Welcome to Mechanically Beautiful, where we look into the widely debated topic of whether or not video games are considered art. I’m here to say that yes, I do believe video games are a form of art. If you are not a believer of this idea, then maybe these articles will change your mind. But even if they don’t, you will get a chance to hear about and maybe look into some beautiful games in the industry. Today we look at the cultural based platformer called “Never Alone.”
“Never Alone” is a game made by a company called Upper One Games. They are a new company and the only game they have ever made is “Never Alone.” The game came into being because they wanted to create a game that really explained the Native Alaskan tribe, the Iñupiat. They spoke with Native Alaskan story tellers, as well as tribe elders to give this game as much authenticity as possible. The whole purpose in the end is for the game to teach you. You get this lesson by playing through the story of a girl trying to save her village.
The young girl you play as is named Nuna. She is setting out on a dangerous adventure to try and find out why an endless blizzard is now destroying her tribe. Early in her journey, she meets a strange, white, arctic fox that has the power to see the spirits of the Iñupiat people. The two of them help each other out as the girl goes on her seemingly impossible quest. As you play you see the beautiful graphic style, interesting looking spirits and get informed about the Alaskan people through educational videos.
The graphics of the game are very smooth and clean. The colors are nicely saturated, although not overly bright. In fact, much of the game has a very muted visual style because of the environment. Everything has a look of nice clean edges and shapes. The whole game is, of course, covered in a complete blizzard, so when you travel everything is covered in a snowy white out. You get a real feeling of the rough tundra that the Alaskan wastes can be. The visual style is so smooth and calming that even the enemies and spirits you see are kind of cute and inviting. Even when getting chased by a giant, vicious, polar bear, you just want to go and hug him because he looks so calm and inviting. There are small little native looking tribesmen that for whatever reason want nothing to do with you. They throw rocks at you and seemed fearful of your presence but don’t actively hunt you down. These fellows also look rather adorable and it’s kind of hard to be afraid of them. Despite being a game completely covered in a blizzard you can’t but feel warm and calm when looking at it. A strange contrast when you think about. The major cut-scene however carry a totally different visual style from the main game.
The cut-scenes are done in the style of Iñupiat people’s art. They are hand drawn scene that look and feel very tribal and simple. They remind you of a cave paintings except with more detail and patterning and clothing of the Alaskan people. The cut-scenes move in a flash animated fashion and definitely get across the feeling of tribal art.
The spirits throughout the game appear to help you on your journey. They can only been called upon while you are playing the fox and appear out of nowhere. It is clear the the game is conveying a message that the spirits of these people are friendly and helpful creatures by the way they look. However, is a bit odd and not what you would expect. The only word that really comes to mind when explaining the spirits is goofy. They have odd proportions and seem to float around as if they are in water. They have tiny little eyes but with huge eye sockets or small bodies and extremely long limbs. Compared to what you would usually think of for a spirit, like that of Japanese or African culture, where the spirits are often pretty creepy looking, these spirits are cute. They look like a child kind of drew what they would want a friendly spirit to look like.
The tribe you see in this game is not a well known so to teach the masses the creators took it upon themselves to help out. As you progress through the game. you gather cultural insight videos that if you watch them have people of the tribe speaking about it’s history and lifestyle. If you are big history fan, such as myself, you will instantly appreciate this wealth of knowledge the game brings forward. Using a video game to teach people the beauty of a cultur is just about the best way to show history can really be interesting.
This game is about as great an example of art as you can get. If you don’t consider a game that is both visually appealing and teaches people about a lesser known culture to be art, then it must be very hard to convince you that anything is art. It is a game that had a very specific goal at hand and set out to spread this goal to everyone they could. There is no doubt they achieved their mission of art and teaching. As for if I recommend playing this game, well yes I most certainly say that people should play this game but be aware that it is not a mechanical ground breaking. It is a fairly simple platformer that wants to use the game to educate and did not try to be the next great thing in terms of gameplay. If you enjoy the history and story to something like this though then you should definitely go for it.