Never Alone: Video game brings an Alaska Native story to life

Note added January 11, 2015: We are hoping to have a review of the game available on this website soon from one of our correspondents. Unfortunately, he has reported that there’s a bug that stops the game about a third of the way through. You might want to wait for it to be patched before buying the game.

NPR recently reported on a very cool video game that brings to life a traditional Iñupiat adventure story from Alaska. It’s called “Never Alone” and is produced by “Upper One Games,” a studio founded in 2013 by Cook Inlet Tribal Council of Alaska to help promote the native cultural heritage to a new generation of its members and to the wider world.

The game, which brought on board a number of respected veterans from the video game industry, was developed with extensive input — on plot, in-game art, and structure — from those who know the story best:

“We didn’t want this to be an outsider’s view of what the Inupiaq culture was. We wanted it to come from the people themselves.”

Never Alone is based on a traditional story known as Kanuk Sayuka and the experiences of Alaska elders, storytellers and youth. The story follows a young Inupiaq girl and an Arctic fox as they go on an adventure to save her village from a blizzard that never ends.

Game developer Sean Vesce has 20 years of experience in the industry working on action titles like Tomb Raider. He recently went to Barrow, in far northern Alaska, to watch the students play a demo of the game. He says that day was his most memorable experience from the project.

The puzzle platformer game will be released for Windows (via Steam), PS4, and Xbox One in November. Here’s the official trailer:

It looks like an incredible game, and it features a female lead playable character, as well as bringing both cultural diversity and an unusual structure (since it was built around the Iñupiat cultural/linguistic worldview and oral traditions, rather than around the industry-dominant Euro-U.S. cultural framework).

Here’s the gameplay description from the official website:

– Play as both Girl and Fox – switch between the two characters at any time. Girl and Fox must work together to overcome challenges and puzzles as each has unique skills and abilities. A second player can join at any time for local co-op play.

– Explore perilous Arctic environments, from tundra to coastal villages, from ice floes to a mysterious forest. Brace yourself against gale-force winds and blizzards; face treacherous mountains.

– Meet fascinating characters from Iñupiaq folklore – Manslayer, the Little People, Helping Spirits, Blizzard Man and more. Never Alone was crafted in partnership with Alaska Native elders and storytellers for true authenticity.

– Hear the story of Kunuuksaayuka as told by a master Iñupiat storyteller in the spoken Iñupiaq language — a first for a commercial video game.

– Unlock special video Insights recorded with the Iñupiaq community to share their wisdom, stories and perspective.

They also worked to appropriately balance the game play with the source material:

One famous Iñupiaq storyteller named Robert Nasruk Cleveland, born in the late 1800s, was renown for his storytelling skill. Many of the great examples of traditional Iñupiaq stories are closely associated with him, including the story of Kunuuksaayuka.

The Never Alone team located Robert Cleveland’s daughter, an Iñupiaq elder named Minnie Gray, to obtain permission to use the story as the inspiration and main narrative spine of the game. The team worked directly with Minnie to ensure that, as the story was adapted to the needs of a video game, it maintained the wisdom and teachings of the original.

Here’s another video on the impact they hope to have with “Never Alone”:


The Purge amendment is poorly drafted, doesn’t go far enough


You may have heard about the very silly but also popular and also confusing violent movie franchise that consists so far of 2013’s “The Purge” and this month’s sequel, “The Purge: Anarchy.”

I and many others on the internet have tirelessly committed ourselves to knowing as little as possible about the movies while simultaneously speculating at as great a length as possible about the legal and constitutional ramifications of the premise — a near-future dystopian constitutional amendment that allows once-yearly killing sprees and other random acts of violence and mayhem (see below for full text).

The first movie was, I’m told, extremely unclear on the actual mechanism by which this was supposedly achieved, since the filmmakers were deeply committed to making a movie where everyone’s instinct in the brief absence of a legal system is to kill people instead of committing wire fraud and forging checks, and they didn’t really want to justify why this would be the case or how it came to be. (Look, I know they’re trying to tell a different story and start at a point of action; it’s just a stupid way to set it up. Even if yes, I want to watch C-SPAN tapes of ratification hearings. Moving on…)

However, the second movie — Wikipedia tells me — and the promotional materials I’ve been able to find apparently go into more detail about the backstory, to the point of, it would seem, actually revising the few meager details given in the first movie, such as the date of the titular event each year. Here’s the text of the amendment:


SECTION 1: The Annual Purge shall begin each year on June 20 at sunset, officially starting at 7PM, and ending at sunrise, June 21, at 7AM.

