Cultural preservation through gaming: PAX Aus report

Posted on November 6, 2014

Video games can do amazing things, so I get very excited when I hear of a new angle. Never Alone, published by Australian independent publisher Surprise Attack, is a collaborative effort designed to help preserve and promote Indigenous culture in Alaska by combining cultural storytelling with customised gameplay. At PAX I had the honour of speaking to game designer Brandon Anderson about the game and its unique process of development.

Never Alone was born when the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) approached E-line Media (an educational software developer) with a bold new plan. The CITC had been looking for income streams and simultaneously trying to deal with a reduced awareness of their cultural heritage among young people. The idea was to get their young people to play a video game (that’s what kids like, right?) that would engage them in their culture. The result is a project that continues ancient traditions of storytelling which pass cultural values down through generations.

Never Alone (aka Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) tells of the ‘eternal blizzard’ which threatens people’s very survival. The hero of the game, the girl Nuna, takes her arctic fox on a quest to discover the source of the climactic malady and faces various puzzles and opponents in trying to end the blizzard. At first glance the gameplay looks fairly familiar: described as an ‘atmospheric 2D puzzler’ it persons many of the jumping and platforming challenges we have seen elsewhere.

However, the development history of the game has resulted in culturally specific references, not only in the content, but also in the gameplay, of Never Alone. For example, the 2-player cooperative gameplay mode emphasises co-operation and collaboration in overcoming the challenges presented by a hostile environment. These gameplay elements were developed through deep and iterative consultation between the developers, a process described as Inclusive Development for World Games.

Little People - Alaska Native folklore characters

Little People – Alaska Native folklore characters

This game and the process underlying it is important for the world we live in. It shows amazing potential for many modern nations, not least of all Australia, which also have a deep need for representing the vibrant living culture of their Indigenous people. Hopefully we see much more of this kind of project, and I can’t wait for its launch on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on November the 18th.

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