I’ve written a lot this year about games that either lift your spirits or take you somewhere else. It’s been a weird year. My usual gaming diet of survival horror and FPS hasn’t cut it. I’ve needed games to show me warmth, maybe even hope.
Which brings me to my latest discovery, Welcome To Elk. Made by Danish indie developer Triple Topping, the game is unlike anything you’ve played.
This is an adventure about a character named Frigg, a newcomer to a remote Scandinavian island called Elk. Frigg has come to help the island’s local carpenter out. But that doesn’t happen. Loads of weird stuff does instead. And here’s the twist: all the stories that take place in the game come from real events that happened either to the games’ developers or their friends. The truth is stranger than fiction, as they say.
Not just stranger, but more beautiful, more frightening, more sad… and so on. This is a game that runs the gamut of human emotions. That might sound intense for a game you can play through in just a few hours – I did it in three – but Welcome To Elk squeezes in revelations throughout every crevice of its snowy landscape.
You’ll meet the guy who is convinced he’s dead and that he and everyone else on the island is a ghost. There’s a woman who eats squirrels and has the most tragic past. The island bully, who despite being drawn in the adorable art style that runs across the game, inspired sheer revulsion in me.
A brief game. A short one. But one that is filled with the very best (and sometimes the very worst) of humanity. Which is exactly the game I’ve been looking for this year, a time when COVID has built a wall between me and my friends, my family and anyone and anything else I love.
Playing Welcome To Elk was almost meditative. It’s a reminder that life is filled with awe and wonder – it’s just on pause right now, or at least playing in slow motion. I came to view Frigg as an avatar for myself, seeing this strange new world through her eyes as I made new friends, went to new places and had new experiences. When the game was over, I genuinely felt lonelier than I have all year.
Thankfully I just restarted the game, and I’m not going to stop the praise here. Welcome To Elk is the most creative game I’ve played in forever. The mini-games – a video game trope I hate almost as much as quick-time events and the gross ‘Insanity level’ device so often used in survival horror – were an absolute delight, and never, ever what I expected they were going to be.
The music – a succession of bluesy country or trippy ambient pop – enhanced my immersion in Fripp’s world. While there are moments where the game breaks the fourth wall, like (spoiler alert!) when you can hear the developers talk about their ideas as Fripp explores the island’s mansion, those are ideas that I’ve never come across in a lifetime of playing many, many video games.
o if you’re looking for some humanity in this mess of a year, the game is a reminder that humans, for all our faults, are endlessly fascinating creatures. And if you need reminding that the laughs will return – as will adventures, new friendships and beers with friends – I can’t think of any video game experience that will swell your heart like Welcome To Elk. Trust me, I’ve spent all year looking for something that will do that. Finally I have.