SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
CAROL WARRIOR: Good afternoon. I'm Carol Warrior. I'm an assistant professor in the Department of English and an affiliate in American Indian and Indigenous Studies program. Thank you for joining us for this year's Critical Race Lecture Series brought to you by the Department of English.
Before we get started, I'd like to ask three things of you. First, please join me in conscious acknowledgment that this space that we gather in is situated in the homeland of the Cayuga Nation. The second thing I'd like to ask of you is to join our guests for a reception after the lecture in the English department lounge. And then the third thing I'd like to ask of you is please turn off your cell phones.
When I was given the opportunity to invite a speaker of my choice for this year's Critical Race Lecture, I immediately thought of Dr. Jodi Byrd. She was introduced to me maybe in 2008 I think by my partner who attended grad school with Jodi. After knowing her from conferences in the field, I can say that Jodi is always a generous teacher, a supportive colleague, and a total intellectual bad ass.
On the poster for this event, a few of her accomplishments are listed, including the fact that her 2011 book, The Transit of Empire Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism won the 2013 Native American and Indigenous Studies Association award for the best first book. Right there.
Phil Deloria said that, "Her brilliant critique of contemporary multicultural liberalism places American Indian studies in close dialogue with post-colonial studies and should not be missed by anyone in the field, transforming both in the process, both fields. It is a work of power, complexity, and commitment." And that's when he said, "It should not be missed by anyone in the field."
But in addition to this deserved praise, what I always associate with her book is my partner's reaction to reading the introduction. This heavily theoretical writing made him so emotional that when he closed the book and looked at me and sighed, he was just shaking. And I asked the question that we often ask of people who are close to us, "What?" And he goes, "Jodi is just bristling with weapons."
This is the highest accolade he could give another intellectual. And from what people have been telling me over the past few weeks in anticipation of Jodi's arrival here, many of you find her work to be just as incisive. Dr. Byrd is a member of the Chickasaw nation and an associate professor of English and Women's and Gender studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. That is the ironic "former home" of Chief Illiniwek, the mascot, and still a hotbed of contention around the chief going on there.
At UIUC, Jodi is also a faculty affiliate at the National Center of Supercomputing Applications where she's been doing some astounding work. And I hope that she'll talk about the gaming room that she's set up there and some other she's been working on in relation to her work there. Her work has been published in journals, including American-Indian Quarterly, Cultural Studies Review, Interventions, College Literature, J19, American Quarterly, Settler Colonial Studies, and Wicaso Sa Review.
Her presentation today, "Playing Stories, Never Alone, Indigeneity, and the Structures of Settler Colonialism" will be part of her next project, Indigenomicon-- I practiced that and I didn't get it. American Indians, Video Games, and the Structures of Genre. This delves into the literary and digital realms of play to think further about the colonization of American Indians and continues to inform imaginary terrains.
Please help me welcome, Dr. Jodi Byrd.
JODI BYRD: Thank you, Carol, for the introduction. I think about Chad and grad school quite a lot actually. And he was always my inspiration for theory. So it's funny to hear that story and to think about that.
We sort of egged each other on, I think, at various points to figure out how much theory we could actually incorporate into our work. Because there's always an assumption that theory is outside of indigenous work and that somehow doing theory makes us less indigenous. And so, that's always been something that he and I liked to think through and challenge each other on. And so, thank you for giving me that piece of him that I hadn't seen before.
And thank you, [? Linz, ?] for arranging this visit today. I'm very excited to be here and to share some of this. This is brand new work actually. It's part of the larger project. And I've been working on pieces of it for the last couple of years.
Sometimes in the structures of Illinois, which have had various catastrophes attached to American Indian Studies there from the chief initially and then more recently, the consequences of the unhiring of Stephen Salaita for tweets, which now seems rather quaint given our current moment. So trying to find ways to think through these things has been part of what my work is.
But for this talk, I'm going a slightly different direction, just to reconnect with indigenous worldviews and indigenous practices of storytelling and what those implications might be for theory as well. So I'll look forward to the conversation at the end. And hopefully, I won't read too fast. I always have been told that I do that.
I've had jokes with Dory Nason, who is a scholar at University of British Columbia where-- she's also an Nebraskan. So we always joke about it being a Nebraska quality.
I have a friend from my childhood growing up in the same town as I did. And she's nodding that maybe it is a Nebraskan quality, the fast. I've been told it's understandable. But if it isn't, I'm sorry for Nebraska existing.
Within the scope of literary history, digital modes of writing and storytelling including hypertext code, or even video games, are relatively speaking recent though they also have now been with us for over 40 years. As scholars in the so-called digital humanities continue to seek out strategies and deploy machinic methods for responding to the new media and literatures produced by computers and for computers, inquiries about reading strategies, accessibility, and aesthetics become more and more obsessed with finding the computational tools with which to interact with both new and old forms of literature.
Whether reading distantly to gain a sense of network aggregation, circulation, and scale, or mining textually for pattern recognition, word frequency, and visualization, DH turns to computation and big data and the hopes of making literary studies relevant in the current ascention of STEM.
While it is tempting to start with a critique that many of the textual practices that DH deploys find their origins in settler colonial structures of bureaucratic management, resource extraction, and accumulation, it is perhaps necessary to take a step back from what is a rather banal observation and pause to define what exactly is meant when we discuss digital and other forms of new media writing, literature and stories.
Digital literature is currently understood as literature primarily written to be read through a computer interface and existing in code, in clouds, on browsers and platforms, and through hypermedia networks and interfaces. It's not, for instance, Kindle books, which are just books transposed into digital technology.
Video games, as one particular subset of digital media that I'm going to be examining here, present particular parameters and challenges to the genre classification of literature writ large. As Astrid Ensslin points out in her book, Literary Gaming, video games are text, "that we can read in the sense of close read and close play for this artistic verbal and ludilogical forms and contents." Clearly, she continues, "the vast majority of them do not use literary language, spoken or written, in the sense of verbal art."
Existing somewhere between movies and choose your own adventure interactive novels, video games are digital modes of play, first and foremost, that require both humans and machines in order to advance either narratively or better levely. In the initial attempts to build something that might at this point be loosely disciplined as video game studies, scholars tackling these new digital interfaces locked themselves in a knockdown drag out to determine whether games were, first and foremost, stories or whether they were, well, games that one played. And that debate now shorthanded as the narratology versus ludology debate of the early game studies years-- it's funny to talk about this as if it's a long history. Drew in scholars such as Janet Murray, Henry Jenkins, Jesper Juul, Espen Aarseth, Ian Bogost, and Alexander Galloway to argue over whether cultural studies, literary studies, play studies, or computer science had the best and most proprietary skills to interpret video games.
Narratologists like Murray and Jenkins drew on literary and cultural studies methods to emphasize the storied aspect of games that derive from classic hero quests and even Shakespeare to provide play with grander thematics beyond placing a few rapidly falling jigsaw puzzle pieces in a row to clear them. Ludologists countered that the game play itself hindered any actual storytelling these formats might undertake.
Story was separated into paratextual elements that included game manuals, spell descriptions, in-game world building, and even CGI cut screens where story was revealed but not actually or ever played. Keywords such as procedural, flow, ergotic, algorithmic, and operations proliferated. And these scholars insisted that because video games were code, first and foremost, it was through code that they would best be understood and studied.
But perhaps, it was game designer Jonathan Blow who best summed up the ludologist's perplex when he weighed in to declare that, quote, "Video games are pretty terrible for telling stories," unquote. Adding that, "Focusing on anything that might be called a narrative in games, ultimately takes away focus from what the game's mechanics might actually teach us."
"Any system communicates something to the player, whether you as the author of the game intended to communicate that thing or not, the game play does this regardless. It's not necessarily just the story or visual assets."
In substantive ways then, games studies as an emergent field returns us to the formalism and structuralism of mid-twentieth century theory as some of its leading scholars encourage those who want to study games to prioritize systems, codes, rules, and mechanics as the means of communicating something at the level of embodied play over visual, narrative, or representational aspects that provide content.
The focus on form and structure is also an attempt to keep the primacy of the medium as the message. In Marshall McLuhan's words, "To that games are meant to be played for fun and joy." And while it is true that narrative is to be found everywhere and in everything, Jesper Juul, for one, has argued that the temporality and immediacy of controller input makes it difficult to, quote, "find a distance between story time, narrative time, and reading viewing time," unquote, while actually playing through a game level.
Video games either synchronize the temporality of the narrative to the urgency of the happening right now on the screen. Or, they create distance between the story and play by disrupting the flow of the game play to insert narrative cut scenes and video clips as events that the player cannot control to advance character development and plot.
"It is impossible to influence something that has already happened," Juul observes. "And this means that you cannot have interactivity and narration at the same time." You cannot, in other words, match the temporality of the play to the temporality of the story, either one or both must be sacrificed in order for the game to be playable.
The formal elements of a video game's design, its rules, constraints, and procedural operations are the structures that initiate the condition of play, construct the spatial parameters of what can be played, and provide challenge by introducing opportunities for both failure and mastery, how you play, how long you play, and whether you actually ever complete a game, comes down to a fine tuned balance of the rules and constraints that a game imposes to keep you engaged.
As per Jonathan Blow's point, those formal elements have value in and of themselves. They communicate something. And they are importantly often separated from any narrative or story that might be driving the occasion of the game.
Designers have at times bemoaned their inability to find ways to fully provide players with the opportunity to play the story elements as mercifully as all involved might want. The distance between expected and desired mechanics that make a game playable and flatten the temporality of the story to the now on the screen are often at odds with the literary.
And so far, games that have tried to achieve the literary or perhaps just the cinematic, including The Last of Us, Uncharted, or Beyond Two Souls get routinely critiqued by gamers for be nothing more than playable blockbuster Hollywood movies. Though film critic Roger Ebert has been routinely mocked time and again by gamers for his elitist dismissal of games, there is good reasons why he boldly declared that, quote, "Video games can never be art," unquote.
I want it to linger for just a few beats further here in this discussion of code, temporality, narrative, structure, and event to offer one possibility for indigenous critical theory, settler colonial studies, and video game studies to enter into uneasy conversation grounded initially on an associative enjambment of what structures might mean across disciplines. And what has become the ubiquitous slogan of settler colonial studies or rather Patrick Wolfe's off-cited contention that, quote, "Settler colonizers come to say invasion is a structure not an event," unquote.
The elimination of the native is a process that endures beyond the eventfulness of any single occasion as conquest itself provides the logistical architecture through which settler societies erect themselves into and onto space. And another move anticipated by any number of scholars in the field of indigenous and/or settler colonial studies. And I want to separate them slightly because they're not quite the same things.
Focusing on the procedural systems, codes, and jurisdiction of sovereignty and governance has taken on a rather formal adherence to processes and operations that like code and technology studies also return us to structural analyzes. Structures are endemic and derivative. They are found in laws and genres.
And they persist as a fetish of sovereignty and power at the threshold of demarcation between civilized and savage, human and animal, life and death. In other words, structures have become everything as histories of colonialism and racism, genocide and slavery, continue to produce white supremacy as the only possible nativism on land seized from indigenous peoples.
This insistence that settler colonialism is a structure and not an event has prompted Elizabeth Povinelli to interrogate the ethical and temporal implications of that which never rises to the surface of an event, that only exists as ongoing suffering that can neither be spectacular nor even redeemed. In economies of abandonment, she turns these moments of the nothing spectacular quasi events through which the suffering of the other endures.
As the operative temporality of the social projects of late liberalism, quasi events orient themselves through prior presences that provide both the occasion and the rationale through which sovereignty, authority, and power are founded and demarcated. Those prior presences are indigenous peoples. This governance of the prior as she calls it is not so much a structure as it is a temporality of eventualization.
"The relay between mechanisms of coercion and contents of knowledge likely to induce behaviors and discourses, affective attachment, and analytic tendencies." That stretches the ongoing suffering initiated by conquest and genocide of the indigenous other beyond the logical outcomes of either death or liberation.
Within settlers colonial studies, in other words, the temporality of structure supplants eventfullness to ensure the eventualization of past indigenous dispossession continues into the future settlers imagined for themselves. In her work on programming languages, digital cultures, and new media, Wendy Chun argues that software, the internet, and social media have interceded in the derivative temporalities of US sovereignty to link structures back into the production and proliferation of events as either crisis or catastrophe.
Software code and technology are not apolitical or transparent tools, rather they emerged as iterations of neoliberal forms of government, commercialization, and commodification, which served to make, quote, "Code logos. Code as source, code as conflated with, and substituting for action." Unquote. Meanwhile, the technology we use, whether it is in the form of iPhones, PS4s, Xbox Ones, Macbooks, or Windows PCs are all designed for user interface, but not necessarily user agency.
Tellingly, Chun observes, quote, "Trusted computer systems are systems secure from user interventions and understanding. Moreover, software codes not only save the future by restricting user action, they also do so by drawing upon saved data and analysis. They are after all programs." So we see this safety and saved data all becoming the same thing.
Software's temporality has transposed the derivative [? interventualization ?] of structural violence back into the spectacle of the eventfulness by compressing time into real time as the only actionable time. But rather than managing crises as eruptive events by producing safety through control, software and code, networks and social media have all converged at our current moment to produce crises as their raison d'etre.
Within this barrage of crises, we have come to assume that code is analogous with action and that action is analogous to agency. But as Chun carefully explains, quote, "What we experience is arguably not a real decision, but one already decided in a perhaps unforeseen manner. Increasingly, our decisions are like actions in a video game. They are immediately felt, affective, and based on our actions, and yet at the same time, programmed," unquote.
Perhaps, one of the reasons then that so many video game scholars and designers insist that games cannot tell stories is because the critical distance necessary between the immediacy of action on the screen and the agency of the user has flattened to produce the settler as sovereign self. If this is the case, then story may ultimately disrupt the illusion of action and reveal the structures of settler colonialism that the code has built.
Indigenous game designers and scholars have started weighing in on these debates to say that such anxieties about the separation of story and play have no place in indigenous worlds. And by using indigenously designed games, they set out to show how traditional culture and storytelling traditions are in fact best suited for digital formats and game play mechanics.
Not only do indigenous scholars point to the cultural value placed on games in traditional spaces, but gaming and narrative chance as work by Gerald Vizenor amply demonstrates go hand-in-hand. In championing the digital as a prime site for de-colonial intervention, Beth LaPensee has demonstrated how integral storytelling is to indigenous game designs and her work on social impact web games like Survivance and board games such as The Gift of Food depends upon integrating indigenous storytellers and traditional stories into the processes and protocols of play.
In speaking of the adaptability and ways of knowing, real and digital is-- Sorry. In speaking of the adaptability of indigenous stories into digital formats, LaPensee observes that, "In Indigenous understanding and ways of knowing, real and digital is actually one in the same. Cyberspace, communal knowledge are all connected."
Lakota scholar, Craig Howe has suggested something similar when he claims that hypercard, hypermedia, and hypertext are perhaps best suited for presenting indigenous oral histories. And an argument that reflects Janet Murray's contention that bardic storytelling contains similar procedural elements of object oriented programming languages.
Howe suggests that digital formats enabled by hypertext are finally able to represent the associative, mnemonic, event centered, and non-linear aspects of indigenous oral histories and storytelling traditions. Those oral traditions, he argues, depend on social, spatial, experiential, and spiritual dimensions that serve to locate both the teller and the
Listener within particular geopolitical, cultural, communal, and cosmic relationaities. While indigenous writers were able to adapt and transform written language in old and [AUDIO OUT] to capture some of those elements, digital environments, with their incorporation of multimedia components into a cohesive, immersive, and now virtual reality experience, offer better tool sets to elucidate the mnemonic, embodied, temporal, and spatial functions of indigenous stories.
So despite the fetasisation of the indigenous other as either technophobic Luddite on the one hand or salvage ethnographic resource to be saved by digital technological advances on the other. The indigenous turned to digital media and video game design as ways to not only preserve, but transform indigenous stories into playable archives for the next generation of indigenous children, then it makes perfect sense.
And it is the sense of building resources for the future that compelled one Alaska native community to partner with non-native designers to build and produce a commercial video game that would be engineered and marketed for the current generation of game systems, including the Mac and PC through Steam, the PS4, Xbox One, and now Android and iOS.
Never Alone is a 2014 video game produced in collaboration among the Inupiat Upper One Games an indigenously run game studio launched by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage and E-Line Media. While the partnership behind Never Alone is an indigenous led collaboration according to [? Dennis ?] [? Schemecha, ?] quote, "In practice, Upper One Games actually subcontracts development to E-Line Media, which established a development studio in Seattle specifically for the task. And for E-Line, level one of the partnership started on the ground in Alaska getting a crash course on native culture."
So trying to figure out how to get designers who are non-native to work with native community was part of the challenge. That crash course involved drawing upon Inupat language, culture, aesthetics, and philosophy to transform the traditional story of Kunuuksaayuka into a video game that encourages players to reflect not just on how indigeneity, race, gender, and settler colonialism inform what and why we choose to play, but how survival depends upon cooperation rather than competition, relationality rather than individualism, and respect for rather than undistinguished destruction of all life. In other words, it is a game whose design choices seek to tell the story of a young girl named Nuna and her friend Fox as they brave a harsh Arctic landscape to escape a polar bear hunting for fish, outrun Manslayer as he destroys the villages in his path, brave Little People, icebergs, and ocean floors, and finally stop an unending snowstorm caused by Blizzard Man as he tries to shovel his way through whole glaciers and mountains.
Have any of you played the game? OK, good. Along the way, the game provides players with access to spirits, resources, owls, and cultural insights to help Inupiat gamers-- and non-- learn about Inupiat cultures, cultural values, and traditions. According to First Nations-- or, sorry-- indigenous scholar Dave Gaertner, quote, "Never Alone is a thrilling example of the dynamic, fluid, and living presence of indigenous storytelling in contemporary spaces, and its ability to shift and adapt within new contexts and mediums without sacrificing meaning or faithfulness to the past," unquote.
For Warren Cariou, the game's kinesthetic elements-- this is the body and aesthetic elements linked-- represent the centrality of relational ethics for indigenous peoples. A game like Never Alone, he argues, quote, "embodies the kind of generosity that is encapsulated in the indigenous ethic of hospitality by welcoming players into the territory and the culture," partly with the acknowledgement of lands that we're on.
Finally, Katherine Meloche suggests that Never Alone exemplifies, quote, "the fluidity of Inuit sovereignty as it transforms storytelling and gaming protocols into digital forms," unquote. It is a game, in other words, that has received strong praise from non-native industry critics as well as from indigenous scholars as it promises to, in the words of Wired's glowing review, quote, "serve both as cultural ambassador and invite us to contemplate persuasive worldviews other than our own," unquote.
At the baseline of design, the game itself renders its world starkly and charmingly as players begin by being introduced to what is to come with a screen that informs them that, quote, "the Inupiat are an Alaskan native people who have thrived for thousands of years in one of the most formidable environments on Earth," unquote. As the screen fades to black and harsh winds begin to wail, a man speaking Inupiat explains that, quote, "I will tell you a very old story," unquote.
With slightly murky and obscured letterboxing to perhaps simulate the experience of wearing Inuit goggles used to prevent snow blindness, players are presented with a side-scrolling puzzle platformer that in subtle and profound ways disrupts the genre that became popular with Nintendo's 1985 classic Super Mario Brothers, a video game that innovated the industry and inaugurated the side-scroller platformer as we now know it and play it. By taking char-- so I'm going to go into Super Mario just for a second. For those of you-- hopefully some of you have played that as well, or know it. It's so fun to do video game work because you get to do random things like talk about Mario as if it's legitimate.
