Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is a BAFTA award-winning game created by Upper One Games in collaboration with Alaskan Native storytellers and elders. The game draws heavily on the traditional lore of the Iñupiat people and is intended as the first in a series of “world games” that the developer hopes will “draw fully upon the richness of unique cultures to create complex and fascinating game worlds for a global audience”.
Like Gone Home, we could argue that the makers of Never Alone are using the game to communicate with the player, to tell us a story. Never Alone is also intended to provide players with a unique insight into the ethics and culture of the Iñupiat people. And, the game may be played cooperatively, requiring effective communication between players as they traverse the Alaskan landscape together.
Our post-game discussion (now a permanent feature of these gaming sessions) was structured around the following questions:
- To what extent are the makers of Never Alone communicating with us, the player?
- How much do you feel you learned about Alaskan native culture?
- Did the opportunity to learn about his culture add to your enjoyment of the game?
- If you were able to play the game co-operatively, did doing so exercise your communication and collaborative skills?
As a recent release, Never Alone was the first game that none of our project volunteers had played before, and it was well-received across the group. Most of our players took the time to watch the documentary footage and interviews with the Iñupiat elders that intersperse the game. Furthermore, engaging with these materials was generally deemed to have been interesting and worthwhile: the players learned something of Alaskan native culture as they played and, in at least one instance, garnered gameplay hints from the interview material. Those players who habitually skipped the videos were driven by a desire to complete more of the game than their peers but conceded that, had this element of competition been absent, they would have taken the time to watch. Indeed, the relatively unobtrusive nature of the video material, coupled with a strong underlying game concept, was thought to create opportunities for learning about Iñupiat culture without compromising on fun. The group agreed that the approach taken by the developers here could be replicated with other cultures, although the Glasgow-based scenario one volunteer described was perhaps not suitable for a wider audience (and won’t be documented here!).
Those who played cooperatively did communicate to some extent, but found that one character (the fox) had more to do, at least in the opening hour or so of the game, meaning that the player controlling the other character (the small girl) was less actively engaged in proceedings. It was clear, however, that the less involved player enjoyed commenting on his collaborator’s performance…
So, it might be said that the game’s developers and Iñupiat collaborators communicated successfully with the players – at least those who engaged with the video material – but that, perhaps, communication between cooperating players was less critical to the game’s success. Our players certainly came away having enjoyed the game and feeling that they had learned something of another culture.