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Earlier this year I came across the 2014 game Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) produced by Upper One Games- the first indigenous-owned commercial game company in the United States.
That day, I entered a stream of the game in progress on Twitch and had no idea what was going on. All I knew that there was snow, occasional winds that blew back a little girl and her fox companion across the land, and some spirits that would help the girl and the fox across distances that were too far for them to cross on their own.
At first I thought the game was strange. It had a certain type of quietness and tone that I didn’t typically experience from video games, but that tone is what drew me in.
The storyline is largely based on traditional stories from the Iñupiat, an Alaskan Native people primarily located in Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska who have lived in the Alaskan Arctic region for thousands of years. One of the stories, titled Kunuuksaayuka, details a young boy’s journey to discover the source of a fierce blizzard preventing him from hunting caribou to feed himself and his mother. The story in its entirety is available by visiting the Never Alone game website (click here for part one of the story). In the game, you play as Nuna and her fox companion who traverse the arctic and encounter several entities from different Iñupiat stories.
I was thoroughly impressed by how the creators involved the indigenous community in the game’s development and production. As you play through Never Alone, there are Cultural Insights you can find which lead to videos featuring the Iñupiat people speaking about aspects of their culture, including the weather, the bola used by the little girl, and more. These are optional to watch, but hey, why not opt to watch them?
The game itself involves platforming and puzzle solving, and some slightly tense scenes as you escape from dangers you encounter in the wild. Never Alone also utilizes teamwork to progress through the story. As the player you can switch between controlling the girl or the fox, or have the two characters move in tandem. I really like how you have to use both characters and one is not just “dead weight” that you have to carry around throughout the game. Something else that struck me as interesting is the realistic relationship between the Nuna and the fox–if either of them die while trying to go through the stage, the other expresses and feels tangible grief at their loss. It’s enough to give anyone with a soft spot for animals the feels.
I can’t tell you how difficult Never Alone is to play or if you’ll enjoy playing it but overall I had a good experience watching the gameplay and storyline. I loved learning more about the indigenous cultures of the North, and it made me think about the relationship of man and nature as a relationship of respect and spirituality.
Click here for the trailer to the game.
Click here if you’re interested in playing the game yourself.