In Scéal, you play as the ghost of a girl attempting to remember her past. The game, released this fall for PC on Steam by Joint Custody, fuses Irish folklore with the real topography of the town of Carlingford, unfolding like a pop-up storybook. As this lost soul, your main tool of recollection is a paintbrush, which over the course of the same repeating day, you use to alter the colors and textures of the world that is gradually revealed.
“Scéal” is Irish for “story.” In a video series shared by the developers, game designer Sandro Magliocco cites both the 2009 illuminated manuscript-style animation of the 2009 film The Secret of Kells, and the repetition of the 1993 film Groundhog Day as his inspiration. As the game’s day cycles, you gain access to different ink to further develop your own fragmented story. Blank buildings are painted into vibrant presences, while at other stages only death and despair are evoked in increasingly inky hues and withered trees around you.
Although the game is rather short, taking only a few hours to complete, it is gorgeous and its style is innovative. Similar to the recently launched Candle, the game environment is a moving painting. The palettes of the Irish town change with the mood of the narrative, which is augmented by the haunting folk-infused soundtrack by Lorcan Mac Mathuna, Aislinn Duffy, and Florence Glen.
I did wish that Scéal involved the player a bit more in the folklore it references, such as Branna, the raven of death that shows up to lead your ghost on her path of retrieval that culminates in the afterlife, or the dark banshee spirit you can embody. Simogo’s 2013 game Year Walk, for instance, which contained Swedish folklore, included a companion app that explored the history of its mythology. These games can be accessible entry points to our global folklore, and by interpreting it through new media, they can easily engage a broader audience with the past. When you complete Scéal, you finish a storybook, one that weaves together Celtic symbolism, the architecture of Ireland, and the power of art to evoke memory.