So taking character models and some of its plot from Donkey Kong, Nintendo transformed Jump Man into Mario and sent him and his brother Luigi on an epic quest through Mushroom Kingdom to rescue Princess Toadstool from the clutches of Bowser, an evil war turtle sorcerer who likes to capture princesses and torture Mario and Luigi. Armed with his fist to smash open power-up bricks and his Goomba-smashing jump landings, Mario navigates precarious levels with gravity-defying leaps across gaps and Piranha Plants living in pipes throughout Mushroom Kingdom. Along the way, he collects gold coins and occasional special powers to help him gain extra lives, temporary invulnerability, or massive growth spurts to help clear each of the stages along the way.
It is a well-loved and iconic game that has now been roundly critiqued for the simplistic bro plot of forever rescuing the imperiled princess. It is also a game about competitive colonial conquest and the pursuit of power, wealth, and territoriality. Never Alone, while retaining many of the same gameplay mechanics introduced by Nintendo's Mario-- including running, jumping, and gaining power-ups and collectibles-- deviates in profound and significant ways.
Rather than only encountering enemies along the way who need to be overcome, the game introduces players to spirit helpers who offer resources and platforms so that Nuna and Fox can safely and successfully navigate Sila, the Inupiat word for the land they inhabit, together. And while Super Mario Brothers offered cooperative play when a second player joined as Luigi, Never Alone is best when two players work together to synchronize their efforts, to coordinate jumps, and time their movements to make sure they both successfully navigate through the game environments and solve puzzles. In fact, the game entwines the fate of Nuna and Fox together to such a degree that if one of them dies, the other does as well before the game reloads the last successful checkpoint saved.
Finally rather than collecting coins or special hidden stars, players in Never Alone watch and listen for owls to appear in hard-to-reach spots. And if they successfully navigate to them and cause them to fly off, players unlock cultural insights that offer real-time videos of Inupiat elders, scholars, and community members who worked on the game as they share further cultural background on some of the gameplay and environmental elements. The beauty of the game is, in fact, found in its gentle and quiet renderings of the Inupiat language, the environments, and the Inupiat storytelling traditions that help world the game and provide context for the game's playable aesthetic.
For instance, the opening narrative sequence juxtaposes the voice of a traditional storyteller with artwork inspired by Inupiat scrimshaw etchings and engravings that according to Amy Fredeen, chief financial officer for E-Line Media and executive vice president and CFO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council, quote, "is this really beautiful method of art that's done either on baleen or ivory. And traditionally it was done to tell stories," unquote. Functioning as mnemonics toward timelines and events within a story, scrimshaw carvings help record histories and can be read by storytellers to ensure key aspects of the story are remembered through multiple retellings.
The monochromatic black and ivory story panels the game uses at the beginning evoke those ancient technologies for Inupiat gamers and introduce native and non-native players to a young girl who loves to hunt, possesses a great number of skills, and whose village is beset by blizzard after blizzard to the point that she and her people are on the brink of starvation. Rather than wait in her village with her kinsfolk to die, she sets out on her own in the hopes of finding the source of the unrelenting white-out winds and snow, and then stopping it. She does not get very far, however, before she's almost attacked by a polar bear. And that is where players take over playing the story.
In a game that pointedly avoids violence and killing and emphasizes collaboration and caring by reminding players that land is never empty space but filled with allies and helpers who come in surprising forms, the thrilling suspense of the game's hardest challenge is still derived from an imperiled young girl being chased by bears and monstrous men through stark and unforgiving terrains. Still, how the game integrates Inupiat language, philosophy, and cultural values is both innovative at the level of game design and significant in the history of video gaming that has all too often deployed deeply sexist and racist caricatures of American Indians, from Custer's Revenge to Turok the Dinosaur Hunter, Assassin's Creed III, to inFAMOUS Second Son.
Custer's Revenge, a 1983 game, is notorious for gamifying the rape of a native woman and is, according to Adrienne Shaw, quote, "part of the game industry's longstanding tradition of commercializing women's bodies for a heterosexual male gaze. It is the celebration of colonial violence and sexual violence, genocide and misogyny," unquote. Choosing a young girl as one of the two avatars players interact with as they both navigate precarious conditions in the hopes of rescuing Nuna's people from the never-ending blizzard was obviously an intentional and significant choice for the elders and designers involved in developing Never Alone as an epistemological game for both young and old players.
Returning to Craig Howe's delineation of the four dimensions that comprise indigenous oral histories, one could argue further that Never Alone constructs a gameplay experience evocative of the social, spatial, and experiential and spiritual elements that underline the protocols for telling stories. To draw this out explicitly, the emphasis on co-op play reflects the social ethics of relationality, kinship, and community that shared cultural knowledge and stories nurture and maintain. The environmental mechanics of wind, snow, and water all serve to ground the game in Inupiat philosophies of land, and link the story to the physical elements of the environment. And the embodied components of just playing the game to advance the story reflect the experiential elements and aspects of affective communication and storytelling call and response performance.
Finally the game incorporates Inupiat spiritual knowledges to underscore the story's significance for Inupiat gamers particularly, though the game tries to share parts of such philosophies by working to teach non-Inupiat players about the culture and its values. The recurring insistence that Nuna is not alone in the harsh and cold world is one of the game's core lessons. And players are educated in the significance of the Inupiat concept of Sila, the entirety of creation existing in relation, as she and players learn to trust the located kinship-rich relationalities that make land and water, spirits and animals, and human and non-, all life. Fox, without giving away too many spoilers, is a character in his own right, and his role in the story provides additional insights into Inupiat understanding of kinship, life, death, and rebirth.
Moreover, if indigenous oral traditions are event-centered rather than temporally and chronologically situated, as Howe contends, then the aspects of gaming that have so often been critiqued for preventing games from ever being able to tell stories effectively end up serving indigenous aesthetic ends and needs. Indeed, the events in Nuna's adventures as well as the key turning points are all told in game through unplayable cinematic cut screens, signalled by the narrowing letterboxing of the on-screen image, that punctuate a never-ending series of crises while simultaneously providing the player with moments of safety or pause to catch one's breath.
Additionally, by extending the voice of the storyteller along with the subtitle translations beyond the cinematics and into the playable parts of the game, the game helps to integrate story with play in ways that other games like Bastion or The Stanley Parable have also tried to do to varying degrees of success and intent. The emphasis on telling the story in Inupiat language and tying its progression to the player successfully navigating the game's environment to trigger the next part of the story reflect an Inupiat aesthetic that serves to transform the game beyond something one plays and offer insights into the consequences of environmental destruction for the sake of profit and power.
