Thursday, May 7, 2015

Storytelling and Never Alone

My latest PopMatters piece is live, in which I try to praise Never Alone while still calling it a failure.

Never Alone is a game you would make if someone told you to turn an oral legend into a platformer. When that person realizes the limits of the platformer and ask you to make it more educational and insightful, it's only natural to slot in interviews with those whose culture informs the game. Really, it's not that bad of an experience as a whole.

Even so, I wonder what Never Alone would be like if it never tried to be a platformer at all. We can of course imagine a game without the disruptive interview elements, but what if we imagine a game solely made up of interviews? What if hearing about the legends, myths, and beliefs of these people was the game itself? I don't think this would be true to the experience of being embedded within these cultural narratives, but maybe there is something to experiencing a culture as an outsider.

When I think of documentaries that feel experiential, I think of divisive but fascinating Werner Herzog. His film Encounters at the End of the World is a series of interviews with people who choose to live and work in Antarctica, and as one would expect, many of them are strange and quirky people.

What's most interesting in relation to Never Alone is that Herzog never actually seems that interested in letting the people tell their own story, at least not completely. He often jumps between subjects or asks loaded and invasive questions out of the blue, to which his subjects give some strange answers. Herzog wants to strand us at the end of the world with everyone else, to ponder what might bring us out there with these diverse strangers. Maybe exploring cultural storytelling in game demands the creation of an experience that embeds players into being there, not just viewing it though a window.

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