Computational Research Center

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Native Dancer: Native Americans in Gaming

Author: Ariann Rousu – Native Dancer Digital Artist

My research into native American representation in the metaverse and video games so far has gone well. The overall tone of what I am finding is that no one has done it without some sort of criticism, but many have been praised for various aspects. The first two video games I researched more in depth were Dead Red Redemption and Assassins Creed. Both are well-known video games and are ones I played as a kid but I had never given too much attention to the indigenous representation.  

Red Dead Redemption is a game that has received criticism for the way they have depicted Native Americans in the game. The game and story are based in the frontier days of America, and has multiple Native Characters in the game. Although there are a couple friendly characters, the Native Americans are pinned as hostile and your enemies in this game. This is unfortunate as it reinforces negative stereotypes of Native people. The overall game never had any Native American people working on the project or council to advocate for these characters, or even voice them.  

Assassins’ creed develops a story about an indigenous boy named Connor whose village was attacked, and he ventures to become an assassin. Although this game is set around the time of the American Revolution, the creators wanted Connors story to be less about the revolution and more about his missions as a character. Although the game received criticism for the way Connor has been depicted, claiming he is still a character lacking proper Native Representation, the game went a step further to do their best. Assassins Creed is different from Dead Red Redemption in the way you can play as a Native main character, Connor is voiced by a Native American, and there was a Native American consultant on this project.  

This Land Is My LandTrailer screenshot

Moving to a more recently released game, “This Land is my Land” is done in a comparable way to Dead Red Redemption. However, the tables are turned as you play as the Native character who is fighting colonization and defending his camp/land. Some still might say it is distasteful to glorify the defending of a traditional native village from settlers as it still carries true that this did happen and plays off the settlers as someone who could conquer you as a Native character in the game. The game also has received much praise for giving the opportunity to play as a Native Character and the Natives not being pinned as the enemy in the story.  

The only game I was compelled to play during this stage of my research was a game called “The Raven and the light” which is a free PC game inspired by Native boarding schools in Canada. If you know anything about these schools, then it is common knowledge that they do have a dark past. This game is depicted as a horror game which some people might find disrespectful. Turning such a heavy subject into a horror game with suggestive themes seems like a challenging task to do, because of the traumatic back stories that many Native families are still coping with today.  

The Raven and The LightHome Screen

I did find this to be an interesting way to inform more about these schools, being based on fact and fiction the tone of the “The Raven and the Light” is terrifying. I could not help but think of the fear that bestowed upon the children who were taken from their families and placed in these schools. Playing this game was not fun, but it was insightful in many ways. The intent of this game was to inform about this piece of history and bring the subject a little more to the surface, so others are aware. Based on game reviews the game has received praise for its intent. 

Native American representation in video games is more common than I originally thought when diving into this project. Through my research I have come across PC games, Console games, even apps with some sort of native theme, or inspiration. Overall, most of these games have something in common, they have a set mission often revolving around acts of violence. Moving forward with Native Dancer, I am most excited about creating a game that does not revolve around violence but is meant to be a fun cultural and learning experience.