April 06, 2009

Sheyahshe on video games

Michael Sheyahshe, author of Native Americans in Comic Books, fills us in on his latest activity:Beth Aileen Lameman--an Indigenous friend and creator of The West Was Lost and Fala comics, as winner of the APTN Comic Creation Nation contest from Zeros2Heroes--recently interviewed me for the Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace ("AbTeC") blog, "The blog of the Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace research network."Interview with Michael SheyahsheDrawing from your extensive knowledge of comic books, what parallels of Native representations in other popular media have you noticed?

Similar to comic books, video games and other media need to be examined for their representation of us, as a culture and people. The list of cultural ‘ouchies’ in video games is exponentially longer than the list of Indigenous characters that depict us in a positive manner: The Native-woman-as-sex-object-object found in the Indian Maiden in Custer’s Revenge; Turok’s swinging braids in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter; the tomahawk-carrying stereotypes of Mortal Kombat’s Nightwolf; the shoot-the-attacking-Indians, represented as a faceless/nameless evil horde in games like Gun; the continued objectification of the Indigenous female character, Tala, in Darkwatch; and obtaining spiritually-based powers, based only on Native heritage, like the Tommy character in Prey. The list could go on, but I’ll save that for another book. Heh.

Yeah me too! I’ve written about all of those as well. On our end then, what do you feel is the importance of Native involvement in popular media?

Comics, games, movies, and television have always been a way to gauge how we, as a culture, are viewed by the dominant culture in America. Whether it’s the whooping, attacking horde of Indians in the early ‘cowboy’ movies, the notion of Native American as a crack-shot and/or expert tracker in comics, or the continued (mis)representation in video games (some mentioned above), pop culture media serves to mirror the emotional consensus of how mainstream America sees us.

Therefore, as I seem to continually be ‘preaching’ in various magazine articles and especially in my book, we Indigenous people must become more creatively involved in these various aspects of popular culture, so that we start telling our own stories. We must be the ones to say how we are to be represented, not merely sitting on the sidelines commenting about it. Perhaps this is another reason I’ve chosen the particular professional field(s) so prevalent in my life.

How do you think Native traditions can influence video game design?

Like many othes, Native American culture is vastly nuanced and infused with various inherent meanings and signifiers. Or to put it another way: any milleau based on storytelling--which almost all vestiges of popular culture are based on this--could benefit from the elements and specific worldview offered by any of our tribal communities. For example, in my Native American literature courses, I remember that presenting cyclical-plot arc (basically ending--in one way or another--where you started…in some ways, resembling various tribal worldviews and even, more specifically, the notion of the dance and life, as a continuous cycle) was a very “Indian” way of storytelling. Game design itself could benefit from this storytelling device, as it would provide innovative ways of gameplay and storytelling. This is only one, very narrow example. The potential for improvement in game design based on Indigenous notions is seemingly limitless.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Video Games Featuring Indians.

Below:  A scene from Prey.

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