I always say that video games have evolved and now they have the ability to tell stories and make you a part of them. In this regard, many studies have explored different ways and mechanisms to do this. Today we bring you Welcome to Elk, which is perhaps one of the most daring and experimental proposals that I have at least played.
Welcome to Elk stars as Frigg, a young woman who decides to leave Copenhagen for the fictional remote island of Elk, where she will become an apprentice carpenter. An island he’s never been to or knows anyone about. There he will only have as a contact the carpenter, his teacher, who seems to have had some relationship with his father, although they do not clarify in which one.
Elk is the typical city – and to call it a city is optimistic – with low temperatures, far from civilization, trapped in the past, with no internet, with nothing… But if you associate the idea, you’ll land on lost island with Boredom, you are wrong, because Elk is very unique in many ways.
The first thing we will do when we arrive on the island is to go to the Hermit, the island’s pub and meeting place for all islanders, the only place that offers entertainment to the community. There they will have some kind of party in honor of Nolan, although oddly enough he is a member hated by everyone. This party will serve as an excuse for this first contact with the townsfolk and we will find that they are quite peculiar. We’ll meet the alcoholic teacher who has only one student, the cowardly sheriff, the waitress who has a relationship with the teacher, or the widowed mother who does whatever it takes to keep her daughter sane.
Moose is a complicated place, but so is life.
I said that Frigg would become an apprentice carpenter, but that the carpentry work will not come as there are reasons to help the neighbors every day. From more mundane things like fixing a piece of furniture or situations that can be really traumatic like killing a rabbit (something I couldn’t) to others as simple as listening to them.
To get us out of the routine of simply moving or speaking, we have some curious mini-games. Some relate to the storytelling and others simply to the scene we are living in at the time. We have variety in serving beers to the neighbors, considering the amount of foam they like, building the ideal bar, setting up a squirrel trap or really curious and fun, giving a face to some balloons by gluing eye cutouts, nose, mouth … But these games mean little more than a little escape from the true story they tell us.
We’re going to walk, we’re going to interact with some objects, we’re going to have these mini-games, we’re going to talk, but above all we’re going to limit ourselves to listening. Because although it says that the protagonist is Frigg, she will not be the real protagonist of this proposal, since the real protagonists are the stories that are told and what they convey. We will soon discover that we are the link between residents and their stories.
And that’s exactly what Welcome to Elk defines as a biographical adventure based on true stories of life and death, blending fiction with reality. As we get to know our neighbors, they will tell us stories that we will experience in the game. But here, Tripple Topping wanted to flip the narrative, break the fourth wall, and make a collage. The same stories or tragedies will appear in our home in the form of messages written in a glass bottle and will be told in a very similar way to how we experienced them and will remind us of that experience in a much more real way. But they go further and real testimonies are mixed to tell the reality of these events. Very raw stories, real drama told in the first person.
It’s a combination I’ve never experienced personally. Playing something, being told about it in the form of a video game, but mixing it with those interviews and testimonies that manage to shake you, manage to convey the experience in a way that sometimes makes you uncomfortable and that I will not count so as not to break this experience if you decide to play it.
Don’t be fooled by this cardstock and colorful aesthetic. Welcome to Elk is a game of contrasts and reminds us of it in every part. His art is in black and white contrasting with the striking colors that you can interact with. The mocking walk, or rather like a marionette, of the characters contrasts with the stories they carry behind their backs. Perhaps all this with the aim of softening the drama of the stories, like these mini-games, which are reliefs in the plot and allow you to catch your breath to continue and complete this story that is now in your head.
The sound section is particularly worth mentioning. Something that shouldn’t be overlooked as it is accompanied by music that hardly allows you to be still while playing (or so it was in my case doing little dances while playing). And that it will switch to more serious and celebratory tones in the moments when the game throws you back into the cold and raw reality of Elk.
In Welcome to Elk, they always want to remind us that these are true stories, so it’s like a collage and its different ways to give us that message. Humour, love, death… everything goes hand in hand and Tripple Topping has known how to mix these in a very intelligent way without disregarding these realities.
“Sometimes a good story is all it ever was”
Life in Elk is real, with its imperfect life, with its good and bad moments, with that alcoholism that breathes in every corner, reminding you that Elk is a town destined to die and from who will only remember their stories.
Welcome to Elk offers an experience that you will hardly find in any other game. Oral tradition is something fundamental in isolated communities and sometimes there is no reason to have anything else. Listen, be aware that life is made up of little fragments of stories. That we are what we are because of what we know and live.
I would define it as an experimental, risky game that is not for everyone, but I would also say that it does not go unnoticed by anyone and that although not all decisions are right, and sometimes it happens to you like Frigg, you don’t will know if you’ve had too much to drink, he knows how to deal with very profound issues while reminding us that storytelling is the way to fight oblivion. Play like them between reality and fiction; humor and death; Colors and black and white is something that has a value and merit that no one can take from them.