SECTION 2: During the time of The Purge, any and all crime, up to and including murder, will be legal for 12 continuous hours. Police, fire and hospital aid will be unavailable until The Purge concludes.

SECTION 3: The following weapons cannot be used during The Purge: weapons of mass destruction, fragment-producing explosives higher than a hazard class HC/D 1.4 and viral contagion projectiles. Recommended weapons: A.R. rifles and handguns of caliber 6.2 and all bladed weaponry.

SECTION 4: Government officials of ranking 5 and higher have been granted immunity from The Purge and shall not be harmed.

SECTION 5: Non-compliance with any of the aforementioned rules will result in death by hanging.

Ok, first off, what kind of government tyranny b*@#$hit tells me which weapons they recommend I use during my annual unmotivated mass crime wave? If I want to hack the stock exchange, nobody can make me use a bladed weapon. I want a lawyer. I know my rights.

Second comment: Date changes from first to second movie aside, this is at least a much clearer explanation of the mechanism. The basic rule is that once a year “any and all crime, up to and including murder, will be legal for 12 continuous hours.”

This is much simpler at least than the first movie’s confusingly implied premise that all laws were suspended, which would include removing all civil law and basically formally disestablish the whole of society for a 12 hour span. Still, now we need a whole damn army of attorneys who are on call one day a year to tell you if you’re about to commit a crime (no consequence) or a civil violation (still punishable or liable).
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My favorite Mark Twain book

My favorite Mark Twain book is a somewhat lesser known one: “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” For one thing, it’s very foundational for a lot of time-bending/tech-bending sub-genres of today’s fiction. But I think something else drew me to it.

Twain intended it as a satire of Sir Walter Scott’s romanticized medieval fantasies but I hope and like to think it’s really (indirectly) a metaphor for Reconstruction.

Here’s a quick summary of the plot that illustrates the comparison: A technologically advanced Yankee suddenly arrives in a backwards aristocratic, slave-owning society and tries to impose modernity by schools and by force but — fairly obvious spoiler from a 125-year-old novel — is ultimately thwarted by the forces of regressive, establishment conservatism.

Now, Mark Twain may not have intended the parallel, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to surmise that it was in the back of his mind as he wrote it, a decade after the sudden termination of Reconstruction policies. Plus, he also previously had tried to blame Sir Walter Scott (the clearly intended target of the book) for all of the Deep South planter class’s behavior and attitudes. Twain insisted that Sir Walter’s ahistorical notions of nobility had inspired the southern planters to initiate a pointless war for “honor,” but I think it’s pretty clear they were already several hundred years into their obsession with creating a genteel/monstrously cruel feudal slave state, without any help from novels.

In either case, much of the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Civil War involved New England Yankee officials, troops, schoolteachers, and ministers deploying officially and unofficially into the occupied Deep South to try to establish a slavery-free post-agrarian economy, communitarian values, industry, etc. They faced massive resistance — often violent — from local white residents, as well as sometimes from national leaders who were supposed to have their backs. Ultimately, the Yankees were thwarted in their “civilizing” mission and fled northward as military protection was withdrawn, leaving free blacks to face white mob violence, authoritarian rule, and slavery by another name on their own.

Twain’s novel doesn’t exactly have a happy ending either. The forces of the threatened establishment inevitably raise angry mobs and armies to attack the modernizing protagonist for liberating peasants from the economic system and from their fearmongering religious leaders. And in contrast with other literature of the day, it’s not really a celebration of white savior notions or “the white man’s burden.” The hero finds himself in a place not so entirely different from his own, and he is fully confident that the people aren’t substantially different. He just wants to help them unlock the knowledge and resources they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

It’s a sort of tribute to the futility of trying to enact policies for the greater good to raise standards of living for as many people as possible, even when some of the people being helped the most are also resisting it the most. Twain believed that Sir Walter Scott was pushing something insidious with his chivalrous tales of nobility, in which honorable aristocrats are heroes. The title character of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (note the deliberate identifying characteristic in the title) is an ordinary New England man who suddenly finds himself in a position of power and superior knowledge in Arthurian England — and his first instinct is to help all the ordinary people on as wide a scale as possible, even if they’re afraid of him and resist his efforts. And whether or not he succeeds, trying to reach that goal is true nobility. Which is a very New England attitude to take toward the rest of the United States.

