Games can open doors to new worlds. They can help us better understand the world around us, the world of long ago, or the distant world of an unfamiliar culture.
There are a seemingly endless array of First Nations stories told in various cultures across the globe. But how do you pass on these rich and meaningful stories to younger audiences, who are accessing information in new and exciting ways?
As an engaging and immersive medium, videogames may hold the key to sharing these stories.
Proud Yarrer Gunditj woman and RMIT student Phoebe Watson and Gamefroot (NZ) founder Dan Milward are working in the Indigenous game creation space to engage players with Indigenous stories and share cultural knowledge.
Dan says, “You can make a game about anything, right? But when you live in a place as culturally rich as New Zealand you’d be crazy to ignore the many local stories waiting to be told or retold in a medium that resonates with young people today.”
Phoebe says, “Videogames have the advantage of being more accessible than traditional games, as they have less mobility, geographic, or social bounds that prevent people from engaging. Videogames can play an important role in preserving and teaching culture, and could close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”
These three games offer a new way to access traditional stories from Indigenous cultures.
E-line Media and Upper One Games | USA (2014)
Never Alone was co-developed by the Inuit peoples of Alaska and is narrated in the Inupiat language. Heralded as one of the first high quality Indigenous games of its era, it was a global hit and was later released on both mobile and PC.
The game is based on sacred Alaskan stories that have been passed down through generations for centuries. Tribal elders noticed that their young were reluctant to hear the old myths and legends and turned to videogames to tell the ancient stories in a new and engaging way. From a game player perspective (and I’ve played platform games my whole life), I was taken by how beautiful the game was and became inspired by the Indigenous stories. It was the first time I had seen an Indigenous game that didn’t feel didactic (chocolate-coated broccoli) – I actually wanted to play this game!
This game inspired me to begin Gamefroot’s work in the Indigenous game creation space. It occurred to me that we could work with schools to empower young Indigenous people to make games based on their own research and local knowledge. Now Gamefroot regularly works with young Māori students and provides them with a platform to reimagine homegrown legends and the stories of their own ancestors to create games.
– Dan Milward
Bilbie Virtual Labs | AUS (2018)
Virtual Songlines creates simulated experiences of ancient Indigenous culture. Among other projects, they have also made survival games where you must learn cultural practices to survive. The creation of these realistic games goes beyond just entertainment and enjoyment. It has created a new format for storing information about Australia’s Indigenous culture, gives anyone the opportunity to experience first-hand what it was like to live as an Indigenous person before colonisation. It can also be used by Indigenous people who didn’t have the opportunity to be taught about their culture, or don’t know anything about their own connection to country, to have a taste of it through an interactive experience.
– Phoebe Watson
DragonBear Studios | AUS (2019)
As well as games that focus mostly on learning, games that simply showcase content influenced by Indigenous cultures, in other existing genres, can also be influential. Chaos Tavern is an upcoming co-op adventure game about running a magic potion brewery in an Australian-inspired fantasy world, using Indigenous culture as inspiration for game and design elements. Its creatures and interactions with other characters are inspired by Indigenous stories, values, and lore.
Games like this are redefining genres that are widely Westernised or mainstream. These experiences give Indigenous players feelings of acceptance and validation about their cultures, while also allowing non-Indigenous players to feel welcome.
– Phoebe Watson
These games help to preserve culture in a new form, as well as provide an opportunity for curiosity, interest, and learning.
Phoebe Watson is a proud Yarrer Gunditj woman of the Maar Nation. Currently studying a Bachelors degree in Game Design at RMIT Melbourne, Phoebe is using her strong connection to Culture to share with the world, and encouraging others to do the same.
Dan Milward is a game-based learning practitioner living in Aotearoa New Zealand. He is the founder of Gamefroot, an online platform that brings together the expertise of game developers and educators, so that learning can be authentic, fun and transformative.