Entwined In Folklore: The Domovoi

By Adam Smith on January 21st, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

Twine games come in many forms, from the autobiographical confessional to the surrealist equine Bildungsroman. I’ve never seen one quite like The Domovoi though, which takes on the role of a storyteller communicating directly with the player/listener. This particular tale is plucked from Slavic folklore and the actors are new to me, which made playing through the brief encounter a pleasant educational experience. It helps that the story is delightfully – if sparsely – illustrated, flickering with a glow that fits the setting and mood. And if your interest in Slavic folklore is minimal, you could always supply the most inappropriate suggestions possible to derail the storyteller’s flow.

Oral storytelling meets games in a peculiar way that can be extremely compelling. It has, for obvious reasons, been adapted to the social setting of board and card games with ease, and anyone who has played Tales of the Arabian Nights or Once Upon A Time will have stories to tell about the stories they told. And then there are tabletop RPGs, direct descendants of the oral tradition – Homer was basically the world’s best Dungeon Master. Or perhaps he was a long-winded bag of pipes, flatulently in love with his own voice.

I hope for more games that treat the player as a listener or a speaker. Sleep Is Death is a decent example but there’s another game, which came out much more recently, and the name escapes me. A multiplayer collaborative semi-randomised storytelling experience. Does that ring any bells in your belfries?

It should be noted that The Domovoi comes from the same group who have previously told their tales of Dwarf Fortress in a similar fashion, although without the interactive elements. Matul Remrit is essential reading.

Via Indiegames.com.

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14 Comments »

  1. misterT0AST says:

    Just a heads up: clicking on a thing never EXAMINES it, it always PROGRESSES the story.
    Don’t even click on the goddamn broom if you don’t want sick karate moves.

    • Cung1947 says:

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      http://www.Jobs84.com

  2. Zallgrin says:

    The game is pretty cool and it definitely upheld its Slavic origins.

    Translation of Domovoi would be something like “Houseling” (Dom = House).

    Domovoi and their function varies from fairytale to fairytale, but generally they have a strong link to the house and come out at night to help with various tasks, but only if you give them offerings – like milk, bread or salt. I think there is an European equivalent Domovoi as well, but I don’t remember the name.

    • SillyWizard says:

      Brownie.

    • mr.black says:

      More precisely, dom = home, implicating someone lives there and that’s the particular space “where the heart is”, and other difficult to word bags of feelings. House is just the structure with walls and a roof.
      So the creatures would be “Homelings”, or as us Croats literally name them, The Locals, or Homeys (“domestics” would be correct, but wouldn’t make any etymological sense).
      In my country one popular folklore book writer, curiously initialed I.B.M., described them as tiny spirits which, yeah, live in someone’s house/home and either help them or make nuisance of themselves, a lot like Poltergeists, but not evil, more of a chaotic-good nature.

  3. tiltaghe says:

    Is Elegy for a Dead World the game you are thinking of ?

  4. SomeoneSimple says:

    Domovoi’s just make me want to roleplay a Hero stuck in Mordavia, with John Rhys-Davies narrating every click I make.

    [Edit] … See, now you made me install QFG4 .. yet again.
    Thanks, I guess.

  5. Philomelle says:

    No offense, but your reading of the story is way off. The derailments aren’t actually about straying away from Slavic folklore, they’re mostly about trying to stick with it.

    SPOILERS TO THE GAME BELOW THIS LINE.

    Domovoi has always been a benevolent entity in Russian folklore, one that protected households, took care of guests and more. However, it is also a part of Slavic ethnic religion, which was very violently eradicated when Christianity was introduced to Russia (by violently, I mean they literally burned and drowned everyone who refused to convert). The narrative portrays it as part of the old world that needs to be eradicated to make room for the new one.

    Other things that should be noted:
    1. The old owner of the house was a noble who owned the local lands.
    2. If the player chooses to replace the iconic towel near the ending, it will be replaced by a portrait of Lenin framed in red and gold.
    3. The word “progress”, one of the most common words in old communist propaganda, repeats a lot later into the story.
    4. The soldier also comments to the spider that in this new world women can achieve things without seeking permission from men, which, while a noble thought, is also a line that was frequently used in Communist propaganda to convince women to support the movement.
    5. If the player hijacks the story, the narrator will loudly complain “Do you think such a story would pass off in Moscow?” before kicking him out.

    What is actually going on is that the narrator is trying to put together a piece of communist propaganda so he can become famous by selling it in the capital. He concocts a story in which Domovoi, a benevolent entity from old Russian faith, is a rotting remnant of the old world whose presence is a burden to everything around it. It is given a chance to pass away on its own accord, thus honorably giving way to the new and beautiful Soviet Russia. Hijacking the story leads to the narrator being unable to take the story in that direction, so he attempts to salvage it by making a point that whether Domovoi survives or not, its time in the world is almost over and will inevitably give away to “progress”. The result is less one-sidedly heroic on the soldier’s part, however, and the story loses the edge he was going for.

    The whole thing is a fairly subtle exploration of early Soviet Russia’s approach to older aspects of Russian culture. The old things were universally considered bad, weak and pitiful, unable to keep up with the youth and strength of glorious new Russia, so they were written off as something to be discarded. Old icons and faiths were dismissed and burned away, giving way to new ones.

    All that said, I never felt like it was critical of Soviet Russia. Rather, it explores the idea of old beliefs being demonized and abandoned by presenting it as a conversation with a writer who wants to profit off his culture’s oldest symbols by sacrificing them to the symbols that are currently in power.

  6. Darthus says:

    I remember Domovoi… from Quest for Glory 4! So educational. :P That was probably my favorite one just for the dark tone.

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