Native Americans in Video Games: Racism, Stereotypes, & The Digitized Indian

Tomahawks, bows and arrows, feathered headdresses, a connection to the spiritual world — these are just a few of the stereotypical elements associated with the “Indians” of popular culture. Generally, these features, among others, are mixed together and poured into a cliché mould that characterizes Native Americans as either an outdated civilization of savages or romanticizes them as mystical, nature-loving warriors and shamans. This mould has solidified across the breadth of entertainment media over time; in literature, film and television, and most recently, video games. A few notable Native American characters that have appeared in video games include Mortal Kombat‘s Nightwolf, a tribal warrior who dons feathers and face paint, wields a bow as well as a tomahawk, and can transform into a wolf to defeat his adversaries, Street Fighter‘s equally prosaic Thunder Hawk, and Banjo Tooie‘s magical shaman Humba Wumba, who lives in a “wigwam” and becomes oddly sexualized in the sequel. We tend to glance over these stereotypes as fun and harmless, but can these simplified, misleading images of Native Americans have a negative impact on consumers? Many aspects of these characters, whether they have some sort of basis in history or not, are certainly not relevant to the contemporary Native American. The common perception of Native Americans as an antiquated and singular people contributes to a general misunderstanding of their cultures (note: culture is pluralized because there are many different groups of First Nations people and their beliefs and values are not necessarily congruous) could potentially hinder their ability to synthesize with mainstream society. That said, it is interesting to consider the place of Native Americans in video games over the past thirty years, as they are certainly under-represented, often portrayed in a disrespectful manner, and almost always constructed from the same toolbox of long-established stereotypes. What follows is a look at some of the most memorable characters and controversies that have punctuated the existence of the “Indian” in video games, accompanied by a discourse on how these trends hurt the image of Native American people and degrade contemporary social harmony.

 

Can you spot the similarities?


“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 North American indigenous peoples are so ingrained in mainstream media that the near-genocide of an entire continent of tribes and ethnic groups is rarely granted the same sensitivity with which we regard similarly tragic occurrences like the Holocaust, or apartheid in South Africa. 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, so it is understandable that an organization such as the AAID would be concerned about the images people are exposed to, but were their claims about GUN‘s potentially damaging effects warranted?

To the AAID’s credit, GUN certainly does exploit numerous stereotypes, reinforces several misleading aspects of imagined Native American culture, promotes frivolous violence in the form of scalping (which is merely an aesthetic feature that does not add to the gameplay whatsoever), and creates misconceptions about Indian traditions involving the killing of sacred white animals. Furthermore, the game does indeed demand that players slaughter vast numbers of Apache Indians in order to progress through one particular mission in the game. However, the material is not as slanted as the AAID suggests. In addition to killing Apache warriors, the main character Colton White also kills white men and white women, and actually befriends various Indians in the game, even helping the Apache and Blackfoot tribes defend themselves against unjust and corrupt whites. In fact, he eventually discovers that he himself is of Native American heritage, and switches sides to take down a malignant railroad tycoon named Magruder. So, while GUN certainly does reinforce a number of misleading stereotypes and trivializes frontier violence, it is possible to see why the AAID’s plea was ignored. Ruthless violence against Indians is advocated throughout the game, but brutality is also encouraged towards many whites, hispanics, and so forth. Additionally, much of the violence towards Native Americans is contextualized as part of the attempt to protect migrant Chinese rail-workers from Apache train line raids. The story itself is one of redemption and revenge, and the story is never as simple as “wiping out the Apache” as the AAID would lead us to believe. To briefly describe the story, the narrative follows the consequences set in motion by Colton’s adopted father, Ned, who brought ruin upon the Apache tribe when he introduced them to a party of Confederates, including the aforementioned Magruder. As one would expect, the tribe was massacred by the settlers when it stood in the way of “progress”. Seeking repentance for his grievous error, Ned has dedicated himself to exacting revenge upon the Confederates. When he dies in Mission 3 of the game, the torch is passed to Colton, who continues his father’s fight to avenge the Apache people. The violence is never classy, but the racial slant is debatable.

 

Violence against Apache warriors in GUN.


Over the course of the story Colton encounters many racists, but these unsavoury characters don’t exclusively hate Indians; rather, they are intolerant of many different races, creeds, and religions, not only spewing racist comments about Native Americans, but also about the Chinese, Irish, and Mexicans (they are essentially bigoted to the point where it becomes farcical). The story is never really framed from the racist-towards-Indians angle that the AAID claims, even considering the misconceptions about Native American culture that surface here and there. Regardless of the stance one takes on GUN‘s treatment of Native Americans, the controversy surrounding the game draws attention to the portrayal of Native Americans in other video games. After all, the AAID’s reaction to GUN was not the first time the issue of racism towards North America’s indigenous peoples has stirred up controversy in the industry.

 

Introducing one of the most offensive games ever created.


Twenty four years before GUN raised the eyebrows of Native American activists, a game called Custer’s Revenge was released for the Atari 2600. Whereas GUN‘s racist undertones are debatable, Custer’s Revenge is blatantly racist, extremely vulgar, and highly offensive, especially to Native American women. Made by now-defunct video game developer Mystique, which developed a number of pornographic video games throughout the 1980’s, the game is widely regarded as one of the most racist games ever developed. Mystique’s games were programmed in the United States, so one would think the creators would be imbued with a sense of cultural sensitivity for the people of that region, but this was certainly not the case with Custer’s Revenge. The game has players taking on the persona of a character named “Custer”, who is quite clearly inspired by George Armstrong Custer, a United States Army cavalry commander who fought in the American Indian Wars and directly took part in the slaughter of thousands of Native Americans before his death at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Based on the game’s title, it is clear that Custer intends to carry out post-humous revenge on the Indians for killing him and his men. And how exactly will Custer carry out his vengeance? By repeatedly raping an Indian woman, of course. Oh, and by the way, “Revenge” is actually the name of the woman he rapes. Custer’s Revenge brutally objectifies women and disrespects Native Americans in a manner that words like “tasteless” or “crude” cannot do justice to.

 

General Custer: naked, erect, and ready to offend thousands of people for years to come.


Yes, in the role of Custer, a man who historically took part in the killing of countless Native Americans, players must weave past volleys of arrows in order to rape a naked, large-breasted Native American woman tied to a cactus. Of course, you would never know that she’s Native American were it not for the stereotypical feather in her hair and a tipi billowing smoke in the background. It’s interesting how these symbols can so easily establish the context for an otherwise generic — if disturbing — premise, isn’t it? Racist, misogynistic elements aside, the game itself is simple: dodge, rape, repeat. The game gets more challenging each time you rape the Indian woman, and you will need to rape her many times indeed in order to achieve a high score. That’s the experience in its entirety, and the game’s box exclaims that “she’s not about to take it lying down, by George!”, clarifying the intentions of the developers. The game’s designer, Joe Miller, claims that the purpose of his game was to get people “smiling” and “laughing”. Needless to say, many people were not smiling or laughing when the game hit store shelves in 1982. Custer’s Revenge was met with considerable criticism from the enthusiast press and targeted by Native Americans, women’s rights activists, and various other groups for its racist and misogynistic content. American feminist Andrea Dworkin claimed that the game “generated many gang rapes of Native American women”, lawsuits abounded, and the game was eventually pulled off the market. But only after selling around 80,000 copies, meaning that 80,000 people either laughed while they raped a naked, bound Indian woman against a spiky cactus, or cringed. Or something in between.

 

Racism and Misogyny in Action (uncensored).