For Donna Haraway, the game and it's sympoietic collaborative emphases represent what she calls the world games derived from indigenous peoples' stories and practices. Quote, "these games both remember and create worlds in dangerous times. They are worlding practices. Indigenous peoples around the earth," she continues, "have a particular angle on the discourses of coming extinctions and exterminations of the Anthropocene and the Capitalocene," unquote.
In a close reading of the game that parallels indigenous scholars' enthusiastic discussion of storytelling as a fulfillment of the promise of video games, Haraway also admits to being thwarted by many of the ludological aspects of the game-- a thwarting that she takes as a caution to not, quote, "once again raid situated indigenous stories as resources for the woes of colonizing projects and peoples, entities that seem permanently un-dead," unquote.
Admitting to her failure, she confesses, quote, "continuing to die early and often in Never Alone, I have not forgotten that spirit helpers favor their kin. Animism cannot be donned like a magic cape by visitors. Making kin in the ongoing Cthulhucene will be more difficult than that. And even the unwilling heirs of colonizers are poorly qualified to set conditions for recognition of kinship. Staying with the trouble, yearning toward resurgence, requires inheriting hard histories-- for everybody, but not equally, and not in the same ways," unquote.
Haraway's collision of animism, indigenous relationalities, worldbuilding, and storytelling that inform the game with the gameplay mechanics in many ways plunges us back into some of the old terrain that the narratology-ludology debates charted. Scholars in indigenous studies who have written about the game have all almost unanimously agreed that to focus on the gameplay mechanics or failures of the game misses the point. And many mainstream gamers have admitted to loving the multicultural aspects of the game-- the neoliberal "feels" that make them know that downloading and playing the game will make them better people.
But many of them also express frustration that the game's mechanics are often at odds with what should be an otherwise enjoyable experience of flow. As one negative reviewers from Game Informer points out, quote, "brief documentary segments full of interviews and historical insight tie the action and the legends together." That's their word, legends.
"This is the best and most rewarding part of Never Alone. You see a short film explaining the myths surrounding the Aurora Borealis and that information better equips you to appreciate the next level where you see those myths brought to life. Here's the problem. When you aren't watching movies, you're playing an unremarkable platformer," unquote.
Rather than dismissing such concerns about gameplay mechanics as misplaced, or read them as a sign of refusal of the non-indigenous as Haraway does, I want to stay what the trouble and return to Jonathan Blow's assertion that, quote, "any system communicates something to the player, whether you as the author of the game intended to communicate that thing or not," unquote. Clint Hocking, a former director at LucasArts and Ubisoft, coined the phrase ludonarrative dissonance" on his blog in 2007 as a way to describe the disconnect that often happens for players when the gameplay and the narrative in a video game are at odds. There are hundreds of examples, from BioShock to Grand Theft Auto, where the story does one thing and the gameplay encourages something entirely else.
For instance, many of the narrative CGI moments providing contextual stories for first-person shooters often decry gun violence and killing in between the wanton and gleeful explosions and barrage of bullets that the player has just unleashed on a horde of enemies. It's a thing. When the critically acclaimed-- it's almost humorous sometimes.
When the critically acclaimed and highly anticipated No Man's Sky released this summer it was immediately panned for its ludonarrative dissonance and the gap between a narrative that promised the endless exploration of Columbusing the universe and instead reproduced a terra nullus void in which, according to one review, quote, "playing No Man's Sky there is a sense of something hollow and black sitting in the heart of all this freedom. It is, in a sense, the shadow of the psychology of openness that the game posits as its central ethic," unquote.
For a 2D platformer like Super Mario Brothers, the gameplay and the narrative match. But as Henry Jenkins and Mary Fuller argue, that is because it is a story best understood as a new world travelogue. Quote, "Nintendo's Princess Toadstool in Mario Brothers is a cognate version," unquote, of John Smith, Pocahontas, and John Rolfe, they argue, because both are stories about exploration and colonization to such a degree that, quote, "the movement in space that the rescue plot seems to motivate is itself the point, the topic, and the goal, and that this shift in emphasis from narrativity to geography produces features that make Nintendo and new world narratives in some way strikingly similar to each other and different from many other kinds of texts," unquote.
If Never Alone is indeed a game that has kindred similarities to Super Mario Brothers in design and genre, then I wonder whether and if alongside the Inupiat storytelling, language use, and cultural knowledges there isn't some bit of ludo-narrative dissonance at play in the mechanics themselves that derive from settler-colonial narrative genres of dominance, territorial control, and conquest, where the system and coded elements of the game design communicate something counter to the designers' intention. The structural nature of games requires some form of initiation that serves to introduce players to the game world by offering, among other things, tutorials, on-screen directions, and inset maps. In the process, games reproduce terra incognita, the unknown world, as a way to introduce challenge and mystery and gamify exploration as part of the play itself.
In other words, as one traverses levels and stages, lands and worlds, more and more of the game's spatial architecture is revealed and mapped for the player to mark degrees of completion and provide other signs of mastery to allow rapid movements through space once it has been discovered. For all its emphasis on helping players learn cultural insights into Inupiat worldings and relationalities with the cosmos represented in Never Alone, with references to Sila, the land, moon, and ice in kinship, players must still initiate themselves and initialize themselves to the space as strangers as they face the forward motion of the side-scroller with no sense of embodied belonging, no sense of territorial knowledge to remember what is ahead, and no lived connection to the grounded relationalities the game hopes to evoke and impart. It is, in other words, a coded ludic mechanic that interpolates the settler.
And players, however, are presented with Sila, a space they know intimately because it is the space they live, as a terra nullius incognita that they have to navigate as outsiders. Settler-colonialism for indigenously designed games itself becomes a ludo-narrative dissonance as the system becomes the mechanic. Video games may offer innovative ways to link story and play. But until games can embody at the level of play the kinds of spatial relationalities that the stories teach, they will remain ambivalent tools of indigenous decolonization. Thanks.
So I wasn't sure how much-- I'm getting a little bit of a feedback echo here at the end. I wasn't sure how much people have played Never Alone. So I wanted to take just a few minutes here at the end, and maybe even call a volunteer to come down, to show you just a bit of the game.
One of the challenges of talking about video games is once you start showing the game it's really hard to talk again into the room. Because everybody just wants to play the game. So I postponed it till the end.
So do I have a volunteer? Anyone? I mean, I'll do it. But it's more fun to let someone else try. No? Yay! All right.
Woo-hoo! So unfortunately I have to do it with a keyboard as opposed to a controller. And it's a little hard to do two-player on the keyboard version.
