Certainly it’d be unfair to say it was done with malice, but the truth is we rely heavily upon — or, at least, are heavily subjected to — stereotyping of races within the popular media. CEO of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, which represents a wide range of Alaska Natives (broadly referred to as Inuit), Gloria O’Neill is looking to begin reversing that trend for indigenous peoples all around the globe.
To this end, O’Neill and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council have teamed up with ex-Activision alumni and social activist Alan Gershenfeld to establish Upper One Games; an indie studio tasked with representing Alaska Native culture authentically, faithfully and, of course, entertainingly. ”We call it game-based cultural storytelling,” Gershenfeld says.
The first game is as-yet unannounced, but promises a cinematic adventure in which a native girl must face the dangers and difficulties of surviving life in the Arctic circle, combining the culture, myths and lives of the people who have contributed to the concept. “We would like to bring our stories to the world,” adds O’Neill, who has no background working in the games industry but has identified it as a powerful tool for reaching people. “We want our people to be in the driver’s seat as we tell those stories.”
It’s not all about eliminating the “heap big bad medicine” lingo and unfunny Tonto overacting by the likes of Johnny Depp, but also the half-breed Westernized hero that’s often employed to delicately bridge the gap between native cultures and an urbanite audience. “We just want to really delve deep into the culture and make the themes and the things that were presented have an indelible mark on the game itself. Not just borrowing a few elements for convenience. That’s why we’ve done so much research and community outreach,” says game designer Sean Vesce.
A fascinating beginning, and one we intend to follow as the Upper One debut game takes shape.