Indigenous Futurisms in Games

Nov 11, 2018 | Talks & Articles

Written by Elizabeth LaPensée

Ninagamomin ji-nanaandawi’iwe (We Sing for Healing), Art by Elizabeth LaPensée, 2015

Definition of Indigenous Futurisms
The term “Indigenous Futurisms” relates perspective-altering insights from Indigenous ways of knowing. Coined by Anishinaabe scholar Grace L. Dillon in 2003 to articulate how Indigenous expression conveys Indigenous scientific teachings, Indigenous Futurisms refers to honoring the past and living fully in the present to enact futures for the next generations (2012). Importantly, the word usage in the term is based on Afrofuturism. While Indigenous Futurisms focuses on Indigenous perspectives of futurisms, this growing body of work uniquely recognizes diasporic communities as well as intersectionalities with those who have also experienced colonization. Thus, although not intended as a limitation but rather as an ideal, Indigenous Futurisms interweaves stories, science, intentions, and expressions for global wellbeing.

Although often mistaken as being limited to science fiction, