[Images: Upper One Games]
Why this game is important for the future of marginalized cultures and representation in the media.
I must begin by letting you know that I have not played this game, nor do I avidly play any games. However, I do have some peripheral knowledge on the popular debates within the video game world as it relates to gender and race.
That’s why when I saw the trailer for Never Alone, a platforming sidescroller for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 about a young girl’s journey through folklore-infused arctic peril, I was amazed and delighted. The game tells instructive stories drawn from the Alaskan Iñupiat Tribe’s rich history and idealogical beliefs – things like, in the words of Wired’s Matt Peckham: “Coexistence between humans and wildlife, respect for nature, one another, and one’s elders, sharing food, songs, dance, and stories on a communal level, and cultivating a spiritual connection with the land. In short, community-informed selflessness.”
Never Alone is a puzzle game and when you beat one, your reward is knowledge. As you play the game, you unlock videos and photos of the real landscapes that inspired the game and the Iñupiat elders recounting native folklore. The main character is an Iñupiat girl (yay female lead, 10 points to Gryffindor!) named Nuna with an adorable arctic fox as her connection to the spirit world. No seriously, this fox is so cute.
The art style is inspired by native Iñupiat art and the game is narrated in Inupiaq, the Native language spoken throughout much of northern Alaska, which may collectively be called “Inuit” or Eastern Eskimo, distinct from Yupik or Western Eskimo.
But perhaps the best thing about this video game (besides the super cute fox) is the creation process. The video game company, Upper One Games, worked with the Iñupiat community to create the story and characters. As far as I know, this has never been done before. This kind of collaboration not only ensures that lessons about their culture during the game are accurate, but also captures the knowledge of the tribe elders for generations to come. There are some great videos of behind the scenes and research with the tribe, which are interesting to watch and full of cultural capital.
See more on how it was made here:
Preserving indigenous cultures is incredibly important. After studying many tribes in college, it was amazing to watch the Iñupiat community talk about their home and desire to keep their way of life for generations to come. Infusing anthropologic work with new age media like video games, is a great way to create entertainment while simultaneously doing good for the world.
From reviews I’ve read, it seems that people who are really looking for an intense gaming experience might not enjoy Never Alone, as it’s slower paced and doesn’t have the smoothest game play. However, those who simply want an entertaining way to learn about a new culture and see some beautiful graphics will probably relish the experience.