Desert Golfing Review
Simplicity can be a menacing principle in design. P.T. limits user control to walking and observing, asking players to simply stare into the murderous abyss that is the suburban family home within which they are ensnared. It is the fear of the unknown that elicits such devastating dread in Anatomy; prompting players to consider what exactly is so ill-boding about venturing into a dark basement.
A slowness dominates the interactivity with these two titles. The player wanders around the sinister household environment at a crawling pace, emphasizing disempowerment within a medium more accustomed to the opposite. They are both unsettlingly human experiences, psychological manifestos digging to the heart of corrupted morality.
Desert Golfing works in similar fashion to the most effective horror titles, for it is an entirely subversive experience for games. It too moves forward at a deliberately, sometimes agonizingly-slow pace, utilizing an austere sound design to sustain a constant meditative personality. There are no high scores, no possibility of starting the game over again; only moving forward in a quest for self-improvement. A number at the top of the nearly-empty screen tallies the number of strokes, teasing players with collective arcade-inspired tendencies.
Golf of course champions those with the lowest score, so the stroke tally subverts what players expect from traditional score systems by valuing less over more. The joke being that they are incapable of improving the score at all anyways. This glorious title immediately subverts all prior notions of what ‘games’ are meant to involve the player in achieving, in an effort to both question those values and isolate them within a continuous existential loop.
Welcome to Desert Golfing, where the physics are made up and the points don’t matter. Much like Dark Souls or even Pathologic, Desert Golfing forces its audience to accept their mistakes and move on. However, it is neither celebratory nor grim, instead allowing the player themselves to gauge their own sense of accomplishment.
Few moments are as captivating as nailing a hole-in-one in Desert Golfing. The game is often a battle against its own physics, or perhaps rather a testing of one’s understanding of them. If games are intended to be ‘finished’ as a means of determining reward or development, then the ceaselessness of this humble title allows for numerous instances of success, or even failure. It all depends on the player’s own interpretation. Is the game working for you or against you?
It is this dichotomy of the personal that underlines the entire experience of playing Desert Golfing. It separates itself from any sort of traditional gameplay in an effort to isolate the psyche in a quest for conclusion. The beauty is in its longevity: simple controls and aesthetic allow for a timeless experience.
Critics laud The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for its truly open world, thanks to its boundless possibilities for player exploration. Desert Golfing breaks similar ground by disregarding conventional methods of rewarding players, offering hole after hole after hole of quiet, secluded challenge. Each hole casually transforms terrain with minimalist polygonal construction, using a specific set of procedurally-generated landscapes — all of which miraculously appear as specifically designed as the last. This allows for the same particular challenge for every player while also ensuring a unique playthrough.
An endless walk through the desert, designed to be launched only once and continued seemingly forever. By paying tribute to arcade gaming’s roots, it further disassociates itself from convention by deemphasizing player score. During one particularly challenging hole, I chose to revel in the double digit stroke it took me to finally surpass it. There is no sense of accomplishment to getting a lower or higher tally — for example, no conclusive Bejeweled-esque finale to levels. All that remains is the compulsion to continue, to see that number rise continuously.
The 2D playing field repurposes the physics to fit only one plane of space. This further deviates from the principles of golf as sport, and illustrates the one path down which the player may continue. In a modern generation where an emphasis on player freedom often rests above all else, Desert Golfing is a bold counter to the philosophy that functional limitations affect player liberty. It expresses the separation between physical and mental liberation, engaging with the player’s id by continuously leading it down a single path where progress is obtained through experimentation.
Desert Golfing is a constant ruse of a game. Contradictory in design, formulaic in abstraction, and entirely unique by way of its traditional values. It is a thoughtful mobile game largely built around accessibility. In many ways, it is indeed the “everygame” it was purposely designed to be. Less menacing and more thoughtfully reflective, the game recalls the thematic musings of many horror titles working with similar simplistic functionality.
The mellow sound design — from the way the ball hits and rolls across the sand, to the slight ‘Ding’ that accompanies completing a hole (the only real instance of designated, euphoric approval) — mirrors the refined polygonal art style. Simplicity at its very finest, Desert Golfing communicates a very basic notion of progress in order to wax philosophical on the merits of human development, culminating in one of the most profoundly accomplished games of its era.
. . .
In 2005, Greg McLean delivered his debut film, Wolf Creek. Drenched in existential dread, one particular scene stands out as the defining shot of the feature. A woman runs down the long-stretched road, itself devoid of any signs of Life, away from her sociopathic kidnapper, rushing towards any form of safety which may actually never come. McLean frames this scene with grandiose intent, suggesting the miles of wide open land enveloping this fraught, endangered woman seeking refuge. Hopelessness as implied by menacing desolation.
What Wolf Creek best demonstrates is a ceaseless crusade towards enlightenment. If humanity is a daily struggle to survive, then Wolf Creek’s horror succeeds in completely disempowering its protagonists to leave them in a state of utter bewilderment. The heroine desires nothing but the basic impulsion of everyday human Life, in this moment of exhaustive hostility. To keep moving forward, even if nothing is there to ultimately reach.
Desert Golfing turns this dramatic scenario into an interactive fiction, stripping away the violence and dread, instead leaving its audience with slow, meandering monotony designed to calmly satisfy the psyche. The game is bravely dedicated to its cause, and dispels all prior notions of tradition, all as a means of isolating the ego and forcing the player to ponder what exactly they are so determined to achieve.