How this year’s App Store award winners are putting historical storytelling from marginalized cultures in the palm of your hand
Apple recently announced its best apps and games of 2022. Included this year were five Cultural Impact winners. The company chose these titles, believing they could each influence culture and positively impact people’s lives.
Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss two of these apps with their creators. Dot’s Home and Inua – Story in Ice and Time are vastly different both in the stories they tell and in their design. And yet, I can see why Apple chose each to win a Cultural Impact award.
Dot’s Home is a single-player game highlighting struggles in the Black community across many eras. As the main character, Dorothea Hawkins, you get to explore history and see how different decisions, big and small, can have a long-lasting impact on a family and society in general.
For example, when a character leaves the family home, what does that mean to those left behind? And why did the character leave in the first place, and what does that say to the community?
I’ll leave any discussion on the mechanical gaming aspects of Dot’s Home to folks like Rebecca Spear, who are much better at this. First, however, it’s important to say that everything about this game is top-notch, from how the story is told and its creative design. The backstory of how and why it was created attracted me to the game.
Dot’s Home comes from the Rise-Home Stories Project, a collaborative effort between minority storytellers and housing, land, and racial justice advocates. As two of its producers, Luisa Dantas and Paige Wood, explained, the co-creative process was aimed at “validating the experiences of young BIPOC, challenging narratives that value profit over people and conveying the beauty and richness of families and communities of color.”
Early in the app design process, however, many in the industry said organizing a minority team wasn’t possible. However, they made it happen, even though the project took nearly two years to complete.
Among the members of the game’s team was lead writer Evan Narcisse, a staff writer at io9, who has written for The Atlantic and Time Magazine, and famed artist Sanford Greene, who has worked with Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image Comics, over his 15-year career. In other words, heavyweights.
According to Dantas, Dot’s Home was created to “courageous conversations about this country’s fraught history with racialized housing and land policy, while also illuminating our role in creating a vision of a just and equitable future that can become reality.”
Dot’s Home is available on various platforms, including the best iPhones, like the iPhone 14 Pro, the iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Steam. The app was first released in November 2021. Despite its age, Dot’s Home is expected to see some exciting updates in 2023. Among these could be the ability for players to interact with other players in-app.
Inua – Story in Ice and Time
The Inua gaming app comes through a multi-nation collaboration between ARTE France, IKO, and The Pixel Hunt. Its story combines historical events that weave into Inuit traditions and folklore elements. Like Dot’s Home, Inua uses time travel elements to tell its story. The result is a much broader storytelling experience that’s no less heart-pulling.
Although Inua is tagged as a point-and-click adventure game, there’s little puzzle-solving involved here. Instead, it’s up to you just how much you wish to discover to move through the game. This involves going back and forth between characters to hear what they say and, perhaps more importantly, think.
One significant part of Inua, clearly its hook, is a fantastic retelling of the real-life 19th-century Franklin expedition. The highly publicized British seagoing mission was intended to explore the Arctic. But, unfortunately, its two ships, Erebus and Terror, were lost under mysterious circumstances (and only found this century) somewhere in the Northwest Passage of the Canadian Arctic.
The big unknown of what happened to the ships and their crew (we still don’t know) has been the subject of countless books, films, and television shows.
But Inua isn’t just about the failed expedition.
Throughout the game, you’ll become familiar with characters connected in various ways across three historical periods. You’ll discover their many differences and similarities along the way and learn more about Nanurluk, a mythical polar bear who lived thousands of years ago. The bear plays a clear role as the story plays out.
Like with Dot’s Home, the team behind Inua spent a great deal of time making sure the story featured voices that reflected the characters and story.
As Igal Kohen, Ina’s executive producer, explained, “to ensure maximum authenticity of the story, we brought in Inuit advisors and an Inuit writer.” There were also Inuit actors and singers involved.
Worth considering, regardless of background
Dot’s Home and Inua tell stories that shouldn’t work in gaming environments. And yet, they do, which is undoubtedly why Apple chose both for a Cultural Image award. Better still, neither narrative sounds pushy. Instead, you get great gameplay that’s also informative and educational.
Moving forward, I will watch for similar content in the App Store. I’ll certainly let you know when I do. You can download Dot’s Home and Inua on the App Store.