Never Alone and the need for American Indian narratives in games
I'm proudly American Indian.
Natives are often in the position of having to prove their Native-ness. So many have co-opted the culture to be about spirit animals and headdresses and nothing else. There’s a general lack of understanding from those outside of Native culture about what it entails, and what it means to the people that live it. The real truth of that experience though, is that none of us have a complete picture. Native culture is so many things because there are so many different kinds of us.
Never Alone, as its name implies, is optimistic by nature. It follows an Iñupiat girl, Nuna, and her spirit fox companion. Together, they search for the source of a blizzard that’s brought her village to the edge of starvation. That set-up sounds like any other, but it obscures the beauty of what it is, and how it came to be.
At first Never Alone gives the impression that it is the retelling of an Iñupiat myth. In a manner of speaking that is true, but it’s also quite a bit more. Many native cultures revolve around stories and legends, tales told by fires over twilit dinners. These stories are like parables; they contain pieces of life advice, the tools for survival and important observations about the dangers of the natural. They are meant to inspire respect and understanding, and that’s easy to lose sight of.
With that perspective, it’s more accurate to say that Never Alone is like a videogame version of the boy who cried wolf. Never Alone is about more than Nuna’s journey. It’s about community, about the role of child and elder and about learning to survive in the harsh arctic climate. In that sense, it embodies values that are vital to the Iñupiat people of today, not a far flung legend whose meaning has been lost in time.