By Lars Olsen
Never Alone, by Upper One Games, is an incredibly engaging experience that blends ancient storytelling techniques with modern digital media to create an emotional saga that is something special. As a tribute to the Iñupiaq tribespeople of Northern Alaska, this game is a simple puzzle-platformer which features 24 short video documentaries about various aspects of the Iñupiaq culture, which are unlocked throughout the game. This is much more than a typical video game as it calls upon personal insights into culturally significant folk legends to deliver a powerhouse of a historical fiction story.
You play as a little girl named Nuna and an Arctic fox (optional co-op mode) who follow the storyline of the Iñupiaq folktale “Kunuuksaayuka” to solve the mystery behind an abnormal blizzard where myths become very real threats. This functional relationship presents a metaphor for the connection between humans and the environment for Native people. Nuna and Fox work creatively together using unique talents and abilities to solve puzzles throughout the game. As you embark on this adventure, you will reclaim fragments of the Iñupiaq culture through evocative videos that elicit powerful emotions through the themes of community, storytelling, and a connection between humans and nature.
The Iñupiaq tribe, like most other Native tribes, greatly value community, respect for nature, and storytelling. All of these aspects of their culture are apparent through the plot and videos in the game. Unfortunately, many tribes face the loss of their culture to American culture and a generational disconnect, so the Iñupiaq tribe resorted to game design to save a lifestyle from melting away along with the ice that they live upon. By sharing environmental issues through a video game, the developers are appealing to the emotions and personal connections of its audience to inspire positive change.
In one of the documentary clips, the tribe shares their concept of Sila. They explain that Sila is everything beyond the Nuna (the Earth); the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the animals we eat. Never Alone demonstrates a crucial connection between people and Sila through the helpful spirits that you can control to help solve puzzles. Native people have great respect and understanding for nature, so climate change has become a very serious threat to them. Citing changes in bird migrations and precipitation regimes, the tribe noticed a changing climate even before scientists fully understood the phenomenon. Some of the videos touch directly on the evidence they have observed for climate change, as well as how it impacts their way of life. This game provides an inspiring platform for learning about climate change through new perspectives.
Never Alone creates a shining example for how games can convey the emotional side of environmental issues by sharing personal stories. It seamlessly ties together the history of Alaska Natives, a poignant folk legend, and the threats of climate change using modern media. It is a beautiful, sad, and hopeful tale about a little girl and a fox that serves as a historical relic. A quote by Baba Dioum comes to mind, “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” This game has opened my eyes to a culture that I knew nothing about, and inspired me to fight climate change just as I am sure it will inspire countless others.
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Accessibility: 1-2 players, Ages 10+