Minority representation in video games just straight up sucks. Over the last few weeks, two new projects debuted that focus specifically on Native Americans.
The first is a short video. Directed and narrated by Irish, Anishinaabe, Metis writer Beth Aileen Lameman and edited by Beaver Lake Cree filmmaker Myron Lameman, the video looks at really common stereotypes being deployed in game narratives. Lameman points to the common framings of “cowboys vs. indians,” guides, and “wise old Indians” and heavy doses of the white savior narrative and the “half-breed hero” trope.
The second is an essay over at Project COE that tackles the politics behind representation:
“How many kids will play this game and then carry what they’ve experienced into their interactions with real, live Apaches and other Native Americans?” the Association for American Indian Development asked video game publishing giant Activision in a public letter accusing the company’s 2006 PC and console title GUN of containing “some very disturbing racist and genocidal elements toward Native Americans”. The AAID went on to launch an online petition demanding that Activision “remove all derogatory, harmful, and inaccurate depictions of American Indians” from the game and reissue a more culturally sensitive version, threatening to campaign to have the game pulled from store shelves internationally. Although Activision thereafter issued an apology to anyone who may have been offended by the game, they justified the content of their product by pointing out that such depictions had already been “conveyed not only through video games but through films, television programming, books, and other media”. The AAID’s subsequent attempts to have the game recalled were barely acknowledged.
As evident in Activision’s defense of GUN, many negative stereotypes about Native American culture are so ingrained in mainstream media that the near-genocide of an entire culture is rarely treated with the same sensitivity with which we regard similarly tragic occurrences like the Holocaust, or African American slavery. The AAID argues that video games like GUN undermine the severity of the atrocities committed against First Nations tribes by the European settlers and marginalize this violence in a way that negatively affects the image of contemporary Native Americans. Millions of people play video games, and entertainment can leave long-lasting impressions on consumers, making it important to be able to criticize misconceptions and separate fantasy from reality. The impact of media on our mentality towards people and events certainly cannot be underestimated, so it is understandable that an organization such as the AAID should be concerned about what kind of images audiences are exposed to, but were their claims about GUN‘s potentially damaging effects warranted?