Home Tech ‘It’s like taking a shovel to the brain’: Dark fairy tale game Indika takes aim at the Russian Orthodox Church

‘It’s like taking a shovel to the brain’: Dark fairy tale game Indika takes aim at the Russian Orthodox Church

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'It's like taking a shovel to the brain': Dark fairy tale game Indika takes aim at the Russian Orthodox Church

TO A young woman stands amid the labyrinthine architecture of a Russian nunnery. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the scene for one from Tomb Raider. Then the woman moves, slowly and without the athletic gait of action heroine Lara Croft. Her head is bowed, wrapped in a black cloth, and her shoulders are hunched in such a way that you have to tilt the camera. so glimpse his bright, nervous eyes.

Indika, the main protagonist of this dreamlike yet eerily photorealistic adventure game, cuts a “submissive” figure according to her creative director and writer, Dmitry Svetlov, and that’s precisely the point. The Moscow-born developer set out to create a game about the ways in which, in his opinion, people have come to “hate themselves” while becoming too accustomed to “living in fear.”

In his native Russia, Svetlov partly blames the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s an institution he knows well, as he grew up in a religious home: he visited church twice a week, took communion, and even spent time in a monastery (his most lasting memory of it is of the unpleasant food). Then, in as deep an adolescent rebellion as possible, Svetlov renounced his faith.

“When you’re 15 years old and you’ve believed in something your whole life, it takes a lot of effort to change it,” he says. “It’s like taking a shovel and sticking it in your brain.”

Indika is about a young nun who questions every aspect of her equally stifling environment. The game plays out as a clever third-person walking simulator, soundtracked by her philosophical soul-searching. In one section, she debates the nature of free will with a sweet escaped prisoner named Ily, whose blackened arm is in desperate need of amputation. These discussions arose from Svetlov’s adolescence, when he was trying to persuade his believing friends of his own skeptical position. “I hardly had to write the scenes from scratch. They were already complete,” he says.


Thanks to the biting and witty script, the game never becomes tedious. The less interactive sections are punctuated by spatial puzzles, and the overall experience is elevated by exquisite but unnerving environmental design that borders on the supernatural.

In a puzzle, struggling with her feelings towards her monastic life, the young woman must leave a rocky enclave that has been divided into two different planes: reality and a more fantastic realm. You can switch between them in real time, revealing a passage to an exit, soundtracked by disorienting music and narration, from vulgar, jumping electronics to deep, ominous rumbles; from the torment of the devil himself to the murmured prayers of Indika.

For Svetlov, it was important to design puzzles that seemed to tear apart Indika’s world, “because that’s precisely what’s happening to her mind at that moment.”

It is practically impossible to separate the history of the Russian Orthodox Church from the current moment in Russia. Svetlov claims with palpable disdain that the Russian Church has become “apropaganda weapon”for the government of Vladimir Putin. “The priests simply say that you must defend your country, that you must die for your country and that you will go to heaven. “It’s crazy,” he says.

Partly as a result of the war between Russia and Ukraine, most of the 14-person development studio behind Indika, Odd Meter, emigrated to neighboring Kazakhstan. Several of its employees are of recruiting age (between 18 and 30 years old), so it was a risk for them to stay.

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For the slightly older Svetlov, 38, it felt too “uncomfortable” to stay. “Even if you don’t watch television or read official newspapers, you still see a lot of propaganda on billboards and screens. It is very difficult emotionally,” he says.

In the midst of this turmoil, he and his colleagues have crafted a painful fairy tale filled with strange, ghostly details about life beyond the “easy answers” of the church and its God-fearing doctrine. “I think you can’t really love others until you learn to love yourself,” says Svetlov, a process that unfolds through Indika herself. When you reach the diabolical end of the game, she is no longer hidden: her eyes shine brighter and wilder than ever.

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