Indigenously-Determined Games of the Future

Posted on June 5, 2015, 12:07 am, by Elizabeth LaPensée, under Games, INSPIRATION.
Originally printed November 2014 in kimiwan zine: issue 8: Indigenous Futurisms
.
A clear screen clouds over with pink-blue sheen like a sunrise over lake water.
When I exhale, points form on the screen in patterns of constellations in a night sky.
When they connect, they reveal syllabics.
Our language is living, just as it always has and always will.
Now dancing on the screen awakened by breath.

.

Video games are a path for passing on teachings, telling our stories, and expressing our ways of knowing. Just as Dr. Leroy Little Bear and Loretta Todd share—the Internet and three-dimensional representations have always existed for Indigenous people. We have always perceived the connectivity between all and life in many dimensions. Meanwhile, our traditional games are played for enhancing our abilities and actively learning and reinforcing knowledge. With this understanding, we can approach games as a medium for self-expression with many possibilities. Yet, we are still just on the cusp of Indigenously-determined games (watch an overview of some Indigenous games from the Natives in Game Dev Gathering).

.

We stand now with a strong foundation thanks to work that enables the next generations with storytelling, access to game development related technology, and hands-on experience in design, programming, art, sound, and producing to ultimately develop their own games. The Skins Workshops by the research network Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, co-directed by Jason Edward Lewis and Skawennati, and an ongoing community workshop coordinated by Joseph Arthur at Hoopa Valley, offer models for showing youth how empowered they are to create in these spaces.

.

And what is possible in these spaces? While many commercial games still rely on flattened space that is mapped and claimed by players in ways that reinforce colonial values, I hope to offer experiences rooted in the gifts of sky, land, water, plants, animals, insects, our people, stars, and manidoo. From the board game The Gift of Food that is designed around the values of collaboration, stewardship, generosity, and gratitude, to the social impact game Survivance that encourages storytelling and creating as a way to heal from historical trauma, to the touchscreen suite of games Gathering Traditional Foods that reinforces teachings of balance, I envision a future that has grown from the work that is happening right now, games that not only reclaim representations of us but also expand us into Indigenous design.

.

Indigenous game design includes how a game is developed as well as all elements of a game. Community collaboration and ongoing iterative design is a deep and essential process. We are guided by listening to our ancestors. Here we are, living dreams that we as gamers dreamt. Games with our people represented in our own ways, with our placenames, with our stories, with manidoo. Games played through headsets that gift us with the feeling of flying and games that bring digital rain and snow from skies in rooms. This future is all happening right now and there is so much more to experience.

.

We are still in the phase of actively decolonizing existing technology, such as in Renee Nejo’s game Blood Quantum, which cleverly uses cute non-human characters and accessible casual game design to make a statement about blood quantum contributing to ongoing colonization.

.

For us to genuinely be in a place where we are self-determined in game design, we need to be involved from the very start. We need to bend technology to then guide it all directions for game engines that comprehend our ways of knowing—game engines with Blackfoot physics, game engines with Lakota star knowledge, game engines designed from structures of ongoing non-linear storytelling.

.

As we root ourselves to grow into this future, every game we make, every design we sketch, every conversation we have contributes to what has been unfolding since time immemorial—games that shift perspectives and reinforce ours.

.

In my work, I see birch bark scrolls unraveling with stories of Moon People riding in spacecanoes along the plasma between the stars. And for all, a call for uplifting one another as we express ourselves each in our own way through this transformative medium.

wesingforhealing_icon
We Sing for Healing, 2015

Elizabeth LaPensée, Ph.D., is an Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish game researcher, designer, and writer who specializes in Indigenous games for self-determination. http://www.elizabethlapensee.com

PDF| Comment (RSS)
blog comments powered by Disqus