PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Living Folklore in 'Year Walk'

Year Walk tells a story that comes alive in its telling, that grows up around the player, out of its display box, and into a forest.

When I was a kid, my mother had me take a wooden mask that we owned outside to destroy it with a hatchet. She said it had haunted her dreams. It was a strange precaution to take in retrospect, but at the time, it made sense. As a child, the dark holds all sorts of ghosts and terrors, and the superstitions and beliefs passed on in family stories become fact when the sun sets.

I can tell you some of the stories I grew up with now -- about a pile of cursed clothing or my curandera aunt who could reliably free a house of evil spirits -- but they would lose their vigor in the telling. There is a difference between a story about folklore and a folklore story.

Year Walk, a mobile and PC game by Simogo, the creators of Device 6, taps into this slight difference, delving into the realism of living mythology. It is a Swedish folklore game, not a game about Swedish folklore, and its respect for the experience of its mythos sets it apart from the few other games that try to address a history of such a tradition.

Set in a snow-filled forrest, Year Walk recreates Årsgång (literally translated as “Year Walk”), in which an individual scries the future by enduring a host of mythic creatures and legends. The player wanders through haunted woods, decorated with mystic scrawlings that are etched in the trees and littered with abandoned lodgings and strange tombstones. Daniel Olsén’s excellent score infuses the environment with an unsettling sense of sorrow. To move from portrait to portrait, navigating the forest as if it is a series of islands is entirely hypnotic.

Most importantly, nothing about the player interactions in Year Walk veer away from the experience. Once inside, there is no leaving the journey. Take the hint system for example. As a basic point and click puzzler, there are many opportunities for a player to lose track of their progress, get lost, or forget a clue. A helpful hint system is easily accessible, but instead of offering specific mechanical advice, such as “go to the shed for directions,” each hint reads like a part of the story or maybe advice for a year walker on their journey. For example, one clue reads, “A wooden doll dances in a shed.” The information leads players to a shed in the game of course and eventually to a rotating, creepy figurine that points the right way to progress, but it never refers to the puzzle directly as such. It is information drawn from the fiction, not foisted upon it.

This internalized fiction also appears in the in-game encyclopedia, which chronicles some of the foundational stories that inhabit Year Walk. The siren-like Huldra of Scandinavian lore is described there, as are the rest of the spirit creatures that inhabit the forest. These too read a bit like storybook excerpts. At one point, while finding the lost “Myling” spirits of unbaptized babies, the in-game encyclopedia page itself is torn open, bloodied, and occupied by a crying child. It’s an effective and unsettling moment of convergence between storytelling and mythology as reality.

The most abrupt exemplar of the integrated mythology of Year Walk is present in its last moments. The final set of puzzles literally breaks open the game’s letterboxing, manifesting the lore beyond the confines of the game space. Narratively this act continues after the credits as players gain access to a journal, written by an academic who specifically mentions contributing content to a game. The journal describes this nameless person and their own year walk, which leads to (once again) in-game revelations that alter the outcome of the story. The lore of Year Walk lives inside, through, and outside all of the trappings of the game.

Last year, in an article on Polygon, Simon Flesser of Simogo games described the company's approach to Year Walk’s story: “We wanted to make a game that lets players experience and/or discover the myths for themselves... in many ways we are just continuing the traditions of folklore: telling lies to children.”

By the end of Year Walk, I had a smattering of blue post-it notes stuck all over my desk and monitor. I had drawn references to puzzles, little symbols of a horse and raven, movement directions, and strange runes, like I was haphazardly deciphering some ancient script. For the two or so hours I spent in Year Walk, I was a wide-eyed kid at a campfire, transfixed by a story told with enough authenticity that made it feel for a moment that it could all be real. When making games that draw on cultural narratives (for example, games like Guacamelee or the upcoming Never Along), this is the respectful approach to mythology that the industry should strive to create. Year Walk is an example of living folklore, a story that comes alive in its telling, that grows up around the player, out of its display box, and into a forest.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.