Of course, the sexual objectification of Native American women in popular culture is not something that started with Custer’s Revenge. The image of the exotic “Indian Princess” is widespread, though usually not in such a graphic and violent manner. In the Disney films Pocahontas and Peter Pan, in television, in literature from the early nineteenth century — this image is not something new or isolated. There is a book by M. Elise Marubbio titled Killing the Indian Maiden that looks in depth at these images as they appear in film, explaining how and why the “white male-dominated” film industry constructs Indian women as “subservient, simplistic, self-destructive” and desirable “Others”. The video games business is also dominated by white males, and thus many of the ideas in Marubbio’s book can be applied to it as well. It’s worth checking out if you want to learn more about the driving forces behind these reoccurring images.

The sexualization of Native American women in video games did not stop with Custer’s Revenge. Although never again reaching the same absurd level of offensiveness, eroticized images have continued into the new millennium, visible in Mature-rated games like Bonetown, Darkwatch, and even the all-ages game, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. Characters like Darkwatch‘s Tala (also known as “Stalking Wolf”) are definitely a step up from the woman victimized in Custer’s Revenge, but are still positioned as objects of lust in an industry led by caucasian men. For example, by using her sex appeal, Tala seduces the story’s main character, Civil War veteran Jericho Cross, having sex with him in order to further her own agenda. Tala is not only a temptress, but also a shaman with mysterious powers, adding boilerplate “Indian mysticism” to her sexualized persona and other stereotypical ‘Indian’ traits. There is something about the mystical, exotic “Other” that is deeply appealing to most audiences, and this appeal can be extrapolated beyond the boundaries of sexual objectification. That is to say that our attraction to the popular images of what we see as Native American culture is not limited to female eroticization, but can be extended to explain our fascination with character archetypes such as the spiritual shaman, the noble savage, the skilled warrior, and other constructed images. With regard to these romanticized stereotypes which we find so enchanting, Michael A. Sheyashe, the author of Native Americans in Comics, writes that video games “target a young and impressionable audience and leave them with no idea who we are as Natives or what our viable culture is all about”. His statement rings true when we look at all the games out there that make their characters “Indian” by simply handing them bows and arrows, slapping war paint on their faces, putting feathers in their hair, or giving them mysterious spiritual powers, in addition to other superficial qualities that distort the identities of contemporary Native Americans. If the naked woman of Custer’s Revenge is the sad extreme of these romanticized misconceptions, the warriors dancing around fires to bolster their powers in Age of Empires III: The Warchiefs is the typical.

 


Tala, as featured in Playboy’s ‘Videogames’ Hottest Chicks’ Issue.


One of the first encounters I had with “Indians” in video games as a child was granted by the Turok series. The first game, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, was released in 1997 and was one of the first blockbuster video games to feature a Native American as the central protagonist. The main character was a warrior named Tal’Set, who was charged with stopping the evil Campaigner from using a powerful, ancient weapon to control the universe. In the series mythology, every generation the title of “Turok” is passed down to the tribe’s eldest male, who must then guard the barrier between Earth and the Lost Land; a barrier that the Campaigner desperately desires to break. The Lost Land is a primitive other-world of sorts that is inhabited by dinosaurs and animals, entirely segregated from the struggles of modernizing humanity. It seems somewhat cliché that Native Americans would have this connection to another mystical, spiritual world, doesn’t it? The mysticism is bolstered in Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, which introduces an “Energy Totem” and magical talismans that grant special powers to the new Turok, Joshua Fireseed. Simply put, Turok embraces many of the stereotypes that have clung to popular media’s construction of a universal “Indian culture” for the past several hundred years. A mystical connection to the spiritual world, superhuman tracking and sneaking abilities, bows and arrows, tomahawks, feathers — the staples of “Indianhood” are in full bloom. The Turok series, while admirably colouring Native Americans as cool and powerful, reinforces stereotypes that depict their cultures as ancient and alien. The games never delve into the culture of the characters behind the bows and arrows, hunting, and the usual mill of superficial features. We perceive Tal’Set, Joshua, and the other Turoks as “Natives” based only on stereotypical characterizations that we have come to accept from literature, Hollywood, and the games industry.

 


Various Turok game covers. Check out those savage beasts and equally savage-looking hunters.


Although it was great to see Native American characters at the helm in a series of million-seller video games for the first time, Turok never gave its protagonists personalities that extended very far beyond the conventional, run-of-the mill stereotypes that have persisted for centuries. Recently, however, a game titled Prey was released that attempts to explore its Native American characters at a deeper level. Like Turok, Prey casts a Native American as the protagonist. However, Cherokee tribe member Tommy Tawodi is very different from Tal’Set and Joshua Fireseed. Unlike those characters, Tommy ditches decorative feathers and war paint, puts on a shirt, and dresses in contemporary fashion. Prey makes it clear that Tommy and the other Cherokee are characters of the modern world — not members of a romanticized culture of the past. Perhaps most importantly, they are specifically identified as Cherokee; not just as members of a one-size-fits-all “Indian” culture that doesn’t credit the differences between the many distinct tribes and ethnic groups present in North America. Tommy is interesting compared to most Native American characters depicted in popular entertainment in that he wants to break away from the traditions of the Cherokee, dislikes life on the reservation, and is spiteful of those around him who are caught up in cultural customs and humdrum. The game begins in a rundown bar on a reservation. As Tommy walks out of the bathroom and players see lines of gambling machines, one worries that the game will just be another jumble of stereotypes, but Tommy’s dialogue soon establishes the setting as something intended to raise questions about Native American identity. Tommy has a thought-provoking conversation with some people in the bar, and the next thing you know, he and the other Cherokee are abducted by aliens and brought to a mysterious ship.

 

Experience Prey’s story up to and including the abduction.


The plot sounds a bit ridiculous, but the atmosphere and storytelling are solid. As one might anticipate, Tommy’s “mystical Indian heritage” comes into play aboard the ship, as Tommy is able to use his previously unrealized spiritual powers to destroy foes with a magically enhanced bow and arrows, sense impending threats, see paths that others cannot, and so forth. These abilities reek of conventional “native mysticism”, but Tommy must ultimately accept the value of his people’s unique connection to their ancient beliefs and spirituality. Tommy’s spiritual abilities, while typical of the “mystical Indian” image, are integral to the innovative gameplay and not merely superficial inclusions, evading the trap of senseless stereotyping. The game’s story is closely tied to Tommy’s perception of himself as a Cherokee, ending with Tommy in a state of bliss about his Cherokee heritage. The personal journey during which Tommy gains confidence in his identity as a Cherokee is both unique and charming considering the typically flat portrayal of Native American characters in popular culture. Tommy’s voice actor, Michael Greyeyes, laments that Hollywood “typically relegates different indigenous cultures into either a single pan-Indian construct” (e.g. radical protester, anglicized casino businessmen) or “most commonly, as a historical figure — typically from a Plains culture”, and states that he was excited to voice Tommy because he breaks away from these stereotypes. Greyeyes excitement was well-founded, as Tommy is neither a typical Indian stock character nor an outdated “noble savage”. Prey takes a step away from typical Indian stereotypes by offering a complex character who is intriguing and dynamic. The game draws heavily on Cherokee myths and falls back on a few clichés, but ultimately offers a refreshing and positive Native American story for a mainstream audience. One can only hope that this trend will continue, and that Native American protagonists continue to break from traditional character roles and time-hardened stereotypes.

 


Tommy Tawodi: A new kind of Native American hero.


Based on your own experiences with supposed “Indian” culture in interactive entertainment, what do you think about the portrayal of Native Americans in video games? Are recent games, such as 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, making progress in depicting Native Americans that aren’t trapped by traditional character archetypes? Persistent stereotypes presented through film, literature, video games, and other media, can damage society’s understanding of visible ethnic groups, and there are numerous misconceptions about Native Americans upheld by the stereotypes in video games. Are we headed in the right direction?

25 thoughts on “Native Americans in Video Games: Racism, Stereotypes, & The Digitized Indian”

  1. Whoa…. this is a long article and its getting late… Looking forward to reading this tomorrow!

  2. For me this was a pretty good read and kept me rather engaged despite the length, which was actually needed and not filler. I can’t give much input on what already hasn’t been said as the amount of games I have played with Native American references is listed to what you have already said.

