Indigenous people and game industry

The stories of indigenous cultures have inspired many game developers. The next interesting game in this category is going to be Mulaka:

Mulaka is based on the stories of the Tarahumara-tribe. The game has been developed in collaboration with anthropologists and tribe members. However, using indigenous cultures as a source of the game industry can be problematic in many ways, especially from the ethics point of view. Cultural appropriation can be seen as a form of colonization and assimilation. Usually Indigenous people have a history of colonization and assimilation already and the gamification of their culture can be seen as a threat. On the other hand, the gamification can be seen as a possibility. It can be seen as a way to pass on knowledge or a indigenous language. Or in that case that the game has been done with collaboration and respecting the culture. From the gamers’ point of view a cultural-based game may not be so appealing – it is possible that the focus is in the facts and correct graphical layout and not so much in the gameplay.

The Mulaka team assures that they have considered the cultural issues: in the game developing team there has been anthropologists and tribe members. At least some of the profits are handed to the organizations helping the tribe to preserve their culture.

Mulaka was designed hand in hand with renowned anthropologists and Tarahumara leaders to capture the true essence of the culture in the game. We have unearthed old books, crumbling texts and forgotten diaries and gotten the most playable elements, as well as the coolest myths and stories and recorded authentic Tarahumara dialogue. Everything has been done so you can experience the power and adventurous history of this culture. From narration in their indigenous language, to music unique to the region, experience an authentic representation of Tarahumara culture. (Lienzo)

Proceeds from the sales of the game are donated to organizations that help preserve this culture.

The Mulaka game is published to many platforms – even Nintendo Switch. The rest remains a mystery till the game is published: do they honor the culture from the tribe point of view and does the tribe get their share of the profits.

This is not the pirst game from the indigenous point of view. I played through the Never Alone – Kisima Inŋitchuŋa-game, that is about Iñupiat-people stories:

Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is the first game developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people. Nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members contributed to the development of the game. Play as a young Iñupiat girl and an arctic fox as they set out to find the source of the eternal blizzard which threatens the survival of everything they have ever known.

This game was done with the support of the people. The non-profit organization the Cook Inlet Tribal Council founded the Upper One Games for the profits of the Never Alone-game. The indigenous people own the rights and get all the profits.

Both of these games make you learn something when you play. Even though these are both for pure entertainment. Games as a indigenous knowledge platform are a new trend that is rising. Game can share, celebrate and expand a culture – it can bring together the tribal elders and the young generation in a totally new ways. This does not happen all by itself, you have to work really hard in the different layers of a culture to get the full picture first. The game planning process is more complex compared to a game made from the scratch. The challenge is: how to maintain the respect of the indigenous people when making a culture-based game.