“Never Alone:” Cultural Importance

BY KAYLYN HASLUND
For the UAS Whalesong
Continued from Alexa Cherry’s article.

As Lexi has pointed out in her part of this article, the video game, Never Alone: Kisima Ingitchuna, has brought attention to the Iñupiaq community. The game, made by Upper One Games and published by E-Line Media, was made in conjunction with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council. They worked together with elders to make sure that the game actually fit the culture and stories that they were working to give representation to.  Ernestine Hayes, our one campus one book author, headed the panel at “The Making of ‘Never Alone’: Native Voices and New Media Display.”. They skyped with E-Line Media.

Unlike Lexi, I played it on the PC from the Steam store, which admittedly is a different than the PS4 in terms of gameplay. However, I was more enamored with what the game meant for the community. With the game and its popularity, it allowed for the community to begin finding new ways of reaching out to the new generation. In one of the videos they showed before opening the floor for questions, the elders were worried about the next generation and how to show them a representation of their culture that they would understand. They worried about the next generation losing their place in the world because of Euro-Centric mindsets. “Never Alone” gave them that by working with a new form of media that the new generation grew up with. So, by working with these companies, they were able make sure that it was an appropriate representation that didn’t come off too cutesy or culturally appropriated.

And it all began with what stories to focus on. That of the Eternal Blizzard and the stories that would later become woven into it, including that of the Northern Lights or the Manslayer. They were careful to make sure that each individual story itself worked with the other into Nuna’s adventure. The title itself was revealed to be very important, being that one cannot survive on their own, they need a community and people, which is why the game is co-op. It shows in the game play that if you don’t work together you will fail or die. Because we as a people cannot survive alone. They wanted each story to weave perfectly together and to not overstep what could easily make or break the game. The company worked in hand with them to make sure they were making the best representation that they could and study Iñupiaq art as well as adapted it to work in the game levels. They made sure to include the community in nearly every step of development. For many of them it was a completely new platform for them to work with and share their stories beyond just their immediate community. But through it they were able to connect with a wider audience. This showed how powerful the game is, as many people, beyond just Alaska, have never seen an actual representation of Alaskan Natives and this is an appropriate way to introduce them to the people of North and North West Alaskans.

Many from the Juneau community approached to thank and applaud the game, including Coleen and Lyle James, who brought emotional testimonies about what this game would bring for all Natives. Lyle spoke to them in Tlingit, inciting heartfelt responses from E-Line Media who felt they couldn’t ever give as beautiful of a response as one’s native language. As the discussion continued we were given hints at what was else to come from their combined work and they shared that they are in conversation with Ireland who are trying to resurrect Gaelic. They are also trying to work with the Sami people of Scandinavia. The company is making strides to work with people of other cultures and help them revitalize their language and place.

Never Alone has also recently been given DLC (downloadable content) which expands the game with new levels and more Alaskan Native stories. Proceeds from the game go on to fund the Council’s education mission. I couldn’t recommend this game more; it provides a look into a community that much like our own is making strides to revitalize their culture. This also opens a door for more games and collaboration to happen in the future. With the games success, all we can do is hope that it does the people justice and incite a full revitalization.

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