Scrolling through my Facebook Timeline, I came across a flyer for the ‘Natives in Game Dev Gathering’ and I immediately went into my “Happy Dance” mode. As a long time gamer, I’ve often been disappointed by native representation in video games because it is based off the same generic Eurocentric Hollywood stereotypes that you see in the movies and literature. Then, there are games like Atari’s Custer’s Revenge, Activision’s Gun, Christopher Garnaas’ Deadskins, and Monte Cook Games’ The Strange that are not only distasteful, but racist and harmful to indigenous people.
Representation matters and this is why the rise in Indigenous games developed and designed by Indigenous people, or at least in collaboration with natives, are so important. When Upper One Games and E-Line Media released the groundbreaking ‘Never Alone’ or Kisima Inŋitchuŋa, it was met with tremendous fanfare and for good reason. Not only was the game fun and visually beautiful, but it showed how indigenous culture and folklore can be introduced and utilized by the gaming industry in entertaining, educational and, more importantly, respectful manners.
I reached out to Elizabeth LaPensée, one of the organizers and speakers at the ‘Natives in Gaming Dev Gathering’ to learn more about the event and this is what she had to say:
“The Natives in Game Dev Gathering is an important opportunity to recognize and inspire self-determined Indigenous contributions to game development across Turtle Island, graciously hosted by Brenda Romero and highlighting Never Alone, the Initiative for Indigenous Futures, and the work of self-taught Yaqui and Cherokee programmer and designer John Romero, among more.”
Below is more information on the gathering as well as the link to RSVP, if you are interested in attending.
Natives in Game Dev Gathering
Friday, May 22, 9:00am-5:00pm
University of California Santa Cruz Extension
2505 Augustine Drive, Santa Clara, CA 95054
With the recent overwhelming reception of Never Alone developed by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council with E-Line Media, it’s clear that Indigenous games are on the rise. The Natives in Game Dev Gathering recognizes the work that comes before and that which is coming ahead to honor the ongoing impact of Indigenous people of North America on game industry ranging from AAA to indie.
10:00am to 10:25am – Welcoming, Brenda Romero and Elizabeth LaPensée
10:30am – 11:55am – Ishmael Angaluuk Hope (Never Alone)
12:00pm – 12:25pm – Allen Turner (Stubbs the Zombie, Ehdrigohr: The Roleplaying Game, Hail to the Chimp, Disney Guilty Party, Marvel XP)
12:30pm – 12:55pm – John Romero (Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, Quake)
1:00pm – 1:25pm – Jason Edward Lewis (Initiative for Indigenous Futures, Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, Skins Video Game Workshops)
1:30pm – 2:30pm – Lunch
2:30pm – 2:55pm – Elizabeth LaPensée (Survivance, The Gift of Food, Animism, Singuistics: Anishinaabemowin)
3:00pm – 3:25pm – Darrick Baxter (Rez Bomb, Ojibway)
3:30pm – 3:55pm – Manuel Marcano (Max Payne 3, BioShock, The Darkness, Treachery in Beatdown City)
4:00pm – 4:25pm – Renee Nejo (Ever, Jane, Gravity Ghost, Blood Quantum)
4:30pm – 5:00pm – Closing
Darrick Glen Baxter’s long and distinguished professional career in technology includes helping to build a stronger National Aboriginal Television Network, teaching Computer Science at the University of Winnipeg’s DCE new Buhler Centre, and working provincially to build a connected eHealth infostructure within Manitoba First Nations, including speaking engagements both nationally and internationally. Darrick has studied at the University of Winnipeg and the Banff New Media Institute. He engineered locative media applications with an experimental HP technology using GPS and location based hardware. He also served a secondment at The Score sports broadcasting network. Under the tutelage of their Mobile Media Director – he experienced first hand the essence of successful business strategies that lead to the development of a hugely successful iPhone sports app. Darrick has now returned to his passion of creating exciting applications as the President of Ogoki Learning Systems.
Ishmael Angaluuk Hope (also known as Khaagwáask’ and Shis.hán) is a storyteller, writer, and actor who shares his stories, culture, and writing at community events and classrooms in Alaska and around the nation. He was a lead writer for Kisima Ingitchuna: Never Alone, produced by E-Line Media and Cook Inlet Tribal Council. In the winter of 2014 he released his first book of poetry, Courtesans of Flounder Hill, published by the Ishmael Reed Publishing Company.
