Indigenous Digital Expression
Week 1: Determination
Day 1: Self-Determination
During this course, we will focus on Indigenous digital expression as a form of self-determination. Self-determination refers to the right of a people (nation) to exercise sovereignty or self-rule and to determine its own political, economic, and cultural arrangements. It can refer to the efforts of Indigenous peoples to regain sovereignty after years of colonization, to restore the terms of broken treaties, or to prevent continued abuses. On an individual level, it refers to a person’s ability to exercise free will without interference.
While examples in the lectures will echo my work in digital games, students are welcome to look at and contribute any form of Indigenous digital expression. There will be a Designer Track for those who want to make a creative work either individually or in a group and the Researcher Track for those who want to work on an academic work either individually or in a group.
Day 2: Indigenous Games
Indigenous games are on the rise. In May 2015, the University of California held the Natives in Game Dev Gathering, the first academic event of its kind, with John Romero, Allen Turner, Manuel Marcano, Renee Nejo, Jason Edward Lewis, and Darrick Baxter as speakers. Themes discussed at this gathering as well as games highlighted at events such as the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival demonstrate influences from traditional stories, contemporary experiences, relational teachings, and Indigenous languages. While non-Indigenous developers occasionally fill roles such as programming, animation, and technical art in games highlighted at these events, only games with Indigenous creatives in lead roles are highlighted. The resulting talks, demos, and exhibitions promote self-determination. There is a community-wide understanding at these gatherings that the direct inclusion of communities represented in a digital game is an essential aspect of any design and development process, not just to defuse stereotypes, but because Indigenous worldviews can influence game design and generate unique gameplay. While consultation and community collaboration to varying degrees during conceptualization and implementation of games with Indigenous representations are essential, there is a greater hope that more Indigenous creatives will be given the opportunity to be directly involved in the development process with the understanding that key roles shape a game.
Week 2: Language
Day 1: Speaking and Singing
* No Class - Martin Luther King Jr.
Teachings are infused in Indigenous languages, which can be revitalized or reinforced in digital games. It is important to note that games should never replace in-person interactions for language. Being with speakers and engaging in conversations should always be the priority. However, due to community displacement during colonization and language loss resulting from systems such as residential schools, which banned youth from speaking their languages, there is a critical need to reach today’s youth and encourage them to actively engage with Indigenous languages. Overall, digital games are promising spaces for not just passing on language but also relating teachings while doing so, thanks to their ability to combine audio, art, and interaction.
Singuistics (2016), developed with ally game company, Pinnguaq, is a singing game available on iOS that aims to pass on Indigenous languages by challenging players to sing along to songs on a drum beat. Lyrics with translations scroll across the screen as artwork from community artists provides culturally relevant, visual backdrops. The game opens on a map of Turtle Island, also known as North America, depicted in a way that is both true to traditional stories, since it portrays a turtle and is also geographically accurate. Players can then select a suite of songs to sing based on communities. The Anishinaabemowin suite features the Miskwaasining Nagamojig (Swamp Singers) along with Anishinabe art displayed during songs about women and wellbeing in the language.
Day 2: Workshop
We will share concerns and issues for languages alongside teachings and discuss the possibilities of representing these issues and teachings through digital expression.
Assignment: Reflection - 5%
Write a statement of at least 300 words explaining your areas of interest.
Week 3: #WaterIsLife
Day 1: Resonations for the Waters
Honour Water (2016) builds from the same design as Singuistics (2016) and features the Oshkii Giizhik Singers and Sharon Day with the hope of sharing teachings about the importance and process of healing water through the vibrations created when singing water songs. This particular game also creates awareness about the Nibi Walks, which are gatherings for walking and singing to places of water with hope for healing pollution, with an emphasis on oil spills. Gameplay is equally concerned with reinforcing cultural values and engaging players with current issues as it is with teaching language.
Day 2: Workshop
We will share concerns and issues for the waters alongside teachings and discuss the possibilities of representing these issues and teachings through digital expression.
Week 4: Land
Day 1: Sustainability**
** Meet at MSU Museum
In Gathering Native Foods (2014), which I co-designed in collaboration with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Hibulb Cultural Center, players can choose seasonal food gathering mini-games which each hopes to challenge players to shift their perspectives about food gathering practices towards traditional cultural values. For example, in the salmon catching mini-game, the player is given a certain number of salmon that are needed for the community feast. Since the game is a touchscreen game in a museum, the usual tendency is for the player to rapidly click on salmon as quickly as they can. However, they lose the game if they overtake, thus requiring the player to slow down and consider which salmon they should take and which they should leave for a future season. Although players can certainly choose to ignore these restrictions, the game only rewards players who follow the values of the community.
Day 2: Workshop
We will share concerns and issues for the land alongside teachings and discuss the possibilities of representing these issues and teachings through digital expression.
Assignment: Draft Review - 10%
Write a draft review that will eventually end up as a review of least 1,000 words of at least one Indigenous digital media work of your choice. You can either choose to write around a theme and highlight several works or look very closely at one work.
Week 5: Medicine
Day 1: Medicine Wheel
In the alternate reality game Techno Medicine Wheel (2008) designed with Squamish herbalist and artist Cease Wyss for the Aboriginal Media Lab directed by Loretta Todd, players engage in physically planting and making medicines using technology to track locations in Vancouver, British Columbia. Players learned how yarrow is known as medicine for women and has different parts that can be helpful or even harmful for a woman during different stages of her life. Players then planted yarrow as a form of reciprocating the medicinal teachings. Including foods and medicines in games can also create relationships between the players and land and thus triangulate connections through gameplay.
Day 2: Workshop
We will share concerns and issues for medicines alongside teachings and discuss the possibilities of representing these issues and teachings through digital expression.
Assignment: Final Review - 10%
Write a review of least 1,000 words of at least one Indigenous digital media work of your choice. You can either choose to write around a theme and highlight several works or look very closely at one work. Graduate students should have a publication venue in mind while writing and format their review accordingly.