Last November, the world saw the release of a video game with unprecedented origins. Never Alone, or Kisima Innitchuna, was produced in concert with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and draws on traditional Alaska Native stories and legends. It is the first video game to have been funded by and produced in collaboration with an American indigenous organization.
Last Thursday, I spoke with one of the game’s masterminds, Gloria O’Neil. O’Neil is a member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents, a “proud graduate of UAA,” and the President and CEO of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, or CITC.
The CITC is one of the most influential non-profit native groups in Alaska, and its mission is to work with Alaska Native and American Indian people and connect them to their potential, according to O’Neil. She said that each year, the CITC helps ten to twelve thousand people.
The CITC isn’t just a hugely influential organization, though, it’s also a model for its members and the members of the community it serves. As a non-profit group, the CITC doesn’t have much in the way of incoming cash and in the past has relied heavily on the state and federal government. About seven years ago, the organization decided they wanted to change that model: so they started looking for an investment.
O’Neil said that the CITC board asked that she and her team find an an investment that would not only make money but would also make impact. “So,” she said, “we came up with this idea of video games.” At the time, there were no video games on the market that had been backed by an indigenous organization. O’Neil said she knew she wanted to fill that space.
The game, which is narrated in Inupiat and has English subtitles, was developed by E-Line, a media company that the CITC partnered with. Game developers spent time in Barrow, speaking with elders and filming educational segments which appear in the game.
Never Alone is a traditional native tale of heroism, danger, and perseverance. The story was received in the Native tradition from Minnie Grey, who had in turn received it from her father, who was a famous story teller.
The game follows the journey of Nuna, a young Inipiat girl, and her companion Fox, a little arctic fox. A player can either select Nuna or Fox, or the game can be played by two players simultaneously. Over the course of the game, which is about six hours long, Nuna and Fox encounter characters from traditional stories that O’Neil says she grew up hearing.
Since its November launch, O’Neil says that 100,000 copies of the game have been sold. She anticipates that sales will reach the million copy mark by the end of this year. So, thus far, the investment has been a financial success. But that’s not all, according to O’Neil.
She says that Never Alone has inspired people to tell their own stories and that it has paved the way for a whole new genre of video games that she says are being called “World Games.”
The game is available for Mac, PC, X-Box, and Playstation.