Elizabeth LaPensée (http://www.elizabethlapensee.com/), Ph.D. is an Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish designer, writer, and researcher whose focus is Indigenous game development. Her design, writing, and art are informed by cultural values and teachings. She also expresses herself through comics, experimental animation, and other interactive media. Her dissertation looks at the Indigenous social impact game Survivance (2011), which encourages ongoing healing through storytelling and art. She contributed writing and consultation for the transmedia property Animism (2011). She has consulted and written for games such as Andy Schatz’s Venture Arctic (2007). Most recently, she co-designed Tulalip Tribes: Connected to the Land: Gathering Native Foods (2014), a suite of games about Tulalip traditional foods for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. She also designed The Gift of Food (2014), a board game by the Northwest Indian College about Northwest Native traditional foods. The research network Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace has supported her contributions.
Jason Edward Lewis is a digital media poet, artist, and software designer. He founded Obx Laboratory for Experimental Media, where he directs research/creation projects on computation as a creative material, emergent media theory and history, and methodologies for conducting art-led technology research. He co-directs the Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace research network, the Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design, and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures. Lewis’ creative work has been featured at Ars Electronica, Mobilefest, Urban Screens, ISEA, SIGGRAPH, DHC/Art-Centre Phi, and FILE, among other venues, and has been recognized with the inaugural Robert Coover Award for Best Work of Electronic Literature, a Prix Ars Electronica Honorable Mention, several imagineNATIVE Best New Media awards and five solo exhibitions. Lewis is a Trudeau Fellow and a former Carnegie Fellow. He is the University Research Chair in Computational Media and the Indigenous Future Imaginary as well as Professor of Computation Arts at Concordia University, Montreal. Born and raised in California, he is Cherokee, Hawaiian and Samoan.
Manuel Marcano (manamaneco.blogspot.com) is a Taíno developer born in New York City. He has worked on Max Payne 3, BioShock, The Darkness, Treachery in Beatdown City, and more. Also known as “Hurakan” to his tribe, the former AAA dev now makes RPGs about diversification, racism, poverty and tribal history.
Renee Nejo is a freelance 3D artist and independent game designer in Denver, Colorado. She has been making independant games for about 4 years. She is a proud Diegueno and a literal card carrying tribal member of the Mesa Grand Band of Mission Indians. Renee is an unapologetic advocate for education and self determination of Native people. She has recently contributed to the art and design of Ever, Jane, a video game in the world of Jane Austen as well as a few illustrations for Gravity Ghost. She is also currently a volunteer mentor for at-risk youth at Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver. Renee is the creator and designer of Blood Quantum the video game, her “experiment in education games”.
John Romero (http://planetromero.com/) is an award-winning game designer, programmer and artist whose work spans over 130 games, 107 of which have been published commercially, including the iconic works Wolfenstein 3D,DOOM and Quake. Romero has worked in the mobile, core, mid-core, casual, social and MMO space. Romero is a serial entrepreneur who has founded eight successful companies including companies in the traditional hardcore, MMO and mobile spaces. His contributions and philanthropy within the commercial game industry have led to a myriad of inspired games and the founding of 10 companies. He is considered to be among the world’s top game designers, and his products have won every major award. One of the earliest “indie” developers, Romero began working in the game space in 1979 on mainframes before moving to the Apple II in 1981. He is a completely self-taught programmer, designer and artist, having drawn his inspirations from early Apple II programmers. Romero’s current areas of interest are Facebook games and massively multi-player online (MMO) games as well as social media and its intersection with gaming. Romero also remains active in the artgame, game history and indie spaces.
Allen Turner (www.council-of-fools.com/blog) is part of the game design faculty at DePaul University where he teaches students, at all levels, various skills and processes for good game design. Allen has worked at Bungie Software, and Day 1 Studios, and has spent the last 9 years at Wideload Games/Disney Interactive Studios as Lead Designer. At Wideload, he worked on Stubbs the Zombie, Hail to the Chimp, and Disney Guilty Party. He was also Game Director for Marvel XP, a narrative driven meta-system for Disney/Marvel games which he launched on Facebook and iOS. He is the author ofEhdrigohr: The Roleplaying Game, a tabletop dark fantasy roleplaying game that explores tribal themes and allegorical battles with depression, solitude, identity, and erasure. The inspiration for that work comes from within the Chicago Native American community where he is a known storyteller and serves on the Board of Directors for the American Indian Center in Chicago.
With gratitude to The Center for Games and Playable Media at UC Santa Cruz, the International Game Developers Association, and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures.