Renowned Cherokee scholar and author Daniel Heath Justice has made “Imagine Otherwise” his personal motto. On his website, he writes,
“what would fantasy fiction look like with women, Indigenous people, queer folks, and other stereotyped or marginalized communities at the centre rather than the margins?”
Justice’s call “to expand the possibilities of wonder and imagination” is the original inspiration for my senior thesis, which explores indigenous video games in the context of indigenous literary and intellectual traditions.
In November, with the help of a 5collDH microgrant, I flew to Albuquerque to attend the first annual Indigenous Comic Con, hoping to meet, talk to, and generally just nerd out with several of the game designers and authors whose work I have been following. The panels, stories, and conversations that I was lucky enough to attend at once affirmed many of my working ideas and brought to light new ones, pushing my understanding into new and important territory. A definite highlight was the “Back to the (Indigenous) Future(isms)!” panel with game designer Elizabeth LaPensée and author Stephen Graham Jones.
Jones and LaPensée spoke on the difficulty of working as native creators in fields that are associated with modernity and technologies. Colonial-centered histories have generated a false and troubling notion that indigenous people cannot be modern, and cannot be technological. This mythos dates back to the arrival of print technology in America, and it persists in print and digital technologies to this day, as Jones’ and LaPensée’s comments attest. Jones discussed his experience with writing in a genre whose creators and readers had difficulty conceiving of indigenous-ness and science fiction in the same breath. He noted that it can feel like checking off boxes to satisfy the genre audience, and then using the space in between the tropes to explore and do his own storytelling. LaPensée added that “you walk into the science fiction world and the perception is that Native people don’t have science.”
The deep irony is that Jones and LaPensée defy this false framework by engaging with technologies in the media that they choose to work with, and by evoking themes related to science, technology, and futurisms in their work. For my part, I found hearing an indigenous author and game designer speak together on technology, science, and modernity to be a powerful experience. Their conversation confirms a continuity across technologies and genres, suggesting that indigenous literatures and games are linked – parts of a whole, rather than rigidly divided categories. They share a relationship as distinct but connected ways of storytelling.