Friday, November 21, 2014

Video Games as Cultural Transmission

Never Alone
I play some video games. Occasionally, I watch other people play them online. I have always been fascinated with these games in the sense that they are one of the strongest widespread continuing storytelling traditions that we have in the modern world---the games themselves, with their story lines and their use of mythology or cultural mores, and also, the stories that gamers tell about games and their experiences playing them. By now you may have heard of Minecraft; this game has generated gazillions of different story lines, has its own terminology and its own legendary players.

I was really excited to come across a brand new game, Never Alone. This is the first video game to be created in collaboration with the Alaskan Inupiaq Native community.  The whole thing is based on an indigenous story about an extremely harsh blizzard and features a girl and her fox companion who go through eight chapters of adventure, in a puzzle-solving format, to find the source of the blizzard. I watched about an hour play-through of this game and in it I saw a variety of helping spirits (as depicted above) and an intriguing shaman-like character called Owl Man. The whole game is interspersed with asides that explain various cultural aspects. And, it is extraordinarily beautiful, with gorgeous animation.

This is genius. What a profoundly effective way to transmit intergenerational knowledge. And, it gives me hope. While I like video games and play them regularly (I'm big on sword and sorcery games) I realize that there is a lot of crap out there. Gratuitously violent, prurient, misogynist, empty, hollow. And wasteful of an excellent opportunity. Never Alone takes that opportunity and makes something fun, exciting, informational, beautiful and, dare I say, even spiritual---and it assures the preservation and transmission of at least a small amount of important cultural heritage.


  1. Hey Tilda - this sounds fascinating! (BTW, the link is broken above - the 'n' doesn't show up)

    I am not a big gamer - though if I still do play, I have a Nintendo DS and a very old GameCube that I still use! Still playing Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing - yeah very old! LOL! My computer is too old and slow to game on it. What game device to you use?

    I love love love watching people play Dungeons and Dragons - I know I'm weird.

  2. Ha ha Carol! My husband loves watching Dungeons and Dragons and also Warhammer matches. Me, not so much, though I enjoy watching people play various video games. Watching some people play "Alien Isolation", based on the movie "Alien", right now----spooky!!

    We have a Playstation 2 that I play ancient games on, like Dark Angel and Baldur's Gate :)

    1. oh ps, fixed the link, thanks for pointing that out :)

    2. Yay (re: your husband)! I'm not the only one. I also like to watch people play video games - esp Assassin's Creed (the Borgia one)! I was quite against video games when my son was a youngster, but then became enamored of the graphics when I watched him play some games.

      I told him about "Never Alone" and although he doesn't have it, he suggested that I come over and play "Journey" and "Machinarium".

      One of these days I have to upgrade - "Baldur's Gate" sounds right up my alley.

      And you're welcome - just trying to be helpful. :)

  3. I don't play games much for now, gotta make time for it, because I love them. I especially love atmospheric, story-driven games like Silent Hill, horror stuff. This game sounds AMAZING!

    You may like this video that discusses a connection between art films and video games, it's such a creative medium:

  4. I don't play video games but I have a nine year old daughter who occasionally does and a seven year old son who more than occasionally does. And I have never been completely comfortable with the genre / medium, but I have never considered them as story telling outlets. And while I'm afraid that I don't support most of the stories that so many games tell, this one sounds worth while.