    That being said, I believe Banjo Kazooie’s Mumbo Jumbo is also one of my first experiences with Native Americans, though he is not one. The story leads to the player to believe he is heavily influenced by Native Americans as Mumbo Jumbo himself and his hut has the “trademark” feather atop the head. And along with his going to “shaman” school and the various magical spells he can perform, most notably shape shifting which is popular among Native American folktales.

    Just recently I was reading up on Mumbo Jumbo and found out he has his own theme song titled “Mumbo’s Raindance.” The name in itself brings forth, in my mind, Native Americans and the song brings in a variety of themes that are reminiscent of Native American songs. Such as the percussion in the background along with screaming remind me of Pow Wow music. Although the deep voice kind of throws it off since Pow Wow music I’ve heard is usually sung in falsetto. However, if I heard this as a kid I’m sure I wouldn’t have known those things and would have added the song to my childhood image of Native Americans.

    With that example, I do believe that the past has been plagued with various stereotypes which have all probably added to my current perspective on Native Americans as a whole. After reading the section on Prey I believe that the misconceptions seem to be moving on, slowly as I also read the game delves into his roots during the story.

  3. really interesting article… i hadn’t really thought about indians in games this way before. pretty sure the first time i saw one in a video game was nightwolf in MKIII. kinda weird how similar he looks to t.hawk now that you mention it.

    btw i remember awesome wolf animality?

  4. @jwu: That’s interesting, as in addition to being a shapeshifter, Mumbo Jumbo definitely exhibits some of the typical Native American stereotypes (feathers, shamanism, mystical powers, a relationship with nature that even allows him to make water breathable, etc). He and Humba Wumba, who I mentioned at the beginning of the article, also seem to be rivals. Perhaps they are from different tribes or something like that.

    @skorne: Yeah, I remember that animality lol. It’s interesting because the transformation-into-a-wolf ability is endlessly revisited in popular culture these days. Look no further than the Twilight series’ books/movies and all its copycats for evidence of that. Nightwolf himself embodies a whole lot of other Native American stereotypes, too. He’s an Apache “chosen warrior”, a shaman, and apparently summons some kind of spiritual energy to bolster his abilities. I remember he also travels into the spirit world at some point to become a stronger shaman. Pretty typical stuff for these types of characters it would seem…

  5. Excellent read, Charles. I’ve never thought deep into the subject at all, as my knowledge of the Native American culture is quite limited, possibly mostly gained from the stereotypes of films and cartoons (Looney Toons never grow tired of the scalpel joke).

    You’ve done an excellent job with giving me perspective of the whole matter, just like you did with your previous article about Samurais in Videogames. You should write more, man! I really didn’t know that there was this much controversy with GUN.

    In terms of videogames, my only somewhat positive and most notable experience with Native Americans is the Turok series. For once, they were portrayed as really cool characters. However, as you suggested, it seems that the stereotypical features are not far off. Another feature I’ve noticed that they like to stereotype is the Indian’s obsession over animals like Hawks and Bears. Need I mention T. Hawk and his moveset?

    I haven’t experienced Red Dead Redemption, but I have a feeling that it won’t drive away from inserting stereotypical features of Native Americans, considering how “stereotypical” the cowboys have been shown in my opinion. In other news though, should we overanalyze the inclusion of the Tomahawk as a thrown weapon in CoD: Black Ops?

  6. Now that I think about the evolution of Banjo Kazooie, I do vaguely remember Humba Wumba mentioning how her wardrobe must change with the times, like “the seasonal fur of the forest animals”, in B.K. Nuts & Bolts. Even that is calling in the stereotypes…

    Worse by far, however, would probably be Resident Evil 5. I’m aware that it wasn’t specifically Native Americans, but the Native stereotype still comes across heavily in the 5th or so mission, when you’re killing men dressed in grass skirts, throwing spears at you and wearing tribal war masks. The creators of it also made a point to push across the mysticism when you have to fight your way into an Aztec-ish temple.

    Thanks for the read, by the way. It was really interesting.

  7. @Ahmed: I’m glad that you enjoyed the article. T. Hawk is a really interesting example of our tendency to stereotype and generalize Indian peoples.

    Although he adopts the stereotypical traits of the imagined Native American, it’s actually a bit unclear if he’s Native American or Native Mexican (as his father’s heritage would suggest). His father, as I recall, is supposed to be Native Mexican. T. Hawk does not look like a Native Mexican person. But just look at his stage in the game. It features a culture of Natives very distinctive from Native Americans, in headdresses, dancing around in the background. Supposedly, this is T.Hawk’s home turf, and yet his clothing and characterization are completely different from the Native people depicted here.

    The Native Americans of the American plains and the Native Mexicans of old are two different cultures that lived in different areas, and yet Capcom took Native Americans and Native Mexicans, and pushed them together into one Pan-Indian grouping. Talk about a broad generalization, hey?

    Furthermore, they never really expand upon T. Hawk’s motivation for participating in the Street Fighter tournament beyond the same old story of retrieving the land stolen from his people. His character thus conforms to numerous cliche “Indian” qualities, and almost offensively generalizes two different Native cultures.

  8. This is a really good read! I think that you covered a lot of ground in the article and it made me wonder just what other instances there are of such character generalizations. I also like that you brought up Prey. That was one of the earliest games that I picked up for the Xbox 360 and I really enjoyed it for the gameplay concepts. I didn’t really think much of the character, because I don’t tend to focus too much on the characters in shooters. But I think he is a character that is very easy to like and reading the article gave me some new insight into it.

    Speaking of all the broad generalizations of cultures, I’m reminded how a lot of people (in the realm of video games, movies, etc) sort of blend together all East Asian cultures into one. It also reminds me of people particularly in the US nonchalantly confusing Korean, Japanese, and Chinese cultures, almost to the point of nausea.

    At any rate, I hope that in the future we’ll see more characters and games that honor and pay respect to these cultures and peoples rather than exploit them.

  9. The stereotypical ailments are worse than anyone can imagine. In truth, we look at each other and we see, not people, not even individuals, but as sex, and then race. This rather excellent article is pointing out our very own discriminations against both.

    Might I be of humble critique, however… you speak of “Native Americans” in your text, and yet frequently refer to them an “Indians”…

    The term “Indian” was used to describe them early on because of ignorant white people (and I’m not saying that all “whites” are ignorant) referring to them as “looking like ‘Indians,'” from India, where the term “Indian” would be correct. This increased, and increases ignorance more so. “Indian” later became racial slurs, such as “Injun,” and the like, which many people now days seem to find funny, however aware of whatever horrors the Holocaust has bestowed upon Jews, or slavery to African-Americans (then again, overlooking modern slavery such as child prostitution, of which, less money is spent then on drug-trafficking).

    There are only two correct terms when referring to them: by their tribe name, or simply as Native Americans.

    1. While Indian has a questionable history, there are plenty of native peoples – including myself- who have no problem using “American Indian” as well as Native American. Also, the term has nothing to do with appearance, but with the well-known fact that Columbus thought he’d found India when he arrived in the west. Thus, the term “Indian.” To note, some of us take equal offense at being called Native American (I don’t, per se), since there exist many names our tribes gave this continent before Europeans “discovered” it, one, interestingly enough, being Amekikia.

  10. Good read. I agree that maybe you should stick to Native American or First Nation, or Natives if you’re looking for something short, but I didn’t take too much offense.

  11. what a bunch of crybaby’s !!! its just a fucken game people. if there were never any indians in any video games i bet you would bitch about that too huh..?

    1. I’m in agreement with Stephane, Rob. The Author of this article, Charles, is simply analyzing how videogames portray Native Americans. Nothing more. Nothing less. I don’t get why you’re over-reacting and claiming that he’s complaining too much. Video Games are now viewed as a form of art and wide entertainment, just like movies. So if you’re the type to scoff it off as “just a fucking game”, then more to you.

  12. You know Rob all people are talking about in this article is their views on Native Americans in video games and their take on them, no one is crying or complaning.

    Regadless of that everyone has their own beliefs and deserves respect. We are not here to insult any members of this family we call ProjectCOE, we learn from each other.

    I really liked this read because when I play games I don’t always look at how characters are perceived but too some people it can offend them.

    I played GUN and really enjoyed the game but after reading the article it made me think back and I remembered you could even Scalp your kills which was more then just killing them. I probably wouldn’t of played the game less but I can see how a some of the dialogie or features in Gun would have raised some eyebrows.

      1. Really out of the whole article & comments you have nothing better to say. If you read properly I don’t mention that scalping shouldn’t be in it I just inform that the game had it & that other could have a different opinion about it.

  13. The first Native American I encountered in a game was Vulcan Raven in Metal Gear Solid, who is Athapaskan. There is some good in there; while he is an enemy, he’s portrayed (like the rest of the bosses in the game) as a worthy enemy of equal stature to the main character Solid Snake who helps him out after his defeat, rather than as a subhuman punchbag who exists only for the player’s gratification in murder, and there is a lot of surprisingly in-depth discussion of Athapaskan identity and anthropology both in the cutscene preceding his boss battle and in the optional dialogue with Snake’s support team. It’s stressed that Raven and Snake perhaps even share common ancestors, as Snake is half-Japanese, and so they can understand each other on a fraternal level. And there’s not a feather or buckskin in sight. He does have an animal name, but in the universe of the game soldiers are given animal codenames as standard – American/Japanese Solid Snake, Iraqi Sniper Wolf, Russian/American Revolver Ocelot, Russian Psycho Mantis etc., so it’s not used to reinforce his ethnicity. There’s also in-depth discussion of him being a star athlete at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, which I can’t decide whether it is stereotyping and segregation (he has his OWN Olympics! let’s have him do that!) or a genuine nod towards Athapaskan culture.

    On the other and more dominant hand, Raven is a huge shirtless tattooed shaman who uses spiritual powers to commune (on a very visceral level) with ravens and make himself immune to extreme cold. He has mysterious powers which he can manifest by making his tattoos influence Snake by paralysing him or even making his raven tattoo fly over and taste Snake’s blood. He speaks in aphorisms and dramatic statements to an extent unusual even by Metal Gear Solid standards and mentions he distrusts Snake because he comes from an ‘unnatural’ world (meaning Snake is a genetic experiment). During his death, he makes a prophesy about Snake, and then promises that his spirit will be watching him.

    On the third ‘wtf’ hand, he DOES actually watch Snake in the sequel, but instead of being in the form of a slightly racist bird ghost or whatever it’s in the form of little action figures of himself that giggle and shoot little white pellets when disturbed. I could say something about diminishing a character to a toy, but in my opinion it’s honestly far, far too weird to be racist.

  14. Great article. And especially the parts about Prey. Amazing game and a shining example of storytelling and character growth in a game. To bad Prey 2 ditches Tommy for some generic American Sky marshal turned Alien Bounty Hunter.

  15. I have a comment about Prey, and that is while Prey may attempt to tell a different story, it has a very sad conclusion in that Native American will always be Native American. While I haven’t played the game, Prey does reinforce the steretoypes and rather exemplifies to show how social structures built around ethnic identities are very hard to break.

    As for Mumbo Jumbo, it never occurred to me that he would be tied to Native Americans. I rather thought of him as related to African tribes because of his use of voodoo, which I think his name also indicates. I think this goes to show to some extent that the stereotype you are describing is not explicit to Native Americans unless you can clearly see they are meant to be Native Americans because of the game’s context, since basically all ethnic groups that are not related to Westerness or being classified as Western are romanticized as “noble savages”. I assume you have read Mary Douglas on that particular notion and how religion and religious practice play major roles in identifying “savages”?

    Further, and this is something I also wish to emphasize, and that is that cultural products in popular media are often results of already symptomatic problems rather than symptoms themselves. Take for example the whole “violent video games are immoral” argument, which draws upon the premise that young people cannot be violent if they do not play video games. The violence in video games will alone be enough to children’s impressionable minds. Yet, one ought to ask, where does the violence in video games come from? The answer to that seems to suggest that this kind of violence is already inherent within Western societies, or maybe even inherent to the human species as a whole.

    While social structures such as the one you are analyzing cannot be claimed to be inherent like violence (obviously, it is taught since Native Americans have not always been a part of Western culture), it points to a similar much larger social problem that I cannot offer a solution to. Point being, as long as it’s there, the stereotype will constantly be recreated in popular media. Just look like the Prince of Persia franchise for example. While not strictly related to Native Americans, you have the same stereotype about the noble savage represented (and yet it is also a very enjoyable franchise). Similarly, most city builder games draw upon the romanticization of the culture it tries to depict – regardless whether it is historically accurate or not.

    Even very recent games such as Anno 1404 have a horrible romanticized view of the Orient. I am currently just writing aimlessly so I’ll stop here. The topic is interesting and something that has interested ine for some time (not just Native Americans but romanticization of non-Westerners in general in popular media) and I think you touch upon something important. The only way to break a structure is through awareness of the structure and you painfully highlight it in a very positive way.

  16. To me it’s frustrating that once you find and go through (either by playing or reading up on extensively) it feels like Tommy Tawodi from Prey may be the only decent Native character without too much squick or heinousness in his characterization or the game. And this is out of scores of games out there that have Natives as playable, party or NPC characters. Yet at the same time the game still falls back on stereotypes.

    And just as frustrating is how the sequel does the typical thing of being about the umpteenth game of white boy as a main character. A part of me feels like they caved given that during the production of the first Prey, Tommy was still Native but instead was the generic, hulking, linebacker size, human wall, big gun toting protagonist still prevalent in many shooters but fans complained that they couldn’t relate to the character *rolls eyes*. Mildly similar, I’m also annoyed about the Assassins series too when it could of went the route of Muslim and/or Middle Eastern characters.

    I encourage you and anyone else to rummage around through Blue Corn comics site which has links and articles about Native American characters in video games as well as comic books, like in this one: http://www.bluecorncomics.com/navidgam.htm

    Sadly some of the linked pages are missing or moved but it can help springboard you into doing your own sleuthing about Natives in videogames nonetheless.

  17. Very good article, well written and very informative.

    Another example would be the RTS “No Man’s Land” where two of the six playable factions are indians – forest indians and plains indians. They still employ stereotypes but do so with all six factions.

  18. First off great article. Secondly Everyone stop saying Indian. an Indian is a person in India. We are not from there. we prefer Native american.Or at least my family line does.

    1. But isn’t there another name for Native Americans? Since America only exsists for a few hundred years and the people who live there had lived there for thousands of years already. The People who call themselves Native Americans, must have had another name for themselves. (Personally I don’t know why Native Americans are always so sensitive about being called Indians. I understand that the name originates from a Historic misunderstanding, but still I see no harm in it.)

      I, for exsample, am from the Netherlands but in the English language we are always adressed as Dutch. I have no idea why they even call us dutch and not Netherlandic -as dutch scollars want people to call us that today-, But I’m tottaly fine with it. However I’m not happy with all the proverbs about the dutch, such as “dutch gold” or when you split the bill is’t called “going dutch”. But every country has his own steriotypes and you can get all worked up about it, but that won’t make a difference. In my opinion the best you can do is tollrate it, or at least ignore it.

      You can go to great lengths to try and persuade others to revise there opinion, but that costs a lot of effort, or you could just let it go and hope that the other person will see the error of his ways eventially. And if he doesn’t, that means he wouldn’t have been worthy of your time and effort anyway.

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