'Indigenous cybernoir': Video game designers crafting futuristic detective story

A group of Indigenous female developers in Hamilton, Ont., are putting their own cultural spin on the usually male-dominated video game industry.

Set in 2262, Purity & Decay looks into the future with a story rife with Indigenous cultural references

Meagan Byrne and Tara Miller are two of the Indigenous women behind Purity & Decay, a cybernoir video game. (Meagan Byrne/Tara Miller/Contributed)

A group of Indigenous female developers in Hamilton, Ont., are putting their own cultural spin on the usually male-dominated video game industry.

Purity & Decay is a futuristic detective video game being developed by Achimostawinan Games, a company of five people — four of whom are Indigenous.

The game's prototype was created over just two days in February of this year at an event held by the Toronto organization Dames Making Games by two Indigenous women, Meagan Byrne and Tara Miller.

"I remember talking about how interesting it would be to take that kind of thing and present it in an Indigenous way," said Miller.

The game is set in North America of 2262, where a class system divides people both metaphorically and physically and the ruling class lives in floating cities. The protagonist, private eye Myeengun Hill, is sought out by a woman to help find answers about her sister's murder.

Byrne describes the game as being "like Blade Runner, kind of playing up on that black-and-white-movie aesthetic."

The designers call their game's style "Indigenous cybernoir" — a reference to the noir genre, characterized by grittiness, cynical characters and, typically, a disturbing mystery. 

Purity & Decay, an Indigenous cybernoir, is a futuristic adventure detective game being developed by a predominantly Indigenous team based out of Hamilton. (Submitted by Meagan Byrne )

Byrne, who studied film, said the duo began with the idea of a romance-style game with a detective element, set in the future of a world that hadn't quite gotten over colonial subjugation.

"I think what we wrote is that it's right on the cusp of colonial violence finally ending," said Byrne.

"We thought, well, if this is a world where things are progressing so much — but obviously there are still things that are stepping back — what would change and what would be different with a bisexual female protagonist? And being able to see that as a possibility is one of the messages we wanted to include in the story," said Miller.

Miller, who grew up watching noir films as a child, used those films to influence the game's style and storyline. Detectives in noir films are usually older, brooding males, said Miller, so she was glad to have the opportunity to take the style and add futuristic sci-fi elements with an Indigenous influence.

Byrne is the main writer and game designer. She recently graduated from Sheridan College's game design program and is currently working at TVOKids, developing educational games.

As a Métis woman, Byrne said learning Cree has always been important to her and that's something she's incorporating into the game.

"Basically all of the names of things are going to be in Cree — a lot of the character names, places and businesses are in Cree," said Byrne. Their company, Achimostawinan, means "tell us a story" in Cree.

"People are going to be casually using Cree and Michif and French because that is the sort of mesh of languages we have going on here," she added.

Miller, 20, is in her third year of the Sheridan College animation program and is part of the Tobique First Nation, which is one of six Maliseet Nations in New Brunswick. Miller has just recently visited her community for the first time and hopes that by working in partnership with Byrne, she will be able to learn more about her culture.

"I'm hoping I do my own traditional learning as we make the game. I'd really love to be able to put more elements of my own tribe into the game as we go," said Miller.

The game is current available as a single-chapter prototype that introduces the player to the character and what they will be doing throughout the game.

Achimostawinan Games hopes to have a full version of the game available in 2019.


Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with CBC since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences.