Inter-Ed Spotlight: Never Alone/Kisima Ingitchuna
The Inter-Ed Spotlight series provides a platform to showcase games that seek to share cultural knowledge and understanding between peoples and nations.
Game Title: Never Alone or Kisima Ingitchuna
Release Date: November 18, 2014
Developers: E-Line Media, Upper One Games
Publisher: E-Line Media Awards: BAFTA Games Award for Debut Game Nominations: BAFTA Games Award for Story, The Game Award for Games For Change
Platforms: iOS, Android, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows, Wii U, Linux, Mac OS
In a bitter, eternal blizzard, follow a young Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and her arctic fox, on this puzzle platformer with hauntingly beautiful landscapes accompanied by satisfying audio effects and music. Never Alone, or Kisima Ingitchuna in Iñupiaq, is an eight-chapter tribute to the traditional legends and characters of this Alaskan Native tribe. The entire piece is narrated by a master storyteller in the spoken Iñupiaq language, which seems to complete the transportation to another world.
You can play this game solo or with two players, using the two characters' distinct abilities to help each other battle the ongoing blizzard. Keeping with the muted color schemes and minimal music, there are only a few game mechanics at work. Interestingly, the blizzard is both a barrier and assistant, in that its wind can either push you into icy water or give you that extra inch of jump onto the next cliff. The absence of permanent death helps make the player feel safe and gives them the freedom to experiment and find puzzle solutions.
I would be remiss to neglect the side element of the video interviews with Inupiat descendants and featurettes on Inupiaq culture. These documentary shorts are unlocked throughout gameplay and can be viewed during or outside of the game. While disconnected from gameplay and storyline, its inclusion is essential to reinforcing the idea that this game is meant to uplift and preserve the Iñupiaq identity. It reminds the player that these stories have been passed down for generations to real peoples that co-exist with the player in present day.
According to E-Line Media CEO Michael Angst, the game's player audience has ranged from serious gamers to devoted platformer-lovers to gamer parents who want an age-appropriate game to play with their kids. Never Alone has received overall mixed reviews on Metacritic. The game is generally lauded for its cultural learning aspect, and dismissed for its minimal gameplay and at-times frustrating mechanics. Here we find a prime example of the challenges of balancing story, learning, and gameplay in a way that is pleasing to many different audiences.
Upper One Games, started by the (Iñupiat) Cook Inlet Tribal Council, teamed up with E-Line Media to produce this visually-enchanting and culturally rich tribute to Iñupiat culture and folklore. Upper One Games is the first indigenous-owned commercial game developer and publisher in US history. Upper One and E-Line Media are promoting the continued creation of what they term as world games to "empower indigenous communities around the world to share their stories in an authentic, engaging, and entertaining way." This is so special because this tribe has carved out a voice for themselves in the gaming industry with a triumphant and loud entrance. Even better, they want to make more world games that focus on other indigenous cultures, establishing a collective space for diversity and self-representation in gaming.
Never Alone's Art and Creative Directors have already begun developing a new world game, The Forest Song, based on a classic Ukrainian drama. This is highly exciting news for those who loved Never Alone. Let's hope we can expect many more vibrant and culturally rich games from this innovative crew.