Raik: A Phenomenal Game that Explores Anxiety, Caverns and Languages

raik
Raik, in Scots and English

Browsing through the history of the Interactive Fiction Competition (IFComp) always pays off, but never more for me than with Raik.

Built in Twine, Raik was the 15th-place entry in IFComp 2014, and has since been expanded and improved further. Creator Aitch Giles bills the game as a “Scots fantasia about anxiety, featuring kelpies, lost keys, mysteriously-lit underground caverns, boring work, panic attacks and red hair.” All true, but none of that gets quite to the heart of the thing.

It’s a game that takes place on two planes, so to speak. One is the mundane world of daily work and panic disorders. You attempt to navigate a single day without breaking down in a full-blown panic attack. One word of caution: Giles has done an admirable job of building a fictional panic attack, and you may want to be aware of that if you’re prone to panic yourself.

The experience rings painfully true, even written fully in Scots, a language with which I have only passing familiarity, unless reading Outlander counts for anything (it doesn’t).

The language barrier isn’t exactly an issue, though, as you can translate the story into English. It’s just that it’s as much a transportation as a translation, moving the story to its second plane, a high-fantasy quest for a magical MacGuffin.

The two are not unrelated, and you’ll need to read both to get the full tale. Thankfully, Raik includes a link to the Dictionar o the Scots Leid, so even the least Scots-literate among us should be able to muddle through.

As it begins, you wake – or wauken.

Yont the windaes ye see the gray lew o mornin. Ye yauk. Ye’re rackt wi the echas o the ither day’s panic attack: sair limms, stoondin heid, doutsome mynd. It’s hauf seiven an ye pit on yer glesses an ye ken ithoot quaisten: ye willna be able tae shak this amp aw day.

 

The last of that reads, more or less, “It’s half-past seven and you put on your glasses and you know without question: you won’t be able to shake this anxiety all day.”

Or, in the full English translation,

You’re standing at the great mouth of Cave of Uamh. Your long red hair stirs in a breath of air coming from deep inside — a gust that sounds almost like a word, or a snatch of song. Your battleplaid is torn and dusty, your travel sporran nearly empty, but you know: here you will find the end of your journey.

 

The two are entirely different on a literal level, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that the shifts between them are meaningful.

“Raik” is itself as full of meaning – it could be translated as a journey, or it could be a load as great as one can carry. Those two concepts fit together just as well as the game’s two narratives.

Raik is available at itch.io, on a pay-what-you-can basis.