While they began as a simple form of entertainment, video games have become a powerful medium with which to tell a story. Their interactive nature allows for a narrative experience that is unlike anything else. We’ve seen some incredible uses of video games’ narrative style, but it is still a growing field, and its potential hasn’t been fully realized.
In fact, like many other popular mediums, games have a bad reputation for their portrayal of minorities (racial and otherwise) as well as women. The latter is much discussed and criticized, as gaming producers are viewed as overly catering to the tastes of their target demographic: young men in their late teens and early twenties. In pursuing this demographic and trying to follow the proven success of other franchises, the narrative aspects of many games fall flat with cliched stories and/or characters. Protagonists in particular tend to be white heterosexual males of boring origin, which in and of itself isn’t problematic in a single game, but can be when we’re looking at the majority of games out there.
But just because many of the big gaming production companies aren’t necessarily concerned with the potential power of story that could be used in their products, it doesn’t mean that other people haven’t noticed or aren’t trying to take advantage.
Kisima Innitchuna, or Never Alone in English, is going to be the first game to feature a story told from the point of view of an indigenous people. The game’s story is based on a myth of the Alaskan natives called Kanuk Sayuka. In the story (and the game) a young girl named Nuna and her friendly arctic fox companion must travel together to save their village which has been beset by a never ending blizzard.
Project lead Sean Vesce, a game development veteran, worked alongside the Inupiaq people to help make this project happen. He spent a long time taking input and learning about the native culture so that he and his team could bring their stories and their mythology to life in a way that was authentic and not culturally appropriated. Representatives from the Inupiaq community were closely tied to the game as well for this reason. NPR did a piece on the game, if you want to learn a bit more about its development.
Personally I am hugely excited that someone is taking the time to make this sort of game. I’m also impressed at the recognition of video games as a valid narrative format and a powerful way to reach younger generations and spread the important stories, values, and cultural ideas of a people who are often overlooked or stereotyped in more mainstream narratives. Hopefully this game will be successful and pave the way for more games like it in the future. I know I for one will be picking it up.