Critical Play: Mysteries — Year Walk

[This post contains vague spoilers to the ending of Year Walk.]

I played Year Walk, an iOS game by developer Simogo. The game’s narrative follows a young man named Daniel going on a Year Walk to see his future with the girl he loves, and its core mysteries are discovering the secrets of the forest (and its guardians) and finding out what Daniel saw at the end of his walk. This narrative is woven into the mystery by placing the player in Daniel’s shoes and revealing information to them as it is revealed to him, with added obfuscation from the fact that Daniel has contextual information that the player doesn’t (although this gap is somewhat narrowed by the Swedish folklore breakdown in the companion app). The mechanics support this mystery by intentionally lacking any explanation, forcing the player to experiment to find out what’s possible in the game world and reinforcing the unfamiliar, disorienting, and unsafe situation Daniel finds himself in, where something unexpected could happen at any moment.

However, although that lack of explanation did add to the game’s air of mystery, some of the unexpected mechanics brought a lot of attention to the game’s nature as a piece of software in a way that both took me out of the story and made some of the puzzles very frustrating. Multiple puzzles involved using gestures that a player would not usually expect to be possible and would not think to try without some in-game guidance — namely, “walking” your fingers to forcibly scroll past the end of the screen and turning the device upside-down. I had to look up a walkthrough for those parts, and I have no idea how I would have figured out what the game expected me to do on my own. The fact that both of these gestures involved manipulating the device in unusual ways also called attention to the fact that I was a modern-day person playing a game on a device and not actually a young man taking a Year Walk in the distant past. To a lesser extent, the use of the companion app also had this effect; even if I could learn the code to the safe from the professor’s notes, how could Daniel have learned it? Does he also have the app? Despite this bit of dissonance, though, I did think the use of a companion app was an interesting element of the game, and it was satisfying to unlock its secrets.

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