Course:FNIS454/Survival Through Video Games

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FNIS 454
Indigenous New Media
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This open access resource is developed by the students of FNIS 454: Indigenous New Media. Via summary and analysis of key article, this wiki explores the theoretical, cultural, socio-political, and gendered dynamics underwriting the histories and futures of Indigenous new media as it develops out of the late 90s and into the present moment.
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Survival through Video Games, by Kenzie Littlelight

The occupation of Indigenous people in the territory of cyberspace elicits an extension of traditional storytelling and authentic perspectives for different communities. Video games, as a form of new media, can embody a teacher for a community’s traditional ways of life as presented through the game’s narrative, that can be both contained and further utilized throughout multiple generations. Indigenous development and involvement in game design are crucial for creating self-determined spaces where their viewpoints can be understood more clearly through an Indigenous lens. Giving Indigenous people autonomy over their own stories can help to discontinue the power often held by non-Indigenous people who assert their authority over Indigenous narrative.

              In the article, “Video Games Encourage Indigenous Cultural Expression”, by Anishinaabe/Métis/Irish scholar and game designer Elizabeth LaPensée, the vital need for Indigenous involvement in video games representing them is expressed and praised. LaPensée explains how video games are a form of creative expression that merges design, code, art, and sound, and if done right, can have the potential to become self-determined spaces where Indigenous people can express themselves on their own terms.[1] The autonomy over expression aids in the survivance of Indigenous knowledge and storytelling while simultaneously counteracts games that appropriate and rely on cultural stereotypes without any Indigenous input. Indigenous inputs bring new flavours to the table, and as LaPensée further explains, Indigenous cultures are robust influences for game ideas that can provide players with authentic viewpoints they may not experience elsewhere in mainstream culture. Because of this, a contrast is made between games with Indigenous perspectives and more conventional games that can ignite insightful discussion beyond game play.

              Maize Longboat, the game maker of Terra Nova, credits Elizabeth LaPensée with shaping their theoretical perspectives on Indigenous video game development, which has informed the development of her own game, Terra Nova. Terra Nova and its mechanics are inspired by the Identity of Maize Longboat, a Kanien’kahá:ka person, which reflects LaPensée’s idea that family, historical and traditional stories can inspire games across many genres and with varying mechanics. In Terra Nova, players explore the potential outcomes of first contact between settlers and Indigenous people in a thousand of years from now. The use of mechanics like split-screen platforming, an interactive dialogue system, and shared perspective cooperative game play helps players engage with the story while engaging Indigenous ways of knowing at the same time. For Longboat, Terra Nova is a way for Indigenous peoples to practice survivance on their own terms since the game reflects indigeneity within its narrative and mechanics.[2]

              As highlighted by Longboat, ongoing systems of colonialism regulate Indigenous peoples and Indigenous identity as something belonging to the past, which suggests that there is no room for Indigenous peoples in the contemporary era of digital technology. Video games like Elizabeth LaPensée’s and Maize Longboats’s, demonstrate the contrary while furthering the many ways that Indigenous people exist and continue to be active citizens in the territory of cyberspace.

  1. LaPensée, Elizabeth (2017). "Video Games Encourage Indigenous Culture".
  2. Longboat, Maize. Terra Nova​: Enacting Videogame Development through Indigenous-Led Creation. Concordia, 2019, Longboat_MA_F2019.pdf.