How is narrative woven into the mystery of Year Walk?
Game: Year Walk
Platform: iOS, OS X, Microsoft Windows, Wii U
For this critical play, I chose the walking simulator Year Walk, an indie game released in 2014. In it, players are introduced to the Swedish tradition of year walking, in which one engages in a ceremonial walk to reach a church and ultimately get a glimpse into the future. The tradition is portrayed as very dangerous, but our character chooses to year walk anyways despite the apprehensions of his lover at the beginning of the game.
The mechanics of Year Walk were the most interesting aspect of the game for me. Since the game is optimized for iPad as well as desktop and Wii U, the mechanics had to be adapted to be able to fit all of the different mediums at once. To walk through the game, the player uses arrow keys or swiping to move left and right, like a side-scroller. However, when a creature, place, or event is encountered during your journey, the screen moves forward and backwards into and out of the forest/building/graveyard/etc. This makes for a very interesting mix between first person POV and side-scrolling gameplay which I feel like adds to the mystery because you feel like you are not only journeying left or right along the path but also deeper into the forest, where the creatures you find are spookier and scarier than they were before.
Another interesting part of the narrative of this game is the journal of a man named Theodore who is obsessed with Swedish folklore and who has documented many of the creatures that you will encounter during the gameplay. Although the journal is a completely optional part of the game and you are not forced to read the entries on the mystical creatures at any point, your curiosity can lead you to learn more about the horrors that the game will hold and also creates a sense of apprehension and mystery. This mechanic adds to the mystery and horror narrative and a way that is unique from other indie horror games, which usually use forced jump scares to induce fear. By making much of the horror, creepiness, and mystery of the game opt-in, this game creates more of a sense of discovery (and a discovery type of fun) than if the fear were to be forced down your throat. Because you are able to read about all of the creatures before-hand, you are creating in yourself a sense of fear and expectation for the mysterious horror that you will meet later in the game. Below, you can see what the journal looks like in-game.
Lastly, narrative is woven into the mystery of the game through the dialogue itself. Everything you know about your own player character is discovered by interacting with the other players or by reading the creepy intro monologue text, and those interactions are themselves kept pretty vague and ominous. For example, at the beginning, the player’s lover warns him not to participate in the year walk, explaining that her cousin had died recently doing the same thing. You proceed anyways, because that is what the game is about, but the interaction creates a sense of apprehension as you guess at what the year walk is really about.
In conclusion, Year Walk was a really unique and interesting take on a horror game. I liked that it didn’t make use of the grotesque or rely heavily on jump-scares to achieve its goal, but rather used a quieter sense of creepiness that pervaded the whole game. It gives us the discovery, narrative, and fantasy types of fun. It was very enjoyable!