Mar 12, 2015 - Cultural and Intellectual Property: It’s Not a Game, By Danielle Miller
Yet another game company is profiting off uninformed depictions of Indigenous peoples rooted in ignorance and romanticism.
Most recent offense by Monte Cook most notable for Dungeons and Dragons released a RPG called “The Strange” (way to dehumanize and otherize Indigenous Peoples with the title in itself). The game also included many culture inaccuracies that mold plains Natives with Pacific Northwest Tribes into one false culture. The game plays into various stereotypes, Natives dancing around a fire, medicine men and every other stereotype of noble savage projections one can think of. The company even went as far to use a mistranslation of the Lakota word “Wakiyan” to their version: “Waki’ya” for their “thunderbird” character wearing an oversized headdress and leather chaps. They did their research enough to know of sacred elements of Traditional culture and still chose to inaccurately represent for their own motives.
When Natives reached out to Monte Cook for dialogue on the issue, they have responded by blocking anyone who questions their RPG. That response is more intentional erasure of Indigenous peoples and a complete disregard for accountability. The irony of it all is the fact that they want to incorporate Native culture into their game but not have any interaction or input with actual Indigenous Peoples. Regardless of whether intentional, certain symbols of traditional culture are sacred and not even capitalized on by Tribes; It’s definitely unacceptable to see game companies appropriate sacred symbols and exploit them, just adding on the historical and ongoing injustice of cultural genocide. Besides the lack of moral compass this isn’t just a cultural issue but a legal one involving the exploitation of intellectual and cultural capital.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Indigenous Peoples have been exploited for video games. Last year a Deadskins game was called out for their offensive imagery and the way they capitalized on that exploitation with a KickStarter page where they raised $6,032 in donations. Custer’s Revenge, has been made available to play online which promotes violence and rape of Indigenous women.
In the documentary New Zealand, Up For Grabs there were examples of game companies exploiting Maori culture. For example in “Mark of Kri” where they “put a contemporary twist” on the traditional chin tattoo traditionally put on women and put it on their male character. The documentary did speak on companies having consultation with Maori, however there were instances where companies would turn around and misappropriate objects anyways. Overall the documentary expanded upon the need for protections for Indigenous Traditions all over that expand beyond even the fashion and gaming Industry. Other incidents involved matters which involved degrading of cultural songs, names. Native Americans can sympathize with the frequent exploitation of Traditional ceremonies by outsiders.
While the need to protect intellectual property of the Indigenous, Lego Company was even sued by the Maori and the Maori won. So the desire for intellectual property for Indigenous peoples is not completely farfetched or unattainable.
There is always opportunity to actually incorporate Indigenous people’s within the process to avoid conflict in the first place. Assassin’s Creed was successful with this and is upheld as an example of positive representation. Have integrity, if you are fascinated enough with Indigenous that you would like to incorporate their culture then have the respect to research representations, look into past conflicts what resolves were made or what can be learned from that rather than repeating the same mistakes. Not only will this ensure good business for your company but ultimately respect for Indigenous people’s which is the common interest claimed here, you cannot lose out by working with other cultures to integrate ideologies and symbols with accuracy and respect.
Even if there is the intention to create some faux Tribe where you infuse multiple Tribal elements that is still perpetuating misinformed fantasies of Pan Indianism. Ultimately Indigenous people suffer because these fictional perceptions pass off the idea that Native culture is monolithic, static and frozen in time therefore Non Natives assume we’re all extinct. This has very real repercussions when it comes to social justice and legislation and has psychological effects on our identities. These stereotypes are invasive and extend beyond the classification of micro aggressions when they literally dehumanize and exploit Indigenous peoples while erasing their existence.
Going back to the good intention argument, this is a situation that could have been resolved.
With all of that said we will not ease off Monte Cook (or any other game company who exploits and misrepresents Indigenous peoples). Especially when Natives have TRIED to reach out respectfully and this company decided to dodge accountability by being unresponsive and blocking any user who challenged their culturally offensive games. We have to send the message that this erasure of Indigenous people is unacceptable. There is no using the image of a culture without involving that culture and actually representing it in a respectful way. There has already been enough genocide and this constant erasure only contributes to further colonization.
Furthermore, Indigenous Peoples are getting sick and tired of seeing culture’s exploited with no resolutions or reparations. When there is any attempt to acknowledge the injustice, it’s usually just the same emotionless non apologies that act as a source of damage control rather than a genuine effort for change. With every instance of conquest encroaching upon cultural and intellectual capital of the Indigenous is a desire to establish protections equal to Trademark protection and other legal statutes which protect corporate monetary interest. Cultural capital is just as valuable and there is no reason it should be up for grabs. A process is beginning to unfold in which Indigenous are seeing the potential of reclaiming economic destiny in relation to our cultural self-interest. No more tolerating reckless acts of conquest, Indigenous will continue to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
This constant assault on cultural capital and intellectual property is not only an issue that is isolated to Indigenous Peoples. Cultural appropriation is a problem which all POC are impacted by and frankly it’s a gimmick that we are all very tired of. POC will continue to pull together to stand up for each other when we see our culture’s being disrespected and exploited and continue working towards solutions and mechanisms for cultural preservation and justice.
How Can you help? Morning Star Angeline has put together a petition in response to Monte Cook Games, please sign and share the petition. https://www.change.org/p/monte-cool-games-we-the-undersigned-demand-immediate-removal-of-thunder-plains-and-all-related-content-from-all-monte-cook-games-publications-current-and-future-and-request-an-immediate-public-apology-for-harm-done-regardless-of-supposed-intent-fro
Contact @MonteCookGames and let them know their cultural appropriation and the way they have treated concerned Native Americans is unacceptable.
Continue to inform others about the harm, implications and potential consequences of cultural appropriation and cultural imperialism.