I set a fire in a room full of people and wicker furniture, then locked the door. I shot poisoned arrows into my enemies, then chopped down thousands of trees. I set pitfall traps for my neighbor, then bashed him over the head with a butterfly net.
I consider myself a pacifist, but I can get pretty violent when I play video games, even when they’re relatively peaceful ones like “The Sims,” “Fantasy Life” and “Animal Crossing.” With many thousands of hours of fictional fighting and a depressive disorder, I’m a sure shot for America’s Next Top Shooter — at least according to the folks who blame such violence on video games and mental health problems.
Don’t worry. I’m more likely to apologize to my couch for swearing after I stub a toe than ever intentionally injure anyone.
Here’s my counterargument: Video games save lives. Or at least act as a counterweight to the ugly parts of life. They let you take out frustrations without hurting anyone. They connect people with similar interests. They let you live out your wildest fantasies, like paying off all your debts or building a swimming pool shaped like a dick.
Like any other medium, games reflect the creativity and philosophies of the people who make them. Thus, the recently released “A Short Hike” speaks highly of its creators.
The game’s protagonist is Claire, a bird who is camping with her aunt and needs to make an important phone call. But there’s no reception unless she hikes to the top of Hawk Peak.
Summiting the mountain is the apparent goal, but the real joy of this game is exploring the park, which is filled with treasure chests and animals who can use your help. The funny dialogue and wild surroundings are incentive enough to take one’s time walking, climbing and gliding around the vast, pixel-art park.
This game won’t let you be violent even if you try, and I tried. I jumped off a cliff for a terminal-velocity fall, and there was no splat — just a graceful landing. I picked up a stick and menaced the campers, but it passed through them harmlessly.
It’s a peaceful feeling knowing you can’t hurt yourself or others. Just the sort of escape one needs after long days of reading the news. And when you’re not testing the limits of its capacity for violence, “A Short Hike” delivers the goods with enchanting music and contemplative moments.
Without a deadline looming, I probably would have spent days just gliding around the park looking for people to befriend and secret spaces to discover. But I had to climb Hawk Peak and make sure there wasn’t a stressful ending in store before I could recommend the game in good faith.
I won’t spoil what happens at the top, but it left me feeling as light as a feather. “A Short Hike” may not save any lives, but it sure made mine feel more bearable for a few hours.