Sunday, August 31, 1986. It’s nighttime, and Meredith is completing her weekly diary on a computer. High skyscrapers dominate the skyline out the apartment window. The phone rings: a co-worker speaks about meetings and projects, but she immediately stops him. For the following two weeks, Meredith has something else in mind. This is the beginning of Lake.
Driving around Providence Oaks
Delivering mail is like a walk in the park. With mailboxes.– Frank
Lake was developed by Gamious and published by Whitethorn Games; it’s a third-person narrative-driven game released in September 2021. The player takes the role of Meredith Weiss, a talented developer in her forties who works assiduously in a stressful business environment. A request from her father breaks the monotony of her life: he asks her to replace him in his job as a postman in Providence Oaks, a small village that a young Meredith had left 22 years earlier.
The entire video game takes place in this pleasant village in Oregon, set around the shores of a lake and surrounded by woods. The gameplay mechanics, as the graphic aspect, are really simple: Meredith’s duties are to drive the mail truck delivering mail and packages to residents, in a setting of enjoyable views and a relaxed atmosphere.
This lake… it’s always more beautiful than I remember it.– Meredith
The approach to work as a form of relaxation is not so common in the gaming scene: video game developers often prefer to fulfill the high demand of the many gamers who want fast pace, pulse-pounding action or fierce online competitiveness. There is certainly no shortage of exceptions: the most notable are, for example, the Truck Simulator or Farming Simulator series, or the much more colorful Animal Crossing.
Despite its extreme visual and gameplay simplicity, Lake turns out to be such an effective game that it absorbs the player into its suspended atmosphere. The days regularly follow one another; Meredith delivers the mail in the morning, in the afternoon she meets with other characters, while in the evening she talks to her parents on the phone. Lake lends itself to be played bit by bit, maybe in parallel with the protagonist’s working days, becoming almost a metanarrative experience. The space that the protagonist lives in for two weeks is the same that the player can carve out from work or study. Like Meredith, the player can take refuge in the slow, peaceful, and normal Providence Oaks.
Already from the first day on the job, it’s clear that the work of letter carriers won’t be the main core of the game. Meredith’s tasks are just a pretext to move the protagonist through her hometown streets, running into old acquaintances, making new ones, and choosing whether to cultivate those relationships or not.
Meredith Weiss, back in Providence Oaks. How’s life treating you, darlin’?– Maureen
Meredith will meet again a childhood friend, who’s still living in Providence Oaks and has a baby; the good old Maureen, the lady who runs the diner just outside the village, and who saw Meredith grow up; or even the old fisherman, quiet and raw but kind-hearted. New encounters will also be key in Meredith’s new experience to build solid friendships, and maybe something more.
Either way, the player shifts back and forth between these two dimensions, transported once by nostalgia, once by the desire for novelty. Lake unfolds itself on this middle line, waiting for Meredith to finally choose which path to take.
It’s up to you
It’s good to know it’s never too late to make new memories.– Kay
In Lake the theme of choice is especially important: dialogues are always multiple-choice so that the player can decide which nuance to give to the conversation with the other characters. Meredith isn’t forced to appreciate everything her new experience can offer, and indeed the game doesn’t hide also the negative aspects of slow and methodic life in a small village: routine, same people, not much spirit of openness to the new, and also simpler things like the poor variety in the local radio playlist. Not a small thing if you drive a mail truck the whole day.
There are three different endings, and the player’s choices don’t always cause radical plot twists like in much more famous games like Life is Strange, Until Dawn, or Detroit: Become Human; the decisions condition the relationship with the inhabitants of Providence Oaks, which will be more detached or more intimate depending on Meredith’s sincere interest in them. Lake speaks right about this: being able to choose. Whether looking at the past or the future, at some point in life the most important and determining need is to choose what you want to be. Each on their own path.