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
JODI BYRD: What's that?
SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE]
JODI BYRD: I know. Trust me. [INAUDIBLE]
[WIND AND MUSIC]
JODI BYRD: We'll just go through the-- have you played it before?
SPEAKER 2: I have not.
JODI BYRD: OK.
SPEAKER 2: New game?
JODI BYRD: New game.
SPEAKER 2: All right. OK. Has everyone read this?
- [SPEAKING INUPIAT]
SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE]
JODI BYRD: [INAUDIBLE]
- [SPEAKING INUPIAT]
JODI BYRD: All right. I'll have you stop here.
SPEAKER 2: OK.
JODI BYRD: That'll give you a good sense of it.
SPEAKER 3: [INAUDIBLE] cultural insights?
JODI BYRD: What's that? Oh, I can show you how the cultural insights work. I mean, this is one of the things to critique about the game. Because you never really get the cultural insights in the actual play. You have to step out of the game and watch. Right?
JODI BYRD: So it can tell us it's a living people and a living culture.
- One of the things I think a lot of people need to understand is we aren't a museum piece. The Inupiat people are a living people and a living culture. Even though we're in Northern Alaska, which covers this vast area from Nome all the way over the Canadian border, it's that there is this extreme value of inter-connectedness and inter-dependence.
- It's a hunting society, a gathering society, from thousands of years.
- This is what creates our culture.
- That special relationship between humans and the natural world and the animals. And that teaches you how to have a society that doesn't do much harm to the world.
- Love and respect. For nature, for one another, for our elders-- very, very fundamental.
- The key to life.
- Our values are something that bind us all. The importance of sharing with one another, the importance of spirituality and the connection to the land, our traditions, how we hunt, the sharing of stories and songs and dances.
- I'm Inupiat. I'm from the Arctic Ocean.
- I'm [INAUDIBLE]. I am Inupiat.
- It's very important to me. It's who I am as a person.
- And we're very proud of who we are. And we want to continue that.
JODI BYRD: So, all right.
CAROL WARRIOR: So we have time for questions.
JODI BYRD: Yeah.
CAROL WARRIOR: And can I just start? with one?
JODI BYRD: Sure. Sure.
CAROL WARRIOR: So you were talking about how the goal of the Inupiat elders was to create an archive for future generations.
JODI BYRD: Mhm.
CAROL WARRIOR: And I was thinking about this game as an archive rather than a narrative or a code. Can you talk about that? Is that a weird question?
JODI BYRD: Is that a weird question?
CAROL WARRIOR: More like--
JODI BYRD: No. No. I mean, it's really interesting to think about what it would be to understand it as archive. I mean, the playable part of the game is really telling the story of Kunuuksaayuka, which is a traditional story about finding out Blizzard Man and going on this larger quest. And so that aspect is part of it.
But then you're right. It is an archive. How does that story fit into a culture of a present? And how does that tie to language? How does it tie to representation?
I think one of the things that starts to become kind of interesting to think about, though, is audience. Right? I mean, who is the audience for the game? And how were people thinking about what they put into this and the directions?
It sold really well. And it's gotten incredibly good reviews. And so it's interesting to think about what archive does and how it works and for whom. I mean, it's not-- you can't stop non-native players from playing it either, right?
So there's choices that have to be made as to how much stuff gets put in, maybe, as well. And maybe it comes down to translation-- as to what is in the language that doesn't get translated. There's a whole layer or layers that might be in that archive that may only be for Inupiat players and community members. Yeah. Yeah.
SPEAKER 4: I was really interested at the very end of that video when the older gentleman was talking about how he wants to be able to keep on doing that. It seemed like there was a whole story there, complicated beyond, perhaps a traditional [INAUDIBLE] story. And I was wondering if you could talk, perhaps, a little bit about what's foreclosed.
JODI BYRD: What's foreclosed?
SPEAKER 4: Yeah, when you're using-- when you're talking about gaming, [INAUDIBLE]. What's foreclosed in terms of--
JODI BYRD: Yeah.
SPEAKER 4: [INAUDIBLE].
JODI BYRD: Well, I mean, what's foreclosed is partly some of that spatial knowledge, right? I mean that's already sort of unable to be represented. And I think the other problem is that the game is always the same, every time you play it. This game doesn't build in-- I mean, some games do try for replayability. And that's something that people buy games for. And gamers often feel that their money is well spent when a game has multiple endings and things like that.
Never Alone certainly doesn't have multiple endings. It doesn't necessarily signal what the next-- how this might lead into another story and a next story, and a next story. Though certainly oral traditions and the ways they work, as Carol was reminding me, have archival connectors. The story doesn't necessarily end, but pause or provide transition to another story and open a world.
I mean, this is about an expensive world-building that is also the cultural knowledges and the spiritual texts-- everything kind of all together. So you know, the choices that go into just producing this as a game-- which are also immense. I mean, the code itself is an archive here that is also not accessible by the player or the critic, right? That's proprietary. So I mean-- I guess the designers have access to it. Yeah.
So there's I think a lot of things that get foreclosed in it. But certainly, I mean-- at the same time I don't want to necessarily just not acknowledge the profound power that indigenous languages have when they are available in video games for the next generation. To give that as an imaginative space for young kids to play and to hear their own language through that game does a lot of work to counter the ways in which English becomes the primary language of instruction in their schools, how it is that native languages get targeted and outlawed. I mean, these are still real lived consequences of colonization. Yeah.
SPEAKER 5: So building off of-- [CLEARS THROAT] sorry-- Dr. Warrior's question, I was wondering if you can talk a little bit more about the ethics of playing an archive.
JODI BYRD: Uh-huh.
SPEAKER 5: This is definitely something that comes up a lot for me thinking about Assassin's Creed, and DLCs. What does it mean to play slavery as a black person and as a not black person.
JODI BYRD: Yeah.
SPEAKER 5: So I'm wondering if you can say a little bit more-- even though the history, the knowledge being represented isn't necess-- well, no, I won't say that.
JODI BYRD: Yeah.
SPEAKER 5: Yeah.
JODI BYRD: No. There's a whole host of things that get kind of-- maybe foreclosed is a word here. Right? Because there is a tendency-- and I can speak of this coming from Illinois, where there's a mascot that is the University playing Indian, right? Phil Deloria has written a book called Playing Indian on the ways in which there's an entire tradition of people donning Indian clothes in order to express themselves.
So there is a slight anxiety, I think. You hear it in Donna Haraway slightly, right? She wants the game to be refusing her playing the game. She wants to have that sense that she can't just become Inupiat for the course of the game.
