Day 1: Introduction

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We hit the ground running today, the very first day of the Skins video game workshop! After a brief, introductory session, we watched a short video compiled by Beth Aileen Dillon entitled “Native Representations in Video Games“, which (as the title implies) showcases and critiques how Native characters have been portrayed in the last thirty-odd years of video game history. The following discussion revolved around other characters the group has personally encountered in gaming and whether we felt they were stereotypical and/or well-rounded at least.

Good examples were mentioned from recent, well-researched endeavors such as “Red Dead Redemption” and “Assassin’s Creed III” (of which the creators worked closely with Native consultants from our very own Kahnawake!). However, despite those single, two good examples, there existed countless other bad ones, most of which portrayed ruthless natives as enemies against shoot-em-up cowboys. If they were not playing the role of the bad guys, they often were portrayed as sensual “damsels in distress”, given away as prizes for a massacre well done. There are other, Native, female characters, specifically in fighting games, who are depicted wearing little more than feathers and body paint…but the portrayal of WOMEN in videos games is a whole other subject.

Moving on to explore alternate, non-blockbuster games with positive representations of Native people, our Junior Mentor Tehoniehtathe Delisle (a participant from SKINS 1.0 whose been with us ever since) presented the most recent, completed game from last summer’s Skins 3.0 workshop, which included assets made from both the previous renditions (download here). Though we will not be using the Unity 3D engine this time around, the students were given a taste of the 3D software we will use and the type of traditional story that can be told through this new medium.

Our first industry guest, Stephanie Bouchard, soon arrived from Ubisoft were she works as a game designer. She presented to the students her definition of “What is a Game?” and the various elements that must be considered and emphasized when starting such a project. She taught us several theories as well as critical dissections of game design such as the Bartle Player theory, motivational mapping as well as the importance of MDA (mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics). After her very informative presentation, she joined us for lunch where both participants were able to ask more specific, in-depth questions regarding her work.

Sadly one of our mentors, Joseph Tekaroniake Lazare, was unable to make it. However, we were thrilled to welcome back our veteran mentor: Owisokon Lahache. She shared with us stories of her work both in the art world as well as at Kahnawake Survival School; where she encourages her students to embrace new technologies to express themselves. The Skins workshops would not have been given the initial push it needed without her support and we are looking forward to hearing her ideas and having her guidance for this new cycle of game makers.

Skawennati then took the podium to share her thoughts on how to transmediate stories. In simpler terms: how to translate tales from an oral tradition (listening) to medium as complex as a video gaming (seeing + hearing + listening + interacting). This section of the curriculum helped draw the link between what most consider completely separate entertainment experiences.

The day was concluded with another industry presentation by Ruben Farrus from Minority game studio; creators of the celebrated game “Papo & Yo”. Though his primary purpose was to educate the group of the game development process, the story of Minority studio employees working hard at several large game companies and building a reputation strong enough so to receive funding from Sony to create their own, indigenous-themed game projects, was an inspiration to all. We also got a sample of their new game, Silent Enemy.

Tomorrow, each participant will be sharing their own stories and we will then mold one (or all of them) to design something original of our own. We cannot wait.