In 2018, German board game manufacturer dlp games released Manitoba, a strategy game where players take the role of “different clans of the Cree Indians” (Pranzo and Conzadori 14). The representation of Cree culture in the game’s manual and artwork—replete with totem poles, canoes, axe-wielding warriors, and wise-looking spiritual leaders—raises serious concerns about misrepresentation, cultural appropriation, and racism. When faced with criticism of stereotyping the Cree in a CBC news article in September 2018, the game’s designer responded defensively by stating that, in fiction, it is “impossible not to simplify” and that his co-editor simply “liked the sound of the word ‘Manitoba’” (“A Totem Pole”).
In line with the critique sketched out above, I propose an analysis of Manitoba as a cultural product indicative of German’s long-standing “Indianthusiasm.” Furthermore, the analysis will show that the game as a material object, when received on treaty territory, takes on a will of its own. Using Sara Ahmed’s notion of “willful objects” that do “not allow subjects to carry out their will” (42), I argue that playing the game Manitoba in Manitoba challenges and eludes the intention of its authors, thus opening up possibilities for more critical and thoughtful readings that do not merely sound good in name but instead consider the land on which we live, work, and play.
About Lars Richter
Lars Richter is a settler scholar-teacher and faculty member in the Department of German and Slavic Studies at the University of Manitoba, which is located on original lands of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. He studied at Freie Universität in Berlin, Washington University in St. Louis, and earned his PhD in German Languages and Literatures from the University of Alberta with a dissertation on Juli Zeh. His primary fields of research and teaching are twentieth and twenty-first century German literature and culture, the intersection of Indigenous and German Studies, popular culture, gender, and ecocriticism.
This event was made possible in part with support from the WCGS's Diversity and Inclusion Grant.