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    Never Alone Northern exposure of a different sort

    The stories we tell each other are a fundamental part of what makes us who we are. While tales of space marines, soldiers, and sword-wielding heroes dominate the sales charts, some game developers are using the art form to their own unique stories.

    In the case of Never Alone, Alaska Natives are turning to games as a new way to pass along folklore that’s been a part of their heritage for countless generations.The game stars an Iñupiat girl named Nuna, whose village has been ravaged by a mysterious blizzard. The powerful wind and snow have made hunting impossible, and she seeks out the source of the trouble. The cutscenes are rendered in an animated scrimshaw style, which replicates the art form in which bone or ivory is etched and inked in intricate patterns.

    Nuna is accompanied on her journey by an arctic fox, and players can swap between the characters at the press of a button. Each one has unique special abilities, and they need to work together if they hope to succeed. To further emphasize this spirit of cooperation, a second player can take on the role of fox, too. According to Amy Fredeen, CFO and executive vice president of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, the name is a dual reference to both Nuna and fox’s relationship as well as the spirit of interdependence that’s so vital to Alaska Native people.

    I got to explore Nuna’s life above Alaska’s Arctic Circle, and quickly learned that surviving isn’t easy. The wind makes jumping perilous, and you have to time your leaps across ice floes and other hazards to ensure you’re not gusted away.

    Fortunately, visual indicators such as snow patterns and the blowing fur on Nuna’s parka provide a heads up as to when she should wait and dig into the snow. Fox has a better jump distance, but he’s not able to grab ropes with his paws or use bolas to break through sheets of ice. He can, however, commune with spirits in the world which help navigate tricky obstacles.

    While spirit helpers can provide access to areas by acting as platforms, not everyone is eager to see them succeed. Take Manslayer, whose name speaks volumes. “Manslayer is one of those characters where his story is a lot more graphic than what we can talk about in the game,” Fredeen says. “He really represents the antithesis of Alaska Native values, in that he’s acting on his own behalf without the consideration of the community or the good of the community.”

    In Never Alone, he looks like a man with grotesque, twisted facial features. He’s clad in a parka, and he pursues Nuna and fox relentlessly. Here, the screen autoscrolls, adding a sense of urgency as I fled to avoid his superhuman grasp. While Nuna may eventually get her comeuppance against the villain, I was only able to run away. We’ll have to wait until the chill of November arrives to learn what ultimately happens.

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