Inspiration for Game Developers Everywhere
by Marcus Estrada[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he game Never Alone is incredibly unique. Although at first it may appear to be just another puzzle platformer, its able to firmly distinguish itself thanks to a truly distinctive feel. You see, this game was developed with the help and influence of Alaskan Natives to carve out an astonishing world and storyline. Pulling itself straight from Iñupiat folklore it is likely a story the likes of which many players have never been acquainted with before. Although the actual gameplay may not always be ideal, there’s a lot to love about the experience of venturing through a storyteller’s tale of a young girl and her fox companion.
As far as I’m aware, Upper One Games are the only developer who have pushed so strongly to bring a culture and their input into a video game release to such a massive degree. In all, there were nearly 40 individuals who offered their stories, history, and discussion to help turn Never Alone into a game which its community could be proud of. Why have other developers avoided trying something similar? In many ways, it probably feels risky – but so far the response to this game has been immensely positive.
To fear storytelling beyond a typical male lead and heterocentric heroic “norms” is silly. Of course, with a certain upbringing and culture it would also be hard for one person to quantify the important aspects of someone else’s culture into their own work. It isn’t impossible, but to many it could easily look like appropriation. At worst, the work may even include harmful stereotypes because the creator simply isn’t aware of them. That’s why it seems to me that Never Alone’s approach might just be the ideal right now.
If you want to be able to tell a good story in a subject matter that you’re not a master of then it simply makes sense to get help. But why should more developers pursue different narratives? Does it really matter to the gaming populace? Many would suggest no, which is why we have so many games with muscular dudes saving women. It’s easy to sell to that ephemeral teenage male gamer archetype. Still, is there any worth in placating the stereotypical “gamer?” By continuing to feed them the same characters and stories with minimal twists you are eventually going to burn out that crowd.
We’ve already seen the effect of this with the rise of indie games. Small developers are not beholden to marketing teams and make whatever they damn well please. Upper One Games created something they felt was important and worth sharing with the gaming audience and so far that audience is repaying them in kind. As of this writing there are already over 250 Steam reviews for Never Alone as opposed to most new releases which offer 0 to 20. People are demonstrating their need for something new – and have been for quite a while.
Are you a developer looking to do something special with your abilities? Create what you desire, but know that you’re not an island unto yourself. It is worth investigating the experiences of others because all of us have different worlds we inhabit. By listening to a different perspective you are also improving your own understanding of people and can bring that knowledge into game development. You’ll be more prepared to create fully realized characters who aren’t just carbon copies of yourself (or simple tropes). Finally, feel comfortable giving others the stage. What they have to say is equally as important and deserves its chance in the spotlight.[divider] Pixel Pacas. Writing about video games is something he hopes to continue doing for many years to come. Some of Marcus’s favorite games include Silent Hill 2, Killer7, and The Sims. [/author]