Yeah, so why *isn’t* Charlotte Corday in the new Assassin’s Creed?

Charlotte-Corday-Paul-Jacques-Aime-Baudry-1860Look, I’ve never played any Assassin’s Creed games, and I’m not the first to say this, but how stupid do you have to be to make a French Revolution assassins game with no female character and then act like it’s because there weren’t any female assassins?

I also realize the games aren’t intended to be “historically accurate” by any stretch but there’s taking creative liberties with history to tell a story and then there’s just straight-up erasing history outside the context of the story, solely to justify bad decisions. And that would include making an outrageous claim like that.

Jean-Paul Marat’s assassination in 1793 by Charlotte Corday was a major trigger for the start of the Reign of Terror. I know I’m more in the French Revolution history than most — I believe I had a little copy of David’s The Death of Marat over my desk for about eight years for some unintentionally creepy reason — but Corday is, like, French Revolution 101. It had to have come up during the research for the game.

Moreover, French women in general played a huge role in the Revolutionary period, while radical women also played key roles. This reality has been repeatedly depicted in just about every other fictional or semi-historical version of the time period. Charles Dickens, way back in the Victorian Age when everyone was really giving women the short end of the stick, put a very important female character in a leadership role in his version of Revolutionary France in A Tale of Two Cities. So there’s really no excuse. Stop being lazy, Ubisoft.

Jonah Hill’s apology should be required study for all public figures

Comic actor Jonah Hill recently used in anti-gay slur in a moment of anger at a paparazzo. He went on The Tonight Show to make a public apology and fully own up to what he did and the impact of his word choice. We’re so used to people in this country giving terrible and insincere apologies that this was almost stunning to watch.

All public figures — celebs and politicians alike — should watch this video to learn how to do a sincere and meaningful apology. He doesn’t try to hide behind anything or distance himself from it or say he’s sorry if it offended people. He knows it did. He knows it was wrong. And he clearly regrets having said it (without just being sorry he got caught or that people got mad)

All people in general should especially take note of his observation that words have meaning even if you don’t mean them that way (i.e. intent doesn’t make everything ok), as well as his acknowledgment that he isn’t automatically owed forgiveness just because he apologized. Too many people assume that just saying “woops, my bad” is enough.

Life imitates art: Thai anti-coup rallies adopt Hunger Games salute

I kept expecting to find articles saying this was just a rumor but every source seems to be confirming: The pro-democracy Red Shirt protesters opposing the recent Yellow-aligned military coup in Thailand have officially adopted the defiant anti-authoritarian salute from the Hunger Games books and movies.

“Catching Fire,” the second movie in the franchise and perhaps the one most prominently featuring the salute, was released in November 2013 in Thailand, and became the country’s eighth highest grossing movie of last year. The first movie, released in March 2012, was in the top 20 that year.

The new military government and police forces have announced that the salute will be banned along with the already prohibited political gatherings of more than five people at a time.
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April 28, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 82

Description | Topics: Israel/Palestine peace talks collapse, Egypt’s military government, the Newton MA history curriculum debate and American Islamophobia, and then a discussion of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. People: Bill, Nate, Greg, and guest Daniel Fidler.

Talking Points:

– Is Israel actually serious about achieving peace? Was Kerry wrong to use the term “apartheid”?
– Is Egypt’s military really better than the Muslim Brotherhood? What does a history curriculum debate in Newton, Massachusetts tell us about America’s wider problem of anti-Muslim attitudes?
– Then: Daniel Fidler talks about how the second Captain America movie comments on current events.

Part 1 – Israel/Palestine Talks:
Part 1 – Israel/Palestine Talks – AFD 82
Part 2 – Egypt, Islam, Curriculum:
Part 2 – Egypt, Islam, Curriculum – AFD 82
Part 3 – Daniel Fidler on Captain America 2 [HUGE Spoiler Alert]:
Part 3 – Daniel Fidler on Captain America 2 – AFD 82

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post. Additionally, there is a bonus segment this week, on Donald Sterling, in a separate post.

Related links

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