- Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
As I write this review, a new note on the online announcement board for the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) website, a not-for-profit organization of Inupiat cultural leaders based in Anchorage, Alaska, reads: “Never Alone: Fox-tales Expansion Now Available” (citc.org). In the video game world, the technical term used for this type of expansion is downloadable content, or DLC, and traditional DLCs are essentially defined as additional content created for an already released video game, usually distributed over the Internet by the game’s official publisher (think of that new installment of your favorite adventure story that you cannot wait to read or a new episode of that TV drama you are unashamedly addicted to). This recent announcement from the CITC appears between two other announcements: “Recovery Month Wellness Walk Sept. 20,” and “Give a Suit, Change a Life.” So what is so important about this new DLC? And why was it worthy of an announcement on the website for a tribal nonprofit organization whose exclusive mission, since 1983, is “to help Alaska Native and American Indian people residing in the Cook Inlet region of southcentral Alaska reach their full potential”?
Let me tell you a story.
One day, a group of tribal elders came together to confront a troubling observation they had about the lives of their people. The social threads that had helped bond their generations together—despite the “progress” of the modern world—were becoming increasingly distressed. The swelling saturation of digital and social media had been severing young ones from the elders of their communities for some time, and as a result, their culture and language were melting away like the glaciers, praying under warmer suns. After long hours and longer days of deliberations (some of those deliberations included the strong possibility of investing their money in funeral homes), the elders emerged with a plan: they were going to use the very same technology that was taking their children away to bring them back. They were going to make a video game.
On November 18, 2014, Never Alone was released in North America across multiple gaming consoles, including the PC computer, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. The CITC had created a for-profit subsidiary within their organization, Upper One Games, two years earlier and had begun working with [End Page 140] the video game education company E-Line Media. “We really focus on the advancement of people and their lives,” CITC president and CEO Gloria O’Neill explains. “About six years ago we really started thinking deeply about what self determination looks like. What does it mean to truly be in charge of our own destinies?” (www.engadget.com/2014/03/19/sharing-legends-with-the-world-in-never-alone-a-game-inspired-b).
Never Alone, or Kisima Ingitchuna (I am not alone), is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer that has already enjoyed a variety of positive reviews and encouraged blog posts from many video-game-critiquing communities around the world. In short, the game is a success on multiple levels. Some common chords of praise reverberating out of most of those critiques include the game’s stunning visual beauty, its emotional, enriching narrative delivery (which is based on the traditional Inupiat story of Kunuuksaayuka, a young boy, and his journey to discover the source of an unrestrained blizzard that is destroying his village), and its position as the first example in a new genre of video games. Although the video game world enjoys this new genre of gaming, currently labeled World Games—“Games that bring carefully-selected stories from indigenous cultures from around the planet to life in compelling, innovative ways that are accessible and entertaining for global 21st century audiences” (neveralonegame.com/world-games-inclusive-development/)—Never Alone is also gaining the attention of other Indigenous communities, beyond the tundra land of Nuna, the young heroine of Never Alone, and her spirit animal companion, the arctic fox.
The visual aesthetics of the cut scenes in Never Alone take their inspiration from the traditional scrimshaw carvings that Inupiaq use to record and...