Whenever the concept of mythology springs to mind, odds are most of us remain guilty of skipping straight to Norse or Greek. After all, the stories of Odin, Zeus, and the inter-familial disputes of both are something that video games (and wider pop culture) have been obsessed with for decades. Fortunately, though, Red Stage Entertainment is a small, six-person Finnish studio trying to change that, developing a 3D action-adventure based on a culture that many of us will likely have never heard of; that of the Sámi people. Skábma – Snowfall launches on PC later this year, hoping to shed light on this otherwise under-represented group of indigenous people who first originated in Northern Europe, using a mixture of platforming, environmental puzzles, and folk-like storytelling.
“To me it was something that hadn’t been done before,” explains Marjaana Auranen, the game’s writer. Of Sámi descent herself, she felt it important that the team do justice to this community, even if most of their stories were passed down around the camp-fire rather than in books or text. “If we’re talking about the lore, it’s always second-hand knowledge if we go way back, because, of course, Sámi people didn’t write themselves.” This gave Red Stage a unique opportunity to make the game’s narrative a combination of many tales as opposed to just one. “We chose quite early on that we wanted to mix multiple Sámi characters all around the same land,” she continues, “and all these multiple different stories around the same land can be true in this one universe.”
Players take on the role of Áilu, a young Sámi herder who at the beginning of Skábma – Snowfall is searching for a reindeer doe who’s run away. Events soon spiral into the unexpectedly fantastical, however, once she finds an enchanted drum known as the Goavddis, which contains the ancient power of shamanic Sámi healers. Using a combination of her wits and this long-lost mythological instrument, it’s up to her to fight back against the infection currently threatening the nature around her by seeking the aid of four unique animal spirits.
For Red Stage, making the Goavddis a centrepiece was an ideal way to teach players more about all things Sámi, while simultaneously facilitating fun gameplay that made sense within the mysterious landscapes you visit. “When we started thinking about the mechanics of the game, we thought about the most powerful tool that shamans had, and it was the drum,” says Auranen. “It was a natural choice to use that as a main mechanic, so you drum and it reveals the hidden parts of the spirit world.”
Sámi culture’s “spiritual” side will manifest itself in-game via the different powers and traversal abilities each spirit will bestow on you, working in tandem with the drum to aid Áilu on her journey. “It was a tool for healing in general, but also there were so many stories about what Noaidis [the Sámi word for shamans] did, like how they travelled in both the spirit worlds and how they use spiritual powers to travel in the environment in the human world,” says Sahin Cengiz, director and designer on Skábma – Snowfall. Connection with nature is a big overall part of it, too, he says. “You’re able to affect things in the environment. So you hopefully get the sense of the rhythm of nature.”
Today, there are only around 100,000 or so people making up what’s left of the Sámi community – a drop in the ocean compared to a lot of other ethnic groups around the world. This, combined with the uncertainty of whether or not the culture will ever be made the subject of a game again in future, inspired Red Stage to pack in as many indigenous elements as possible. This even includes yoiking: a style of singing and musical expression native to Sámi culture that was, until recently, previously forbidden in church due to ill-informed opinions about its ties to devil worship. Yoiking is yet another way to convey the mysticism of Áilu’s adventure, providing a deep sense of atmosphere for the ears as well as eyes.
Introducing a worldwide audience to a mostly unknown culture is no easy task, especially since investors tend to back projects based on familiar subjects like those aforementioned Greek and Norse myths. But the hope is that by focusing on a community never seen in games before, Red Stage will find an audience that appreciates Skábma – Snowfall’s fresh perspective.
“I hope that people will learn more about indigenous cultures all around the world, not just Sámi,” Auranen says, summing up. “But beyond that, they get more interested [in] other cultures. We tend to keep in the safe zones in our lives and learn about the same cultures all over again, but there are so many others in the world. I would love to see the younger Sámi start making games, be proud of the culture, and [have] them showing that culture to the world.
Genre Action-adventure | Format PC | Developer Red Stage Entertainment | Publisher PID Games | Release 2022 | Social @RedStageFI