The Games Institute acknowledges that we are living and working on the traditional territory of the Attawandaron (also known as Neutral), Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.
Dr. Bird will emphasize the two types of language taking place in video games: mechanical, coded language, and visual, representational language. She presents the importance of teaching the history of Indigenous representation in games and will break down various examples from Custer’s Revenge to the Mortal Kombat and Red Dead Redemption series to demonstrate these types of gamic language. Building upon these examples, she centers on the problematic ways players have historically translated the messages they are being presented within the digital medium of the video game. She illustrates how these translations result in harmful narratives about Indigenous avatars becoming cemented within the overarching discourse and design of games. Finally, she will look at new Indigenous works and how inclusive and decolonial game design and practices like ROM hacking can push back against these established narratives and the ways in which players read them, and instead create sovereign digital spaces for Indigenous peoples.
About the Speaker:
Dr Bird is a Native American game designer and PhD in Native American Studies. She is Western Abenaki and originally hails from the Champlain Valley of Vermont. Her work theorizes digital sovereignty, drawing on Native American studies, media studies, and game studies to address representations of Native American characters in video games. The work analyzes specific colonial methodologies being replicated within game spaces in order to then replace these with decolonial methods of game design being undertaken by herself and fellow Native game designers with a focus on what she terms “synthetic Indigenous identity,” oriented around promoting Indigenous futures. Her work has been featured in the InDigital Space at the ImagineNATIVE Film & Media Festival in 2018 and 2019 respectively. She is also a founding member of the UC Davis ModLab, an experimental laboratory for media research and digital humanities.
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