Unreserved

Telling the story of first contact ... with a futuristic video game

The first time Maize Longboat saw a video game character that was Indigenous-inspired, it was the Tauren character in World of Warcraft — which was loosely based on Native American culture.
A screengrab of what Terra Nova, a game about first contact created by an Indigenous-led team based in Montreal. (Submitted by Maize Longboat)
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Originally published on March 10, 2019.

The first time Maize Longboat saw a video game character that was Indigenous-inspired, it was the Tauren character in World of Warcraft — which was loosely based on Native American culture.

Since then, Longboat, who is Mohawk and French-Canadian, had been fascinated with how Indigenous culture and video games intersect.

As part of his thesis work in media studies at Concordia University, Longboat wanted to create his own video game, exploring some of the nuances he found.

One problem: he had never made a game before.

Through supports from Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC), the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF), the Hexagram Network and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Longboat was able to hire a team.

With the help of developer Mehrdad Dehdashti, Mi'kmaw artist Ray Caplin and sound designer Beatrix Moersch, Longboat is making a game that's Indigenous-led with subtleties woven throughout the story.

The game is called Terra Nova, and features a futuristic storyline that plays off an idea Longboat found to be a common theme in Indigenous history: first contact with settlers.

Maize Longboat (left) created the concept for "Terra Nova." Ray Caplin (right) is in charge of all the visuals. (Kamakanioka'āina Paikai/Supplied)

"I wanted to tell a story of first contact, but I didn't really want to do it in a historically framed kind of manner," Longboat said. "I wanted to create something new and something that had the possibility for many different outcomes of that contact."

It follows two characters simultaneously — Terra and Nova — after a starship crash lands on what is now Earth.

Thousands of years prior, humans left Earth after climate disasters displaced them. They left and didn't return. But some remained: Terra is a descendant of those who stayed, and Nova a descendant of those who left.

The game explores the idea of first contact, but many years into the future.

"[We see] the hope of what the coming together of two cultures — Indigenous and settler — could mean in the future," Longboat said.

Caplin, who has done all the artwork for the game, said Terra doesn't wear anything that resembles what we know as traditional Indigenous clothing. The creators strayed from tapping into stereotypes.

"It's been a lot of misrepresentation and so it's us trying to contribute to reclaiming it," Caplin said, adding that instead, there are subtle nods to Indigenous practices and culture throughout the game.

Because the team is creating its interpretation of what the future might look like, they have free rein on how and where the Indigenous symbolism lies.

Ray Caplin (left) and Maize Longboat testing out Terra Nova. (Dion Smith-Dokkie/Supplied)

Longboat said it's important to show a future where Indigenous people had survived and thrived, even though the world had changed so drastically.

"Oftentimes, Indigenous folks aren't told that they have a future," Longboat said. "It's projects like the one Ray and I are working on [that] are important for showing not only Indigenous youth but our communities what is possible and what we're all striving for."

The game is set to be released in 2019.

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