Oregon State University is full of racists

Understand history while playing On the paths of the past

Understanding history while playing - Elizabeth LaPensée, assistant professor at Michigan State University and creative director for game development, shows how: The video game "When The Rivers Where Trails" (2019), developed in collaboration with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and supported by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, condenses contributions from over 30 indigenous artists, authors and musicians into an exciting and educational adventure - through a section of their history that was shaped by the displacement of indigenous people of North America from their traditional habitats.

The Complexity of Indigenous Peoples

The main character of the game is driven from her home town of Minnesota by land allocation by the American government in the 1890s and travels half the country west to California. The players can first choose their clan and go on the journey as a spiritual Ajijaak (crane), mediating name (sturgeon), martial Makwa (bear) or protective Bizhiw (lynx) and discover the beauty and danger of the Get to know nature, hunt and fish, meet allies and opponents. The game, which is simple in design, achieves a strong identification with the historical figures through sparse, impressive sound design and wonderful illustration work.
 
Elisabeth Lapensée, “When Rivers Were Trails” is a collaborative production. How did this special group of fellow campaigners come together?
 
When Rivers Were Trails was initiated by Creative Co-Director Nichlas Emmons, who works for the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. In conversations with educators, the foundation saw a gap in conveying history from the perspective of the indigenous people to middle and high school students. We connected, and I saw the perfect opportunity to try an indigenous variant of The Oregon Trail to develop that I played in school as a child and that I had long hoped to be able to replay. Instead of connecting indigenous NPCs (non-player characters) with the settlers as traders, trailblazers or enemies, shows When Rivers Were Trails the complexity of the indigenous peoples thanks to the contributions of thirty indigenous authors. With the beautiful art of Weshoyot Alvitre bringing over a hundred characters to life, it's a game of truths, difficult choices, and humor.
 
The game and its stories turn the past into a tangible experience. Do you believe that this type of narrative can also shape the future?
 
Through the lens of Indigenous Futurism, we can look to the past to gain insight into the future, but we must also act in the present for the benefit of future generations. Understanding contracts is not just about their history, it is also about realizing the ongoing and current responsibility stemming from contracts to ensure that they are adhered to. As When Rivers Were Trails Showing indigenous perspectives from the past, games can also be a space in which we imagine the future. Topics such as climate change, the persistence of languages ​​and the more inclusive advancement of technology are just a few of the many possible topics for such games.

Gameplay, story and historical facts

It is argued that digital storytelling methods, while effective, also move further away from “traditional” Indigenous ways of sharing knowledge. What do you reply?
 
From conversations with storytellers such as Woodrow Morrison Jr. [of the Board of Wisdom of the Elders, a nonprofit that records and preserves oral Indigenous traditions and cultural achievements - note. the Editor] and Roger Fernandes [American artist, storyteller, and educator whose work focuses on the culture and arts of the Coast Salish tribes of western Washington, Editor's Note] I know that oral storytelling is a mutual creative experience in relationships arise between the story, the narrator and the listener. Games can also create this experience, with the game, game developer, and game player reacting to each other. I see my role as a designer, artist and author in providing the players with a space in which they can create their own interpretations of the game situation and thus create a personal reference to the gaming experience. The meaning of a game is a self-created quantity, just like oral storytelling.
Does storytelling in a game setting differ significantly from a more traditional way? What can traditional media learn from games?
 
When Rivers Were Trails claims to be just as repeatable as oral storytelling, which asks us to return to stories in different phases of our life, the interpretation of which may have changed fundamentally as a result of life experiences in the meantime. With different endings, several random events and various decisions to be made along the way When Rivers Were Trails can be played several times and always reveal new meanings to the players.

Working towards a better future together

The game received a lot of critical acclaim. How was the feedback from the community of gamers?
 
The game has been widely referred to as an educational entertainment game, which is the greatest compliment to a game that would otherwise only be dismissed as an educational game. When Rivers Were Trails combines gameplay, history and historical facts. During some live gameplay sessions, there were spontaneous, shocked reactions from streamers, not because of something in the game, since it is a point-and-click 2D game, but because of the tragic historical content, which many did not before were aware. But that reaction mixes with laughter at moments when jokes about the Oregon Trail or other references to pop culture pop up. It is this change between hardness and humor that motivates the players to keep playing.
 
In another of your games, We Sing For Healing, it appears that you are deliberately slowing down the gaming experience to make the experience even more immersive in all of its simplicity. “When Rivers Were Trails” does that in a way. Is this really a strategy for creating empathic experiences?
 
I find my life so overwhelmingly hectic that I have to specifically take time to slow down. I try to create experiences that give people space to concentrate, breathe, absorb and reflect. Whether it is about empathy or not is really the responsibility of the player, because the real empathy has to happen beyond the game. If a game I've worked on is a way to expand empathy, that's great. But just like storytelling, gaming is a two-way creative process.
 
When the past is told or retold, lessons are learned for the future, and often the future is shaped in the same way as the past. Is that something you want to achieve with your game too?
 
I've joked about it before, an indigenous version of The Oregon Trail so that the problematic depictions of indigenous peoples, with whom I grew up, can be corrected for the next generations and also so that indigenous students can see themselves in a game. It was meant to be a joke because I didn't think it could really happen. It actually happened thanks to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, funded by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and thanks to all of the people who believed in the game. When Rivers Were Trails has been played in middle schools, high schools, tribal schools, tribal colleges, and universities across the United States and Canada, and even internationally, as far as Japan. With so many players there are high hopes.
 
One hope is that youngsters from all over the world When Rivers Were Trails play and understand the past so they can work together towards a better future. While a game can be a catalyst for thinking about this future, continuous efforts must be made to act together so that it can be implemented.
 
I also hope that indigenous youths see a game with indigenous artists, writers and musicians and that they too can make games. Then we can all look forward to a future with many Indigenous-initiated games!
 
What are your plans for the near future?

The downloads from [the platform] itch.io were so successful that we are looking for further distribution channels. The next step for When Rivers Were Trails is to bring the Mac and Windows PC versions to Steam which is currently in the works.
 

"When Rivers Were Trails"

The game about the effects of colonization on indigenous peoples in the 1890s won the Adaptation Award at IndieCade 2019.
 
“When Rivers Were Trails” is a 2D point and click adventure
, where the Oregon Trail meets Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. An Anishinaabeg individual was evicted from traditional Minnesota territory under the Allotment Act in the 1890s and made his way west to California. In doing so, she has to deal with Indian agents [person authorized by the government to negotiate with Native American tribes and First Nations governments, editor's note], meets and has to meet people from different nations hunt, fish and canoe along the way to survive.
 
Download the game here.

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