And other non-native scholars in indigenous studies have read the game to try to argue a similar kind of thing-- that the game is sort of refusing-- that you don't get to become Nuna. You get to direct her, which is slightly different than becoming Indian in a first-person shooter-- in Prey, for instance.
Assassin's Creed, I don't know-- I mean, I've played that. And I'm trying to think to myself, does it let us become Indian? And yes, in a way. Because you're using a tomahawk to kill and scal-- skin bears. You're climbing trees. You're doing all this work, sometimes in first-person perspective. And so there's an element of that.
I know people who worked as cultural advisors on Assassin's Creed III, folks from that community. And they were interesting in what they talked about and the work they had to do, in terms of trying to talk to Ubisoft, who was the designer, about what they wanted to represent. And there was a whole lot of work-- they wanted to use false face masks. Because assassins and false-- you know. They thought, oh my gosh, this would be so great. Masks!
And the entire community had to express just how inappropriate that would be, and the consequences to cultural values, to have that turned into a game mechanic. So even though the game is producing a lot of stereotypes about the Mohawk during the Revolution, you know, they burned a lot of their political cultural power just to prevent something from being used in the game. Which in the end is probably the choice to make, right? To allow the game designers to put that in.
So yeah. Who gets to have access and play? This is kind of the question. And that's why I was sort of thinking about how it is that the gaming structure is already kind of producing and anticipating the settler always as the player. And it doesn't really imagine that it's necessarily native players-- in the case of Connor in Assassin's Creed or Nuna in this, or Aveline de Grandpre as African American in Assassin's Creed Liberation. There's this sense that there's a gap between the player and the onscreen avatar.
They try to-- there's ways in which game designers try to make this something that's customizable. Isn't it great when you have a game like Fallout 4 where you are the main character? There's a whole-- Time magazine, I think, announced, the same year that Fallout 4 came out, you as the Person of the Year. Right? This sense that our social media, our Facebooks, all represent ourselves, right? And then our onscreen avatars and everything that we can produce on that is supposed to have some sort of representational logic.
And some players resist that by trying to make avatars that are as gross as possible. In games like Fallout 4, even, there's competitions to have them be ugly. I don't know. It's just a fascinating sort of side to self-representation versus refusal of self. Sorry. I could probably go in like four different directions with that question.
SPEAKER 5: Yeah. Deep hole.
JODI BYRD: It's a deep hole. And some of Adrienne Shaw's work that I quoted in the talk, from Gaming at the Edge, tries to talk about how, for queer, for non-normative, for players of color, you're not playing for representations of self. And so you start to look for different ways around that.
And so, you know, she interviews people who say, I don't really play games for rep. I could be a turtle for all I care. I just want to play a game that's fun. And so the refusal of needing representation is a lesson that she takes from some of the data she gathers for that. Yeah.
SPEAKER 6: Seeing this as a person who's actually never played a video game at all, I just-- I'm reading Donna Haraway's latest book now. I just learned of this a couple of days ago. Seeing it, and then got told today about [INAUDIBLE] I'd love to see it.
It makes me think-- especially reading it and then hearing you highlight Donna Haraway's passage-- of an earlier incarnation of Donna Haraway, her Primate Visions where she talks about [INAUDIBLE] patriarchy, of setting up [INAUDIBLE] Natural History Museum as kind of a frozen diorama [INAUDIBLE] death of nostalgia into something that we are destroying. But we get something that we look back and kind of gives us a sense of relief. How do you avoid-- and this is an open-ended question. But how do you avoid that kind of self-congratulatory anesthetic of looking into the diorama and being able to play-act the recreation of a world while the actual world is being important or historic?
JODI BYRD: Yeah. That's a great question. And certainly you can hear the tensions of that with the ways in which indigenous scholars and potentially indigenous gamers are encountering this game.
And then of course I had quotes from the mainstream media that is, like, all about, aren't I great for playing this game because I'm caring about a different culture? And I'm aware of how video games have this bad reputation. But not me. Right?
Um, man. I don't know. I mean, I don't know how you-- I mean, everything is produced within settler-colonialism. It's an ongoing condition. So the colonizer will engage this through colonialism. I mean, that's just going to be a given.
So you look for the ways in which the game potentially does refuse it. And I think there are ways that it does. But at the same time, I think that the Cook Inlet tribe is being incredibly carefully conscious of it. So they're producing-- I mean, they want the game to sell. And they want to market it as a multicultural game.
And so they actually participate in that. And that's a way to get resources in order to build it. So it's kind of a playing back, just slightly, the expectations of the diorama to use it to tell a story. In the hopes, maybe, of getting people to think about the intellectual and spiritual implications of relationship.
I mean, we're looking at Standing Rock and the fight against DAPL, right? The pipelines out there-- trying to argue, water is life. Here's a game that's trying to teach that interconnectivity and trying to help give multiple modes of engagement from those activist strategies to the video game. And so I guess the hope is to take it more expansively and not just to allow one to encounter indigenous philosophy and story through a video game, but to think about it more broadly and through multiple vectors. Yeah.
SPEAKER 6: Thank you.
JODI BYRD: Sure. Yeah.
SPEAKER 7: So I've played the game. And I'm from Alaska. And so I think that-- and I didn't grow up in the Inupiat culture. But I grew up in [INAUDIBLE] culture, which has similar aspects.
So I'm wondering about what you're saying, and what indigenous people have said about their feeling of playing this game. Because I think it's a different-- like, I don't view the videos as much. [INAUDIBLE]
JODI BYRD: Right. Sure. Yeah. Yeah. And I'm, of course, a Chickasaw. So I mean, Alaska is a space I wouldn't have a deep familiarity with, though I think that there are similarities, at least on how Chickasaw understand our worlds, that might connect across, and the notion of our upper and lower worlds and maybe what Sila is representing.
And so I'm not sure exactly how to address the question. But I think the thing that's really important is that, even for indigenous players, while there might be moments of connection, there are not always assumed knowledges that translate across. Every tribe has its own history and politics and legal structures.
The game doesn't necessarily go into tribal structures for Alaska, and how that might differ from the lower 48, and how that informs relationships with the tribal government, and trying to unpack the ways in which the Cook Inlet community and tribal council works versus how the Chickasaw Nation works-- though they're kind of equally corporate in a form. Anyway. I think there's a lot-- I mean, maybe more foreclosures, right? The things that don't necessarily come to the fore are the political context in which a tribal community can commission work like this.
