I’ll just come right out and say it: I want – nay, need to play Never Alone.
Never Alone is a puzzle platformer by Upper One Games that is scheduled to release on November 18, 2014 for Xbox One, PS4, and Steam. In it, the player controls Girl (sometimes called Nuna) and Fox. Each of them has different abilities that are essential to progressing through the environment and its puzzles. In two player co-op, the second player controls Fox.
Nuna and Fox are on a mission to “rescue her homeland from an endless blizzard.” Oh, that homeland? It’s the home of the Iñupiat, a group of Inuit people living in Alaska.
That’s right! This isn’t just another game starring yet another generic white guy that’s marketed to – surprise! – white guys. Never Alone is a game about indigenous Alaskans that is made by indigenous Alaskans. It’s something new, something different, something empowering. And I am excited about it.
Before I continue, let me say that I have nothing against white guys in general. My father is one. My brother is one. I’m married to a white guy, for crying out loud! But, we hear stories from white guys’ perspectives all the time. I love the white men in my life, but they aren’t the only people who exist. I appreciate it when entertainment mediums acknowledge that fact.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are the reasons I’m so excited about Never Alone.
First of all, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. It looks like a cuter, less frightening version of Limbo. The atmosphere of gameplay videos is, well, I don’t know how best to describe it. Haunting. Ethereal. Otherworldly. I just love it.
Second, I love that I would support a Native Alaskan studio with this purchase. Upper One Games was actually founded by a nonprofit organization – the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) – that seeks to better the lives of Native Alaskans through addressing unemployment, alcoholism, and other issues. That’s a worthy cause.
Besides that, Never Alone is also a beautiful attempt by the CITC to connect with their youth. Instead of shunning video games as a waste of time, Iñupiat elders saw them as a new platform for sharing their folklore and values with the young, Xbox-loving generation. That’s just so inspiring to me. Games are a great storytelling medium, and I’m glad that Upper One Games sees that. Watch the video below to hear it from their point of view.
Third, the protagonist is female. Not only that, she’s Iñupiaq. Meaning? She isn’t white. Video games with exclusively female protagonists are hugely outnumbered by male-centered games. They get only half the marketing support, too. Games featuring characters of color, especially female ones, are rarer still. A game that stars one as a protagonist is practically a unicorn. (Movies don’t fare much better.) I desperately want to support diversity in any media, but especially in video games.
Fun fact! The traditional protagonist of this story – which is based on an old tale called Kunuuksaayuka – is actually a boy, but the game studio changed the character’s gender. According to the Never Alone website: “The team really wanted to create a strong, resourceful, smart, brave character who could be a great role model for girls. Great female characters have historically been woefully under-represented in video games and the team wanted to help change that – particularly since many have young daughters themselves.” They get it. They really get it.
Lastly, I hope Never Alone will spark a new movement in video games. I hope that it will be wildly popular and show developers and publishers that courting the generic dudebro gamer isn’t the only way to success. I hope that it leads to more women and people of color working in the video game industry. It’s a lofty hope, I know, but it’s not impossible. The gaming audience is a diverse one, and it’s time that the industry reflected that.
Some gamers crave diversity and a new experience. We want characters and stories that represent a wider audience. If you give us that in a quality video game, we will gladly support your efforts. We know that stories are powerful, and we feel that all people deserve to have their stories told.