Earlier today, in looking up something relatively unrelated using Google, I stumbled across a forum thread blasting our game.
I won’t give them the honor of linking/using their name, but the back-and-forth included comments accusing our game of racism, denigrating (although they didn’t use such a big word) Native American culture and perpetuating stereotypes.
Understanding what I do about the Internet and its many trolls, posting any reply there would be as productive as pounding my head on the keyboard here. (See No. 12.) But this is a topic that I think is at least worth addressing.
Every once in a while, we get a criticism along these lines – this thread was the lengthiest, but certainly not the first – or in more polite settings, an inquiry about the political correctness of our game.
But here’s the thing that makes me roll my eyes. The people who are really up in arms over the game not only haven’t played it, but largely seem to have no connection to, relationship with or understanding of any Native American community.* They’re irate for the sake of interpreting what we’re doing as politically incorrect. No joke, one of these people on another social media profile listed himself as a Redskins fan. Let’s take a minute to let the irony of that sink in.
We were criticized for portraying Indians hunting with bows and arrows, living in tipis and using herbs for medicine. Again, the setting of the game is an Indian village at the time of “Western Expansion.” In other words, the point in history where white settlers moved West, usurping Native American lands and not long after taking children from their homes. I haven’t seen anyone blast Oregon Trail being offensive or inaccurate for having people use wagons to travel cross country in the 1840s. That’s how people traveled the country 170 years ago – hybrid cars were still 160 years away from being mass produced. And there’s nothing offensive or racist about portraying Native Americans hunting with bows and arrows and living in tipis during that same period. They didn’t use ray-guns and live in Jetsons’ style highrises. Sorry, but it’s a historical fact. And to quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.”
More than one of the attacks criticized us over our use of the term Indian. We use the term Indian because that’s what the tribes we’re working with use. We’ve had more than one (non-Indian) person question whether using the term Indian was really PC. Look to each their own, but, case in point, in two weeks, 7 Generation Games will be participating in the National Indian Education Association Convention and Trade Show. From their own website, “The National Indian Education Association advances comprehensive educational opportunities for American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians throughout the United States.” The convention is expected have over 2,000 attendees, so it’s not like NIEA is some niche group acting like it’s more significant than it is. (P.S. If you’re attending, come by our table – we’ll give you free stuff.)
We’re also in the American Indian Child Resource Center, which has been serving the Native American community in the San Francisco area since the 1970s. Cultural activities play a major role in their youth programs, and we installed the game on their computers over the summer. In feedback we got just earlier this week, one of the leaders of their youth programs said, “The culturally relevant content was great for [our kids]. … I think any game you all put out we’d love it here at the center.”
Oh, but there’s more.
We also presented at the Minnesota Indigenous Language Summit in the Minneapolis area just a few weeks ago. The feedback there was outstanding. In fact, one middle school girl who attends an Ojibwe immersion school and whose parents had brought her to the conference on a day off from school attended our session and after playing the game said, “This is really awesome. You should talk to our school about it because I know they would love it.” We had numerous educators approach us after the session about how they could get the game in their schools and afterschool programs, all of whom were Indian and worked with programs which served primarily Native American students.
Not done yet.
In the last six weeks, we’ve also participated at the Tribal Leaders Summit in Bismarck, N.D. As the name suggests, it is a major gathering of tribal leaders. One would be hard pressed to find a group of individuals more committed to the accurate representation of Native American culture than those in attendance. So what was their response? The interest was tremendous – so great, in fact, we ran out of materials to give away.
Don’t stop me now.
Additionally, our CEO was recently a presenter at a conference on the Turtle Mountain reservation. While she was there, she met with representatives from seven reservation schools – on Turtle Mountain and Spirit Lake. On the spot, they asked when we could schedule the game installation.
The Native American schools, students and educators who are playing our game find the cultural component to be something that really resonates with the kids playing it. The tribal leaders and elders who see our game commend us for our product and ask about how we can get it into their schools. The cultural consultants we employ who live on the reservations and speak the Native languages of the tribe help us develop the cultural elements and vet the final versions. They have overwhelmingly positive things to say about our game – and have not raised any critical feedback regarding the cultural element.
And that’s not to say they don’t give us negative feedback – we ask for all feedback. And we have gotten plenty of constructive criticism that has helped us improve the technical and math sides of the game.
Which brings me to this question, if they don’t find it at all offensive – in fact, they see it as portraying the complete opposite – why on earth do you?
*To be completely fair, we did have one person who criticized us on Twitter and said she was Native American. She said our game was completely racist and inaccurate. We asked her if she’d played the game. She had not. We encouraged her to do so and invited her to submit a list of any/all inaccuracies and offensive portions to our cultural consultant Dr. Erich Longie (who is an enrolled tribal member of the Spirit Lake Dakota with a blood quantum of 7/8 – meaning you’d be hard-pressed to find someone to give a more Indian perspective than him. He is considered an elder. On top of all that, he also holds a PhD in Education). Six months later, we’re still waiting for her to submit that list.