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  • Playful Learning Design

Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)


We often learn about and celebrate cultural tradition and history through stories, music, and dancing. Why not have more opportunities to engage and learn for those who might not otherwise be able to? How can communities preserve their collective cultural heritage and identity when they if they have limited resources and are geographically isolated? Digital stories and video games are one way to overcome these challenges.

Never Alone is a multi-media interactive experience that combines increasingly complex puzzle based game play with a compelling storyline told through video content. A young girl named Nuna and her fox friend navigate the landscape, and tell the traditional stories of the Inupiat, an indigenous Alaskan community. The challenges that Nuna faces often require action from the fox, and each character has unique skills that can be untilized. When a puzzle is solved, a new video is unlocked. In the videos, or "Cultural Insights", the story unfolds through interviews and commentary by Inupiat community members and media documenting cultural practices. Traditional folklore and stories are told through animated scenes that transition from the Cultural Insights back into game play. Through this combination of interactions, an authentic collective voice emerges. It is almost as if you are there as Nuna, learning and connecting with the people that are eager to pass on the traditional knowlede from thousands of years past. The importance of connecting with and being a part of the community is revisited over and again, with Nuna gaining new insight into her own community.

The combination interactive play-based experiences and rich media content is an innovative medium in the realm of heritage conservation. It is quite exciting to think about the educational potential for immersive experiences like these. The stories we hear and tell shape our reference to our own humanity and identity. As a digital story, three themes emerged in my critique of the initial experience (I am looking forward to getting to the more challenging puzzles!). The first is the research and integration of historical information into the experience. Folklore and the collective voices of current members of the community gave a authentic and genuine impression. Traditional and cultural information was integrated well into the experience with a thorough exploration of the theme for each segment. It is clear that the voices of many passionate and enthusiastic people were involved.

With the unique combination of different types of media including live video, animation, and computer generated game-play sessions, the media grammar, or mechanics of media, were an important part to the continuity of the experience. It was a mostly seamless experience that settled into a well thought-out, cyclical process of animation, game-play, and video content. During game-play sequences, the absence of a user interface makes the transition back to video and animated content fluid.

The economy of the game was also of note in my analysis of the story. I found the information and content to be presented in a holistic way, with the theme of the scene transcending the different mediums. The progression of the storyline began with the core development of an understanding of the community, then transitioned quickly to exploring the connection between humans, animals, and the environment. After the stage is set for the beginning experiences, the story expands to include a rich and developed understanding of different themes that relate to the core story.

Another note in regards to my analysis of the game; I did have some difficulty figure out the controls during the early puzzles. As an experience designer, I would consider adding in additional prompts when a certain amount of time has passed to make the experience more friendly for those who are not familiar with the controls. Despite this small note, the experience was heartfelt, inspiring, and exciting as I consider how digital storytelling can function as a medium in heritage conservation. A new generation of storytellers has a wonderful example of the possiblities in Never Alone. Now, on to the next puzzle!

Research

***** (5/5)

Media Grammar

**** (4/5)

Economy

***** (5/5)

#gaming #storytelling

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