January 15, 2019


Understanding Cultures of Taboo as an Indonesian Ghostbuster in Pamali: Indonesian Folklore Horror

January 15, 2019 | Alfianodaffa

Pamali: Bahasa Indonesia for abstinence, prohibition or things that should not be done at a particular place or time because they can cause evil.

This concept inspired StoryTale Studios from Bandung to develop a game called Pamali: Indonesian Folklore Horror. This horror game is done to re-create the pamali tradition, telling us not to do whatever we want or to do everything without regard to norms, manners, and politeness. This game is also a reminder that Indonesia still strongly focuses on tradition and manners. The developers take care of this premise by prioritizing these aspects and making us careful when making decisions.

We explore the interior of an Indonesian household.

So, this game focuses on what is appropriate or inappropriate, taboo and not taboo, when dealing with situations where the supernatural is in power. This concept makes cultural structures stand out as a focus rather than the fear of being haunted by supernatural beings used as the main “threat”.” And so”far, seeing how the gameplay develops, it feels very different from most existing horror video games. Your focus here is not to run or hide but to pay attention and learn. When have you experienced a horror game like this?

There are slight hints towards a bigger mystery.

In the first episode (and in the gameplay demo), you will be asked to clean up the ex-house of your parents, who have recently passed away in tragedy. In a situation like this, you will be faced with choosing either to follow culture and tradition or to play randomly and not carefully. Because once you make a wrong move and continue to follow this action, you could say that you won’t get a pleasant ending. For example, you will find a nail, and some people will surely throw it away because our goal is to clean the house. Still, it turns out that this will trigger your meeting with supernatural beings because you neglected the mythological power of that object. You may also turn on the lights, and suddenly, they turn off again; maybe the ghosts are just making “fun” of “something”, but they feel disturbed. From a simple gameplay concept where you only have to interact with existing objects and assess stories from paper copies and scattered documents, Pamali does provide unique and rarely found experiences in other horror games.

The first episode is set in an Indonesian house surrounded by lush vegetation.

Regarding gameplay, Pamali presents something new, but we think some aspects are a little challenging to understand if the players are non-local or from abroad. Even local people sometimes have difficulty understanding the culture between taboo and not taboo that Pamali tries to deliver in their gameplay. In the game, many might tend to understand it after experiencing “trial and” error”, often “leading to one of the many bad endings. Although this concept is exciting, it could be bothersome considering that Pamali turned out to have 36 endings, which are also hard to understand for gamers at first—efforts highlighting the cultural side of what Pamali does also need intensive hard work. As Indonesian gamers, we may appreciate well what Kuntilanak (the ghost in episode one) is, and we might know the background of a mystical story that has existed for a long time. But imagine if we are gamers from abroad who don’t know Indonesia well. The information offered by the developers is related to the figure of Kuntilanak, but the background of the story and why it is so scary is not complete.

There is always the possibility that all the little details offered in this game will become irrelevant. Foreign gamers must work extra hard to understand who and what Kuntilanak is.

What the …?!

The first gameplay demo was hard to see because the lighting was too dark, and even increasing the brightness to 100% was not very helpful. But it seems that the developer has recognized this problem and decided to improve the lighting, even though it is only adjusted to what percentage, and we still must adjust it again in-game settings. That is understandable, considering the developer wants to maintain an authentic horror atmosphere. So, for lighting now, I think preserving the game’s purpose is essential.

Browse Indonesian newspapers to find out what happened.

In the end, Pamali is indeed a very positive and personal experience. It is better than DreadOut regarding the game mechanism and atmosphere, and it shows proper Indonesian horror. It’s not It’s exploration with sophisticated smartphones and fighting the supernatural beings, in this game we really can only avoid evil and wait for what happens next. Jumpscares are rare, but we don’t think we need them as the atmosphere in Pamali has made us very uncomfortable. Especially the sound: a woman cries and sings accompanied by traditional Indonesian instruments that absorb players into the authentic horror experience of the game.

The game is very dark, and reassuring sources of light are scarce.

So, in a nutshell, this game shows the very good potential of horror games from Indonesia, although it needs some improvements with movement and interaction, which can sometimes become rigid and less interactive. Overall, the graphics, lighting, atmosphere, and sound design are totally awesome! Just a little tweak and we will hope and be very confident that this game will get better with each episode.

Note: This review is based on the first of four episodes of the game called “The White Lady”. The other episodes are scheduled to be released later in 2019.

Pamali: Indonesian Folklore Horror is available for PC on Steam.


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