INDIKA weaves a mature tale of absurdity, hypocrisy and sexual violence

Hell is empty and the devils are inside me.

Odd Meter

This story contains discussions of sexual violence.

Multiple scenes from INDIKA are seared into my brain. A palm-sized person crawls out of a nun’s mouth and runs down her arm, frenzied, in the middle of a Catholic ritual. A man is suspended in the air, his torso impaled on a strip of curling rebar, while a guitarist gently encourages him to die. Dozens of bus-sized fish dangle on rotating spits above a blazing silo. The mangled head of a feral dog flops repeatedly against the gears of a mill, neck limp and tongue lolling. The sudden glimpse of a demon: gray skin, too many arms and joints bent the wrong way, bug-like and hulking. When I move, it moves.

Back at home in front of my PC, my skin prickles with goosebumps. INDIKA generates visceral reactions effortlessly and always with a tinge of surprise. It’s a (mostly) third-person narrative adventure set in an alternative 19th century Russia, and it stars an ostracized nun, Indika, who has the devil’s voice in her head. From this foundation, the game offers a flurry of whimsical absurdity and raw human suffering, and even as its visual and mechanical styles shift from scene to scene, everything comes together in a cohesive package. INDIKA is a masterful example of maturity in video games.

INDIKA (Odd Meter)

The devil is Indika’s constant companion. As she travels from her convent to deliver a letter in another village, the voice in her head gleefully vocalizes her cruelest thoughts and points out the hypocrisies built into Catholicism, her chosen religion. The devil speaks like he’s narrating a children’s book, a Rumpelstiltskin glee dripping from every syllable as he tells Indika how weak, unloved and naive she is. Indika debates him and, at a few points, he splinters reality around her, opening deep cracks in the scenery, revealing new pathways and filling the world with a red glow. Players can hold down a button to pray, keeping his machinations at bay. To progress in these scenes, Indika has to shift between the devil’s reality and her own, inviting him in at specific moments to make use of his hellish platforms. Indika becomes more comfortable with the devil in her mind as the game progresses, and the “press X to pray” moments are just the first examples of their uneasy alliance.

As a piece of religious criticism, INDIKA plays all the hits. Its jokes about the manipulation, hypocrisy and rigid inhumanity of Catholicism are clear and sharp, though not particularly revelatory. The devil's laughing tone makes every line sound like a lullaby, and to my ears — an atheist who grew up Catholic and was extremely confused by the gaudy, culty exclusion being preached every Sunday — INDIKA is soul-soothing. The game never fully explains whether Indika is experiencing a psychotic break or is truly possessed by the devil in this world; everything exists in the gray area where both of these states meet. Psychosis or Satan, it’s all incredibly real to Indika.

INDIKA is underpinned by a delirious tension between levity and agony, and the developers at Odd Meter got the rhythm just right. Indika’s reality is a frozen hellscape filled with pain, betrayal and isolation, but it also has laugh-out-loud moments that feel more like a rom-com than a psychodrama about a sad nun. The game also slips into a lighter visual style as it delves into her past, mining memories out of pixelated platformers in sun-drenched environments. These contrast sharply against the 3D brutalism of the main scenes, and they’re incredibly engaging, offering smooth jumps with tricky timings.

INDIKA (Odd Meter)

This is a game that requires an escape every now and then, and moments of reprieve are built into its progression, perfectly positioned to ease the anxiety as it reaches a fever pitch.

About a quarter of the way through the game, Indika encounters a blood-chilling scene: Through the crack of a doorway, she sees and hears a man attempting to rape a woman, scuffles and screams spilling into the hallway. Indika freezes, accidentally makes a noise, and then hides in a closet as the assaulter turns his attention toward the interruption. The devil taunts Indika — "Did you see the size of that thing?" and "Maybe you wanted to join them?" — as the man searches for her. The danger of the situation bursts through the screen, heavy and white-hot.

This is horror.

