Ink about it

Ano raises awareness about a fading art form.

Ano: Journeys Through Tattoos

Sarawakian Tattoos AR Game


Every game has a story, and Ano: Journeys Through Tattoos is no different. In this beautiful narrative game you’ll learn a bit about indigenous culture while navigating through levels inspired by the traditional hand-tapped tattoos of the Kayan tribe of Sarawak, Malaysia.

Follow the heartwarming story of the little Kayan girl Do’s journey as she traverses the challenges of the landscape in order to receive her tattoos from her grandmother. Be warned, it gets emotional.

Help Do find her way through intricately designed levels to complete quests.

Created over three months by a group of four Malaysian multimedia design students from Swinburne University Sarawak, the game was originally submitted as their final year project. Their intention was to create awareness around indigenous culture in a way that was engaging.

With the Kayan people assimilating into modern society, the intricate tribal body art and the knowledge around it is fast disappearing from the minds of younger generations.

“We hoped that players would walk away from this game with a better appreciation for traditional indigenous tattoo culture,” shares Joshua Chung, programmer on the project.

You don’t just gain rewards, you gain knowledge too.

It was during their initial research that they came across the Kayans. They found the Kayans especially fascinating because unlike most tribes, it’s largely the females who start getting tattooed when they’re as young as 10 years old. It’s believed that these tattoos will act as torches to guide them in the afterlife.

To prepare for making the game, a task that was challenging due to the lack of clear documentation on this fading tribal practice, the team pored through books in the closed section of their local library. They also spoke to tattoo artists familiar with the subject at an exhibition on the tattoo culture of local indigenous tribes, making sure the game reflected the distinct thin lines and swirls found in Kayan tattoos.

For a more immersive experience, players can also print out a wristband, then put it on and direct their device’s camera at the band; the game will show them what a Kayan tattoo might look like on their arm via augmented reality.

The students’ hard work on the game paid off as it went on to win Best Student Game at Level Up Kuala Lumpur in 2019, and was nominated for the Best Visual Arts Award. They were the only team that didn’t have a game design background, something which they saw as an unexpected advantage.

Can you identify the elements that pay tribute to the game’s Malaysian background?

“As we weren’t restricted to game design rules having never learned them, it made us more willing to explore different ideas when creating our game,” shares Chung. “Instead of prioritising game mechanics, we made the story our focus.”

What was his proudest moment during the process? Chung says it was when they had Kayan people try the game and express happiness that non–Kayans like themselves were interested in celebrating a part of their culture. “Seeing them happy was validation for the work we’ve done.”

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