Max Bledstein is an MA student in Cultural Studies at the University of Winnipeg and the 2016-17 Research Fellow for Project GraphicBio, which examines graphic biographies and other forms of illustrated life writing. His work analyses visual media such as comic books, television, and video games through an interdisciplinary lens incorporating literary theory, identity studies, and art history. He was nominated for the 2016 Algy Smillie Noad Memorial Prize for his research on representations of racial alterity in the Grand Theft Auto series.
This paper examines Upper One Games’ Never Alone, or Kisima Inŋitchuŋa, as an aesthetic expression of cultural pride, communal engagement, and broader collectivity. The game, developed in conjunction with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, a non-profit indigenous organization working in Alaska, tells the story of Iñupiat girl Nuna. Along with her Arctic fox companion, she leaves her village to seek the source of a blizzard that ravages her tribe’s community. The basic elements of the plot stem from the ancient Iñupiat myth “Kunuuksaayuka”. In addition to these mythological elements, there are video interviews with members of the Iñupiat throughout the game in which they provide players with information about the tribe’s customs, traditions, and relationship with the land.
Nuna’s expedition and the cultural material surrounding it demonstrate the vitality of the Iñupiat and encourage relationships with the community. The game’s themes of survival and communal responsibility reflect the Iñupiat’s experiences in contemporary Alaska and cultural values. Beyond the expression of Iñupiat culture within Never Alone’s basic structure, cooperative play mode, in which one player plays as Nuna and another plays as the fox, allows for a particularly powerful experience of togetherness. Their journey combines folkloric material with the formal capacities of video games to engage audiences with cultural traditions and practices. Never Alone is a vital artistic contribution to awareness and collectivity within and beyond the Iñupiat community.