Using Gamification to Celebrate Native Languages



This article celebrates International Mother Language Day, 21 February, 2015.


MotherLanguageDay_1 International Mother Language Day is celebrated every year on February 21, and is officially recognized and organized by UNESCO. This year’s theme is “Inclusion in and through education: Language counts.” The goal is to help create inclusion and equality between cultures that speak different languages, and also promote multilingualism.

This is considered a goal by UNESCO because “linguistic minorities are often among the most marginalized populations, with little or poor access to quality education. When they do have access to education, learners from these communities are often either excluded from opportunities to pursue their educational career beyond primary or pushed out of education because the language of instruction is not their own.”[1]

International Mother Language Day was first created and announced on November 17, 1999, and observed for the first time on February 21, 2000. This is the anniversary of a shooting at Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 1952. This occurred during the Bengali Language Movement, which called for their native language to be recognized as one of the national languages of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Today, the Language Martyr’s Monument is located at Dhaka University, where people pay their respects to the students who died.


Old Stories, New Delivery


Organizations worldwide, including video game developers, are working to find innovative ways to promote and preserve indigenous languages.

On November 18, 2015, Upper One Games and E-Line Media released a game titled Kisima Innitchuna, or “Never Alone” in English. The game is organized as a story and divided into eight chapters. Players solve puzzles to move forward. You play as a young Iñupiat girl and an arctic fox who are looking for the source of a blizzard that is threatening their community. The story of Nuna originates from the Iñupiat people of Alaska. Their name for this story is Kunuuksaauyka.

neveralone_1Upper One Games is the first video game company owned solely by indigenous peoples. To make Never Alone, they partnered with Cook Intel Tribal Council (CITC), which is a nonprofit based in Anchorage, Alaska, and also works with indigenous peoples. To ensure the storyline is accurate, they partnered with 40 elder storytellers, who worked with the game developers to contribute their knowledge, culture and language to the game.

Some of the stories told in the game include the Sky People, the Blizzard Man, and Manslayer, relate to the blizzard that is devastating Nuna’s village.

Never Alone explores the folklore of the Iñupiat people to present a game that teaches and celebrates their unique culture and language. The game is also “narrated by a master storyteller in the spoken Iñupiat language.”[2] There are subtitles in English, which allow non-Iñupiat players to understand the story. The narration exposes the player to this unique language and some of the stories that form an important aspect of their culture.

Unlockable features include video interviews with both the game developers and elders, and additional stories of the Iñupiat people.

Never Alone is the first of E-Line Media’s series of World Games. The goal of this series, which will focus on several cultures, is to “empower indigenous communities around the world to share their stories in an authentic, engaging, and entertaining way.”[3] It is available for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and is set to expand to more systems, and with more languages, in spring of 2015.

Watch the promotional video for Never Alone here.






Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth is a writer currently based in Kitchener-Waterloo.

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