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The Portrait of the Native America

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I would like to bring to the attention of the developers an interesting incident that has recently occurred in the video game world and which is pertinent to the subject matter of This land is my land.

Recently, Civilization  VI announced that the Cree Nation would be introduced in its upcoming expansion Rise and Fall and led by Pîhtokahanapiwiyin, more commonly known as Chief Poundmaker. Personally, I was excited to see the first Native American leader and civilization coming to the most recent Civ iteration, and to join the likes of other Native American tribes that have been a part of the series, such as Hiawatha of the Iroquois, Pocatello of the Shoshone, and Sitting Bull of the Lakota. But then I came across this article:

Cree Nation Leader unhappy with Civilization 6 portrayal

It was an interesting turn of events, and it will continue to be so as the situation evolves, i.e. if Firaxis releases an official response. Now taking the statement into account, as someone who plays Civ VI avidly and having seen the release video for the Cree, I would argue that the civilization is heavily geared to a more peaceful role around things like trade and culture. However the Cree representative may be commenting more on the grand aspect of the game, in which the Cree would be competing with other world powers for territory and general dominance.

More to the point,  I believe this should be something that the developers of This land is my land for a number of reasons:

1. It shows that you need to be aware of the peoples, cultures, and views you are representing in your game.

It is essential to be aware that you are designing a game in which the characters represent a real population. Not only that, but it represents a peoples and time period that was tumultuous for them and for which many are still living with an in the bounds of the consequences of that time period. While this may be chalked up to mere "history" elsewhere, the peoples who are being represented may feel differently,

I was lucky enough two years ago that, while attending the National Council For the Social Studies Conference, I was able to sit in on a general meeting of Native American teachers and educators. One of the biggest topics was how Native American history was being taught, as well as how it represented Native Americans, not only in a historical sense, but also in a contemporary one. One of the teachers commented that "The biggest challenge facing us is that many of these kids think that [Native Americans] are just a part of history and that we're gone to history and that we're just another chapter in the textbook. We're not. They need to know that [Native Americans] are still here and they could be anyone; they could be your neighbor, your lawyer, your teacher (room laughs) or whatever. We're not always wearing moccasins, we wear suits and shirts just like them."

The key is keeping in mind that while the game may take place in a historical setting, it will be representing peoples that still very much identify separately from the general populace (in many cases technically being separate nations, but that gets into the confusing legal background concerning the Native American tribes and the U.S. Government)

2. It shows that design decisions have repercussions.

This means that the way a character is created, written, designed, etc are all incredibly important beyond the aspect of the parameters of the game. Especially for a game that is interested as being historically authentic and accurate, proper representation will be of paramount importance for both the authenticity and how it resonates with the peoples it represents.

3. It shows that anyone can be criticized or called out for misrepresentation, intentional or not.

Lastly, and arguably most importantly for the This land is my land team and Game-Labs as a whole, this incident shows that anyone, including game companies can, have, and will be called out for various misrepresentation. Remember, this isn't some indie developer that the Cree Nation is calling at fault, its Firaxis and 2K, heavy-hitting, big-time developers, and on top of that it's the Civilization Franchise, one of the most successful PC Franchises of all time.

At the end of the day, the biggest concern regarding the Cree Nation-Civilization VI story is that Firaxis failed to meet with Cree leaders and elders when considering the prior to developing the in-game counterpart, something that could have easily been done, far easier than say meeting with top Russian or Chinese representatives (though who knows), especially considering the rather unique nature of the First Nations Tribes of the Americas. Considering the more specific topic of This land is my land, I would argue that this is an aspect that the developers could and should keep in serious consideration. Not only would working closely with the real-life counterparts of the planned in-game tribes be beneficial to avoiding similar incidents as the above, but would also be incredibly beneficial to lending to the authenticity and accuracy of the game (if it has not yet been considered of course).

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