By Colin Malone / August 25th, 2014
Very few video games explore Native American stories or mythology, and of those that do, none do so from a Native perspective. Instead, most games that bother to include Native culture at all tend to do so from an outsider’s perspective with Native characters themselves as secondary characters. A group of Alaskan Natives have partnered with developer Upper One Games and the two are hoping to change that with their upcoming game Never Alone.
The game tells the traditional Inupiaq story known as Kanuk Sayuka. This story tells the tale of a young Inupiaq girl and her arctic fox companion as they go on a journey to save the girl’s village from an unending blizzard.
The idea for Never Alone started two years ago when Gloria O’Neill, the CEO of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage, began to reach out to developers, asking if games could be used as a medium to share traditional stories and benefit Native culture. She noted that even in the most remote parts of Alaska, people still play video games. She says that:
We started thinking about the future because our board also said to us “never forget who we are and where we come from, but think about how we can connect with our young people in the future.”
The project is being headed by veteran developer Sean Vesce, who has 20 years of experience in the industry working on action titles such as Tomb Raider. Vesce was introduced to native storytelling two years ago, as he would receive boxes of transcribed stories from them, stories which he says were as interesting and imaginative as anything today:
We were just blown away at the richness and the beauty and the depth of that storytelling tradition and we realized that none of that had really been ever explored in a video game.
Since that time Vesce has made several trips to Alaska with his team in order to collect more stories an imagery with the help of Amy Fredeen, an Inupiaq woman who has served as a sort of cultural ambassador between between the developers and indigenous storytellers. Fredeen says that:
The last thing we wanted was this game to be kind of a cultural appropriation. We didn’t want this to be an outsider’s view of what the Inupiaq culture was. We wanted it to come from the people themselves.
For this reason a big part of the project has been collecting stories and experiences from Inupiaq people. Thus a connection was made with Jana Harcharek, a worker from the Barrow school district who’s job is to promote and preserve Inupiaq culture. Through her, her students are able to share their stories and experiences with the developers who are able to implement them into the game. According to Harcharek:
The ideas just started coming out. “hey were like “well, are you going to be able to maybe do this, because I’m a whaler and I’m a hunter and I have this experience and it would be really cool if we could make this happen or that happen.” There was a lot of excitement right from the start.
The game is set to release later this year on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. If you’re interested you can watch a trailer here. I find this absolutely fascinating and think it’s a wonderful project and a great way to preserve and expose people to Native culture and storytelling. But what do you all think?
AlaskaInupiaqNative AmericanNever AloneSean VesceUpper One Games