoes of the animals themselves, our heart beat racing as we blindly run from an encroaching fire or stumble into the foreign – and potentially dangerous – yard of a nearby farm.
I played the game whilst seated at my desk, on the 18th storey of an office building in the CBD of this country’s largest city. I felt uneasy. The sudden and potent yearning to be in the bush caught me by surprise. Paperbark is utterly beautiful but it’s not just the watercolour portrayal of life in Australian bush that is affecting. It’s the whole experience.
With the theme of this year's National Tree Day being Connect in Nature, where we explore the relationship between 'screen time' and 'green time', Paperbark provided yet another reminder that technology and nature need not be mutually exclusive. It does what every good game should do – it transports. And by transporting us into nature – it reminds us of a world that is often forgotten about, and one that, deep down, we long to return to.
- Book a trip to your local national or state park in your diary. When you get there, take some time to be still and immerse yourself in the sounds, sights and smells of nature.
- Volunteer with your local wildlife, bush regeneration or bushwalking group.
- Plant a tree with us on National Tree Day. It connects us to nature and allows us to provide homes to wildlife and a thriving environment for generations to come.
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