The Chickasaw did a version of it, interestingly, with a comic book about 10 years ago now. It's kind of old. And tried to use basically a company that was making pro-military, pro-abstinence-versus-birth-control comic books. And so I mean, as much as it was Unconquered and Unconquerable, which is the Chickasaw motto for our nation, I was kind of like, um, but we're-- to win is to wait? There's something about who we're contracting with and who we're getting to do certain work for the community that should be questioned within the larger structure of the neoliberalism that maybe Native activists are interrogating.
But then again, I mean, I could go on about how the Chickasaw have military contracts with the United States. And certainly there's a lot of complicity that goes into these structures, even as we also fight for tribal waters in Oklahoma. This fight around even-- the Keystone Pipeline is going through Oklahoma at various points.
So anyway, I just went in kind of a roundabout weird thing. But I have to say, you know, I have to be an outsider to this community as well. And it's one of the things that I don't think we always think about what indigeneity-- we always think of indigeneity as something that's locatable and tied to land. But we don't always think about what it means to move.
What does it mean to be an indigenous person in someone else's indigenous territory? And what are the ethics of relationship for that? And how do we think about hospitality? But how do we think about being guests?
And it was something that at least I got glimmers into when I was a faculty member at Hawaii for a little bit. And it was very clear, as a Chickasaw I was not indigenous to Hawaii. And even though I might be able to talk about experiences of indigeneity and being an American Indian from the continent-- I would say the mainland. My students would be all like, not the mainland to us. And then we'd get into these fights about whose histories should be talked about in which spaces. Yeah.
SPEAKER 8: Thanks Dr. Byrd.
JODI BYRD: Sure.
SPEAKER 8: Could you just talk a little bit more about [INAUDIBLE] space [INAUDIBLE]? For instance, the convention of maintaining the frame, as opposed to the way in which the world is aestheticized, and how you think that functions.
JODI BYRD: No, that's interesting. Because I was thinking about it in relationship to both the event and crisis a little bit. The part I was talking about how our code is producing crisis for us as its reason to exist, even though we claim that it's supposed to be managing crisis.
Code is supposed to save data. It's supposed to collect things to give us safety and all these things. And yet it's not really doing that for us.
And I was thinking about how games are sort of actually events, right? They're event-centered. You play the game. And the game is happening as the thing you're playing.
But the events are the triggered cut scenes. Right? They're the moments of the story again. And so the game signals the story by the letterboxing.
But when you play it, I was noticing just in the ways in which it's doing it, it's a more circular sort of-- I'll see if I can-- if you've got it.
You can sort of see the ways in which that's a different letterboxing with the dark edges. It might not be quite as visible with the lights. It's different than the whole squaring down.
So there's possibly a critique that the designers are making, maybe, about how the narrative is forced into a certain format to be recognizable before it comes back out into other things. I mean, I don't know. There's lots of possible ways of reading it. I mean, what's useful is that one of the things that happens when you play the game-- I'm going to kill it again for the sound.
One of the things that happens when you're playing the game is that when you go into those letterbox moments, you actually-- I find myself constantly still pushing the controller buttons as if I'm still controlling Nuna for a few minutes. Until I'm like, oh, right. It's a letterbox. Oh. And then I let go of the controls. And then I wait for the piece to play out. So there's a couple of different sort of things that happen at the level of interaction that one does physically when playing the game.
CAROL WARRIOR: So we have time for one more question.
SPEAKER 9: Yeah. I'm curious how do you [INAUDIBLE] gaming industry [INAUDIBLE] more like ethical-oriented game business [INAUDIBLE] isolated incident? Or what is the motivation [INAUDIBLE]? So for example, how long do we have to wait till another game happens?
JODI BYRD: Yeah.
SPEAKER 9: [INAUDIBLE]
JODI BYRD: Yeah. I don't know. I mean, hopefully-- there are game designers, indigenous game designers, making games all the time. And I don't know what will spark it to get the kind of attention or the kind of-- some of it has to do with the money that can be put in from the start in order to make it be a game that gamers want to play.
Gamers is such a weird word to use now after Gamergate. I should maybe just say players, right? You know, there's a whole category of games that are called social impact games. Some of them are board games. Some of them are web-based games. Some of them are other forms of games that try to gamify the world that we live in to draw attention.
There are games like Papers, Please. Of course, there's Oregon Trail, too-- this idea that somehow one can make learning fun. And I think those draw their own sort of questions that get pulled up.
How many of you have played Oregon Trail? I mean, right? How much do you learn really? And then, just for reference and hilarity, there is a version of Oregon Trail that's been turned into a zombie game called Organ Trail, where you're in a station wagon fighting hordes of, instead of Indians, zombies.
So I don't know how to answer necessarily. But Papers, Please for instance is another game. I think that game is particularly relevant right now and something that a lot of people are turning to. There's This War of Mine. There's a number of games that are trying to draw attention to how it is that we fetishize destruction, war, and try to get people to think about the other side of it.
What does it mean to be a refugee? What does it mean to survive in a war-devastated city? Collect resources, provide for other people, or steal from them? I mean, those are the ethical questions that can come through the games too.
So I think there's a number of them. They don't necessarily compete with Call of Duty. But they are already out and circulating. And certainly a lot of players take time to look at both. Though, again, they partly do it in that multicultural neoliberal gesture of, I don't just like wanton destruction all the time. Right?
So hopefully we'll see more. I think I challenged the seminar this morning to say, for those of you who are designing games, try to think about what you would do at the level of just level design to create embodied knowing as a way to start the game? You saw the tutorial, right? You have to press a certain key to run. It pauses to teach you how to run the controls.
And the thought is, once you've mastered that, then it lets go and you start to play. But every game has a tutorial screen. Every game assumes that you're coming into it as a new-- it's Columbus. You're in a new world. And you're going to be taught and then master. Right? So what happens to a game if that's not the condition to start?
CAROL WARRIOR: Well, thank you, Jodi, so much for reading.
JODI BYRD: Thanks.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University, on the web at cornell.edu.
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Many Indigenous writers, artists, and scholars have suggested that video games might offer important new formats through which to present the multidirectional and embodied narratives embedded within traditional stories. In this talk given March 2, 2017, Jodi A. Byrd, associate professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, considers how play, story, and the structures of settler colonialism influence video games such as Never Alone, a side-scrolling platform game that Iñupiat community elders developed in collaboration with a non-native game design studio.
Deploying traditional story, Iñupiat language and culture, and engaging in cooperative game play modes, Never Alone seeks to challenge mainstream games to represent indigenous narratives and philosophies. Celebrated as one of the most successful world-building games, Never Alone invites us to think further about how code and interface—the structures of interface—affect how gamers are allowed to play the story. How might indigenous game designs transform structures of settler colonialism and enable indigenous kinship relationalities to space as a form of decolonial resistance?