By: Quinn Whalen
Årsgång, or year walk in English, is an ancient method of divination from Sweden. To see into their future, people would lock themselves in a dark room, talk to no one, refrain from eating or drinking, and then at the stroke of midnight, wander into the forests where they would encounter an assortment of supernatural creatures. This could only be done on significant dates such as, Christmas Eve, Midsummer’s Eve, and most commonly New Year’s Eve. Upon leaving their homes they would try to make their way to a church and walk around it in a specific pattern to see into their future. This was a dangerous and possibly even deadly tradition. Many of the supernatural entities related with year walking were malicious and wandering through the forest on an empty stomach in the middle of winter in general is not a very safe idea. Year walking was practiced in the 1800s and abandoned for the most part by the 1900s.
Now, I’d like to say that I just stumbled upon this interesting Swedish tradition because I’m a well-rounded and thoroughly cultured individual who enjoys doing research on ancient practices, but then I probably wouldn’t be writing a video game article about it would I? I found out about Year Walk after playing an indie, iOS, horror game on my iPad. I found the game very entertaining and surprisingly impactful. I typically associate iOS games with Bejeweled and other very casual games, but Year Walk was a very deep, complicated, and tense experience–to my delightful surprise.
The game revolves around your character participating in a year walk in hopes of seeing their future, so the majority of the game is spent wandering through the forest, solving cryptic puzzles, and encountering mysterious entities of an occult nature. The game has a very ominous atmosphere. Wandering around a dark, strange forest at night, with a subtle and eerie soundtrack looming in the background sets this tone quickly and effectively. Navigating the forest without an in-game map, combined with many of the puzzles being incredibly cryptic leads to a lot of aimless wandering, and trial and error in figuring out what to do. I found this added to the immersion as there’s no external guide of sorts telling you where to go or what to do, but it can be frustrating at times if you want to get through the game in a timely manner.
The art style is unique but simple, and combined with the soundtrack makes the game reminiscent of a spooky children’s book. There are some dark images, and the story certainly isn’t a happy-go-lucky tale, but it isn’t an “in-your-face” kind of horror game. It plays on the ambiguity of the story and suspense creating an immersive and haunting experience. The story is to some degree, indirectly told and took me a while to figure out. That, along with the puzzles being very cryptic made the game confusing to play in a sense, but not necessarily to a fault, and it felt like what the developers were aiming for.
What shines about Year Walk the most to me was the unique nature of the puzzles and story which were derived from this ancient Swedish tradition. Doing further research into year walking, which included reading the notes written by the developers of the game, it is a very interesting and genuinely scary premise for a game, especially to have come from something people actually used to do. Reading articles which explain the supernatural entities in the game, and some of the more ambiguous events add layers to the story and make the game feel like a very full experience. It is not a very long game if you’re super good at cryptic puzzles, and the story is quite short looking back on it, but it is satisfying to play and has certainly left its impact on me.
If you enjoy cryptic puzzles, wandering around aimlessly, and indirect, complicated stories, I think Year Walk would be your cup of tea. However, aimlessly wandering around, and trial and error going poorly can often lead to frustration, so it certainly isn’t “everyone’s kind of game”. The soundtrack and art style are pleasantly immersive and ominous, and the surrounding lore is satisfyingly rich. Year Walk demonstrated to me not only the potential of iOS games, but also how drawing on real life folk tales and culture can enrich the immersion and atmosphere of an already enjoyable, spooky game.
If you are on iOS, or have any devices of the sort I would recommend checking it out, it’s also available on the Steam Store.