The Story Behind How an Alaska Native Story Led to a Video Game

Play Never Alone at the DAM

Never Alone is the result of an amazing partnership formed between Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) and E-Line Media. Never Alone was created as a result of an ambitious idea that a video game could help sustain CITC’s mission while creating a new space for gamers to engage with Alaska Native culture and the indigenous community.

Why a Video Game?

  • Video games are a space where the Alaska Native youth, like other young people, occupy significant time. CITC has always strived to meet our people where they are in life. Since youth are so connected to technology and games, meeting them in that space was critical.
  • While the method of using video games is new, the idea echoes the same impact of our traditional dances, storytelling, and games already demonstrated. Video games have the power to connect with Alaska Native storytelling and traditions while providing players an opportunity to explore and learn in a highly engaging, interactive context.

The game’s designers collaborated with a team of nearly three dozen Alaska Native people from various walks of life.

– Brian Alspach

Inclusive Process

“Kisima Inŋitchuŋa” translates to “I am Not Alone” in Iñupiaq. This traditional value, representing the importance of community, was reflected in the inclusive process that created the game. The development process and the game narrative itself also reflect the notion that each person has a role in the wellbeing of an entire community.

Ultimately, the game’s designers collaborated with a team of nearly three dozen Alaska Native people from various walks of life. The Alaska participants included elders, traditional storytellers, cultural ambassadors, historians, and youth from communities across the state

To help meet our goal of sharing Alaska Native cultures with the world in a compelling and innovative way while inviting players to learn more, the game includes a unique series of embedded cultural insight vignettes that are unlocked by solving puzzles and challenges throughout the gameplay. The vignettes bring personal and heartfelt perspectives to life in Alaska and highlight the importance of sharing the wisdom of the past with new generations.

Specific Contributions

Beyond these assets in the game, the individuals also contributed to the development behind the scenes. This is apparent through the following examples:

  • The narration of the game, completely in Iñupiaq, is performed by James Nageak. James and his wife Anna helped translate the script into Iñupiaq, so the world could hear this beautiful language.
  • Ishmael Hope was the Iñupiaq writer for the game narrative who was embedded with the E-Line team. He worked side-by-side throughout the project to help form the storyline and navigate the stories and traditions.
  • The story chosen by the game development team, Kunuuksaayuka, had been published and recorded by Robert Nasruk Cleveland and his daughter, Minnie Aliitchak Gray. Research determined that under Iñupiat tradition, stories are inherited by the eldest child in the family line. Robert Cleveland died many years ago, so the team tracked down his eldest child, Minnie Aliitchak Gray, and received her permission to use and edit the story in the video game.
Concept art from the video game Never Alone
Concept art from Never Alone

Never Alone can be played in Stampede: Animals in Art at the Denver Art Museum. Learn how the video game made its way here to the art museum.

Video and images courtesy of E-Line Media.

Brian Alspach is the executive vice president of product management at E-Line Media.