If you were to believe certain news outlets and religious organizations, video games are responsible for many of modern-day’s social ills. They glorify violence, promote sexism, and can turn us into dangerous loners who can go off on a murderous rampage at the drop of a hat. Not only are these absurd claims completely unfounded, they do a real disservice to the gaming industry as a whole. Like the film and television industries, games can be whatever their developers want them to be. They can be light-hearted kart races to enjoy with a group of friends. Or they can be chaotic gun battles set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world. And, yes, they can even be educational.
Anyone that has been following this blog since its inception will know that I strongly believe that video games can serve an educational purpose, that they can inspire people to learn more about the world around them. And I believe that Upper One Games and E-Line Media’s upcoming puzzle platformer Never Alone is a perfect example of a game that has the potential to prove for once and for all that video games can be used as a force for good.
Never Alone (or Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) is the first commercial game to be developed in partnership with an indigenous organization, the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, and is an environment-based puzzle platformer which combines buddy-based game mechanics with imagery and themes drawn from traditional Iñupiaq culture, folklore, and values. Based on the Iñupiaq story Kunuuksaayuka and narrated in the Iñupiaq language (with English subtitles), the game follows Nuna, an young Iñupiaq girl, and her pet Arctic fox as they embark on a dangerous journey across the Arctic tundra, ice floes, forests, and villages to save her people from an eternal blizzard.
The game emphasises cooperation and interdependence, skills which are highly valued by and essential to the survival of the hunter-gatherer indigenous peoples of Alaska and northern Canada. Players can switch between the two protagonists at any given time in order to solve the environment-based puzzles and navigate through the game’s eight chapters. Along the way, players will come across characters from traditional Iñupiaq folklore - such as the Sky People, Manslayer, and Blizzard Man - and can unlock interviews and video clips on Arctic wildlife and Iñupiaq culture, which will give context to the characters and challenges the players encounter in the game.
Aside from its stunning graphics and immersive gameplay, what is most striking about Never Alone is the developers’ committment to promoting Iñupiaq culture and preserving their traditions, stories, and language for future generations. Over 30 Iñupiaq elders, artists, linguists, and historians assisted with the game’s development and were involved in crafting the game’s narrative, character designs, and in-game environments. In a world where indigenous languages and ways of life are dying out an alarming rate, Upper One Games has taken it upon itself to use 21st-century technology as a means of sharing Alaska’s native culture with the world. Upper One Games President and CEO Gloria O’Neill is herself a member of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and stated in an press release earlier this year that “We’d like to think we’re creating one of the most authentic – and fun – games of the year. Video games are powerful tools for making the history, tradition and culture of indigenous peoples relevant to both the next generation of Native people and the rest of the world”.
Time will tell if Upper One Games and E-Line Media’s joint endeavour will lead to similar projects in future but one thing is for certain: Never Alone looks set to become one of the most ambitious and original games of 2014. And with a development team that has previously worked on Tomb Raider: Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld, Never Alone gets the Archaeology of Tomb Raider stamp of approval. I’ll be ordering my copy very soon…
Never Alone will be released for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC in mid-November 2014. If you’d like to learn more about this game and its development, please visit the official Never Alone website or check out their Youtube channel.
Credits: All screenshots and concept art used above are copyright of Upper One Games and E-Line Media. All rights reserved.