Year Walk: A Review

We have all had that moment when we needed to blow into a church door’s keyhole to prepare ourselves for the next year, right? Year Walk is a game based on that, where you go on an Årsgång, an obscure Swedish tradition where you attempt to catch a glimpse of what may come. The tradition is not well known, even in academic circles, and is what drew me to the game. When I first loaded up Year walk, I was expecting to see parts of Scandinavian folklore that I was familiar with from my childhood stories. Instead, the game seemed unfamiliar and the only thing I recognised was the skågsrå. When I first played it, I came across very little information on årsgång and was sceptical about the legitimacy of the tradition. This year, I came across a great write up by Leo Kent where he investigates the origins of this tradition. He found Tommy Kuusela, a PhD student in Sweden who similarly became interested in årsgång after playing the game. Since then, he has given talks and remains the one credible source on the Wikipedia article on it.

Going on a year walk was to get a chance to see the future, of what the next year will bring. First, you have to seclude yourself in a dark room and abstain from eating and drinking. At midnight, you set off to for the local church, venturing through the dangerous woods. Once you reach the church, there are a bunch of variable traditions that must be done, such as blowing into the key hole, or walking around it anti-clockwise. In doing this, you would meet supernatural beings. Depending on what was encountered, it would signify a different divination for the next year. Year walks would take place on significant nights, such as Christmas Eve, St. Lucia’s Day, and New Year’s Eve. The game starts with you deciding to set off on a year walk.

The game started out on iOS before being ported to the PC, where I played it. I would describe it as a short, atmospheric adventure game. There are a few puzzles, some that really require thinking outside the game. Almost literally for some of them. navigating the world is done through going left or right, and in some places where it is allowed, going forward or backwards. Interactions are simple, usually only relying on mouse movements and clicks and the keyboard for traversal. The game, while embellishing certain aspects of myth and legend, remains fairly true to the year walk tradition. Some puzzle solutions are directly tied to what people reportedly really did.

After learning it was originally and iOS game, I can see where some of the puzzles and environments would work better. However, I never felt that using a mouse was detrimental to the play of the game. It would also seem that some puzzles were redesigned for the PC version, as a few relied on mobile specific mechanics. There is a companion app on iOS that acts like an encyclopaedia. In the PC version, this exists in the menu but I am not sure if there is a difference between the two.

Year Walk is pretty creepy. There is almost no sound as you walk through the forest, except the crunch of snow. You will meet a mysterious forest maiden (skåsgrå), a river horse (bäckahästen), search for dead children, and more. The atmosphere is perfect at conveying the sense of walking in the winter snow at night. The creatures you meet are unnerving rather than threatening. Although they help you in your walk, in return for overcoming their challenges, they aren’t overtly friendly or malicious like a lot of supernatural beings portrayed in popular media today. They are proper supernatural whatever that may be, related more to the creatures of fairy tales than the orcs and elves of the Lord of the Rings.

The only real complaint I have is that the story, which originally was a movie script, was really hard for me to get. I enjoyed the atmosphere and experience so much that I didn’t mind missing out on the narrative. I didn’t learn that there was more to it than just the walk until I was reading through forum threads on the game much later. So if that is important, do pay attention a bit more. With a little extra knowledge, it made more sense to me on the second time around. But for a game supposedly based off of a script, it might not be a good sign if the story is so hidden. The overall experience more than made up for it. It was about going on my own year walk.

The idea of a year walk sounds peculiar, but it makes sense. Depriving yourself of food, water, and light before setting out at midnight to trudge through snow seems like something which would make you see things. Not hallucinate, but doesn’t the light hitting the water look like a baby murder horse? Was the sound I heard walking around the church the wind or the alluring song of a skågsrå? Ultimately. I think, it allows someone to be alone and to reflect on both the past year and the coming one, without distractions.

 

Leo Kent – Year Walk, Myths and Monsters

Tommy Kuusela – “He met his own funeral procession”: The Year walk-ritual in Swedish folk tradition

 

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