Minutes later, Indika is driving a steampunk motorcycle with a trailer full of corpses down a winding path, an unexpected friend perched on the bodies behind her, throwing out cheeky one-liners. Suddenly, it feels like the beginning of a buddy-cop movie. The shift in tone is a huge relief, and this balance of extremes is something that INDIKA does with incredible deftness, time and time again. The (first) sexual assault scene is quick and powerful, showing enough to drive home the depravity of the situation without becoming gratuitous. After I played through it, I took a deep breath, collected myself, and then dove back into the game, eager to uncover more of its commentary. The handling of this topic increased my trust in the developers’ artistic instincts and their ability to reveal the nature of true terror; it made me more invested in the rest of the game.

INDIKA (Odd Meter)

Of all the memorable visuals in INDIKA, one remains particularly vibrant in my mind’s eye. Indika is kneeling in a prison cell and a guard enters alone, his intentions clear. He puts his hand on the back of Indika’s head and reality breaks like it often does in this game — but this time it’s softer, slower and all-encompassing. The screen becomes a red pool, and in the center, Indika and the devil float around each other like amoebae in a petri dish, quietly discussing the injustices of human existence. Indika dissociates while her body experiences violence, and the scene lingers on the red womb, providing space for players to absorb the situation from an artistic and philosophical distance. It’s authentic and powerful. It’s oddly calming.

INDIKA stands out for these moments of sexual violence, each so delicately handled. The video game industry in particular is built on a foundation of physical violence — guns, war, blood and murder — but there aren’t many games that broach the subject of sexual abuse. This is largely for the best, as sexual violence is a topic that we’re still learning how to talk about on a cultural scale. It’s the ugliest side of humanity, the most uncomfortable to address, yet it’s pervasive. Sexual abuse is as worthy of compassionate discussion as gun violence, but for a multitude of societal and individual reasons, it’s much harder to look at directly.

Interactive media in particular can be a powerful vessel for immersion and revelatory storytelling. Sexual violence demands empathy if it’s going to be included in any piece of entertainment media, and this is particularly true in video games, where players are acting out the events, placing themselves in the character’s shoes, getting lost in their second-to-second actions. There’s high risk in telling a story about sexual abuse in a video game, and it’s not only about alienating or offending a portion of the audience. The risk lies in the potential to literally retraumatize players. Mishandling a topic like rape can be damaging and perpetuate harmful messages about power, autonomy and self-worth in the real world.

INDIKA (Odd Meter)

The best outcome for creators who don’t know how to approach the topic is to leave it alone, and for the most part, video game developers have. The alternative — adding sexual violence to a game without understanding the cruelty of the act, using it for shock value or lazily turning it into a point of motivation for a separate character — will always be much more upsetting.

For example, Immortality. This is one of the few contemporary games that uses sexual violence as a plot point, and, to me, its lens feels lecherous rather than poignant. Immortality employs real-life actors and puts the abuse itself center-screen, using the guise of edgy commentary to let the camera linger on extended scenes of softly lit molestation, the woman’s body in greater focus than her pain. The sexual abuse in Immortality feels like voyeuristic fantasy.

INDIKA, on the other hand, centers the person receiving the violence and reveals the true horror of the act. INDIKA demonstrates how a video game can tell a strange and beautiful story that involves sexual abuse, and proves it can be done without overwhelming the narrative or flow. These scenes add layers of insight and emotional heft to Indika’s journey, revealing truths about her psyche and her world. It’s encouraging to see these themes explored so deftly in a piece of interactive art.

INDIKA is not solely about sexual violence. The bulk of the game is filled with puzzles, platforming and witty wordplay from the devil, and most of it plays out in engaging and ridiculous ways. Plenty of segments in INDIKA are downright jovial, with a warped sense of humor that reminds me of Alice in Wonderland (or, more appropriately, American McGee’s Alice). However, it doesn’t shy away from the dark realities of Indika’s world, where rape is as pervasive as gun violence, war and religious oppression. The assault scenes — presented alongside running themes of death, manipulation, isolation, shame, guilt and cruelty — solidify one of INDIKA’s core messages: With a world like this, how much worse can Hell really be?