A Winter Tale In Time for the Holidays: Upper One Games’ ‘Never Alone’

During these short winter days and long winter nights, I find myself wanting nothing more than to curl up next to a fire and play a simple and enchanting video game. Lucky for me – and for you, if you share the same interest – the perfect title has recently been released, one that features snow, beautiful art, and most importantly, a female protagonist. The trailer for Never Alone, below, tantalizingly hints at this game’s unique development process and fascinating gameplay.

As I’m sure you could tell within the first few seconds of the trailer, Never Alone has a haunting and alluring aesthetic. It’s a game based (artistically and thematically) around the world of the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people, and labeled a “World Game” by its developer, Upper One Games (“the first indigenous-owned video game developer and publisher in US history”): “Never Alone is our first title in an exciting new genre of “World Games” that draw fully upon the richness of unique cultures to create complex and fascinating game worlds for a global audience.”

Nuna and Fox
Nuna and Fox

“Fully” is certainly the right word to use – the developer team at Upper One worked extensively with 16 ‘Cultural Ambassadors‘ (members of the Alaska Native community) to ensure that the lore, art, and culture of the Iñupiat were accurately and faithfully represented. These Ambassadors stretch across generations and across genders – 7 of the 16 are women, ensuring that no single aspect of or perspective on the culture is privileged above another. If you visit the game’s website, you can read the life stories of each of these ambassadors and listen to their experiences with and the contributions they have made to the game.

Where to, Fox?
Where to, Fox?

It is a unique aspect of Never Alone to have such a treasure trove of cultural background for its users to explore and learn about – this is a game that has not only entertainment value, but educational value, connecting peoples across the world, as well as peoples within the Alaska Native community, to the history of a thriving society, preserving that history at the same time that it shares it. But Never Alone is not just a teaching tool; it’s a full-fledged game in its own right, a thrilling puzzle platformer that sees you controlling both young Nuna as well as her arctic fox, as they make their way through an eternal blizzard, filled with a myriad of dangers and obstacles, in order to find its source and save their village. Wielding a bola, Nuna is assisted in her quest by her fox and by the spirits of the natural world, so that the game centers around cooperation and community.

Never Alone draws on traditional art styles
Never Alone draws on traditional art styles

Never Alone, like very few games before it, puts a young girl in the position of power, letting her forge her own path and take agency – an important model to have in a world where young girls are too often told they can do anything but that. Nuna is headstrong and curious, a character that consistently shows compassion for her companions, strength for her village, and courage in the face of threats that are often larger than life (polar bears) or supernatural (the Manslayer). She is a fantastic role model for young female gamers and a wonderful example of how to include a substantial but not stereotypical female presence in a modern game.

Nuna and Fox are aided by spirits of the natural world
Nuna and Fox are aided by spirits of the natural world

Never Alone tells us many stories, some that stretch back through generations and some, like that of a female protagonist, that sometimes struggle to be heard. But it tells us no story more important than that of our shared humanity, of the simple connection we can all find in the quest of a young girl to save her people and of the simple comfort of weaving tales around the fire. This is a game worth giving for the holidays.

‘Never Alone’ is available for PC, Mac, PS4, and Xbox One, and can be purchased for $15 on the game’s website. Proceeds from sales of the game will go to benefit the education mission of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council. 

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