Transformational Exchange of Cultural Values through Cooperative Play in 'Never Alone'
by Tanya Zuk — Georgia State University
April 11, 2017 – 18:40
Game mechanics are a primary method of incorporating embodied storytelling and ritual values into gameplay. In the design of the game, E-Line Media and CITC developed a cooperative play style, which requires the player to use both player characters, Nuna and fox, to complete most tasks within the game. In fact, several game obstacles are significantly harder to accomplish as a single player, as single players must switch quickly between the two player characters to complete obstacles, and thus have a clear bias towards a local two-player cooperative play model. The cooperative mechanic integrates the value of interdependence key to the Iñupiaq community culture. Nuna cannot complete her journey and save her people alone. She must work with nature and spirit embodied in fox and the Sila spirits in the game to accomplish the tasks ahead of her–not only to complete the game, but to survive the game’s representative harsh environment of the Arctic. Larry Friedlander of Stanford University asserts, “For teaching purposes, these games [serious games] should clarify the interdependence of cultural story, rite, and value so that the gamer understands that religious story is embedded in specific cultural practices and that myths are quite powerful ways to express this radical interdependence” (Friedlander, 2010, p. 134). By working with other entities in the ritual of the story, you the gamer are relying on values of interdependence and resilience.
Additionally, the cooperative play mechanic is enhanced when players are not only metaphorically working collaboratively with Nuna and fox, but are combining efforts with a second local player. In terms of the local Iñupiaq community, parents and grandparents are encouraged to be the secondary players for the children in their family, or to start a family conversation regarding the game and its meanings. In fact, E-Line Media worked with the Center for Games and Impact at Arizona State to create an “Impact Guide” for Never Alone to help not only Iñupiaq families, but all intergenerational co-players to explore the cultural and ritual values embedded in the game. Bringing the core values of intergenerational exchange, interdependence, and resilience to the fore of gameplay for Indigenous and western players alike.
Friedlander, L. (2010). Sacred Geographies: Myth and Ritual in Serious Games. In R. Van Eck (Ed.), Interdisciplinary Models and Tools for Serious Games: Emerging Concepts and Future Directions (pp. 125–145). IGI Global.