Let me start off by saying, my husband is one of the designers on Never Alone: Kisima Inŋgitchuŋa, and while I’m extremely proud of him, this post is not endorsed by, requested by, or sponsored by E-Line. I’m simply a fan of storytelling and video games. So lets talk about both.
Video games. To some people they are a media that rots kids brains and leads them to violence. To others, it’s barely even a blip on their radar, or maybe it is, but they don’t think they play video games, after all Bejeweled isn't a video game, it’s an app….right? But then there’s a third group of people, those who dive into video games head first, as art forms, storytelling platforms, and even games for change. In the last year, one game has seen to change how the worldviews games and what it means to play an “educational video game”. Long gone are the days of Math Blasters and Zoombinis, today, the world has Never Alone: Kisima Inŋgitchuŋa.
For those of you who have yet to experience Never Alone, here’s the quick background. Never Alone was developed by a small indie studio, E-Line Media, in partnership with the Alaska Native Cook Inlet Tribal Council and published by Upper One Games. The tribe’s elders sought a way to leave their stories and lore behind for the next generation in a way that would both educate and interest them. When they finally decided on using video games as a platform, the new genre of “World Games” was born.
While Never Alone is still a game, let’s talk about its story. In between platforming puzzles and epic boss fights, story is woven into every aspect of the gameplay like a tapestry. There’s of course the main story line that as a character(s) you are playing, but the addition of owls located around the levels add the benefit of added information in the form of cultural insights. These quick little video feature a wide range of speakers and topics and further explain the Inupiaq culture and lifestyle. They share experiences and give background to topics addressed in the main game and others that aren't. Seeing and hearing, and sometimes not in English but in their native language -North and Northwest Alaska Inupiatun, the individuals who experience these daily cultural insights enrich the player’s learning.
Even the game’s cutscenes are drenched in history. A portion of them are drawn in the traditional scrimshaw art style, a process by which the artist engraves patterns, words, and pictures onto whale bones and other hardened materials. The art is beautifully rendered and animated and further helps to steep the player in history that they may just find “neat” even if they are unaware of its history.
The basis for the game’s narrative stems from a story originally told by Robert Nasruk Cleveland in which a protagonist finds the source of an endless blizzard. Interwoven throughout the game are concepts from other stories, such as the Sky People or the Manslayer. While Nuna and her arctic fox were created to drive the narrative, they too were given the utmost care and research prior to their introduction.
In no way is this a review of the game, there are more than enough of those already in the world, but regardless of review, this is my ask of you. Play the game. Bug count and mechanics aside, this is a game that can and will change the world, it’s an entirely new genre of game, and one that has the potential to influence an entirely new generation of gamers. So what about this game makes it world changing? How about that every word, every character, and every theme is dripping in history. If you're not into history, then ignore it, you can still play it and enjoy the game and who knows, you may just learn something without trying... If you don’t believe me, trust the awards its won, or better yet. Play it for yourself.
Have you played Never Alone, what are your experiences with the game?
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