Let Oma guide you through the forest
“My grandmother is probably the most important person ever to me, as she provided me with the stability and care a child needs growing up,” writes Florian Veltman on the website for her game, “Lieve Oma,” which translates to “beloved grandma.” “We all have or have had people helping us become a responsible and caring person, and this short narrative game is an ode to these people.”
“Lieve Oma” was released last week for Windows and Mac PCs, and it’s an interesting example of minimalist storytelling in gaming.
In “Lieve Oma,” you play a child, and you walk a nature trail with your grandmother on what looks like a blustery autumn day picking mushrooms — she tells you which ones are safe to eat and which ones aren’t — and talk a bit. It’s a serene, austere experience. The forest is pretty and colorful, but if you wander off too much it just sort of ends, an invisible wall giving way to blankness (I could never quite decide if I liked this effect or not).
It becomes clear that your family has just moved and you haven’t fully adjusted, and Oma is there as the stabilizing force telling you everything will be OK. There’s something powerful about the image of a strong, wise, older woman guiding her moody grandchild through the woods, trying to explain the ways of the world without being overbearing. It’s hard not to be affected by the game.
That said, even by the standards of a very short game (you can get through it in a half-hour), it feels like something is missing. All I really knew about the character I was controlling was that he was lonely after the move, and that his Oma loved him a lot. In a game this short and leaning this heavily on a single relationship, I wanted more; I would have loved more reminiscing from the characters, a stronger sense of what I, the child, was going through.
It’s actually an interesting development conundrum: If you’re making a short game that relies both on “feel,” for lack of a better word, and story, how much of each do you need? There’s obviously no objective answer, but I think in the case of “Lieve Oma” the feel doesn’t quite compensate for the very sparse story. While the forest looks nice, the landscape gets repetitive and doesn’t provide a lot of truly eye-catching features (though intercutting segments of the child walking alone in that same forest during winter a few years later does help).
Regardless of its thinness, I enjoyed “Lieve Oma” and found myself thinking about it and wanting to talk about it. I’m curious what will happen if Veltman takes on a more ambitious project, though I can certainly understand the appeal of going short and minimalist when the goal is to simply show the world how much you love your Oma.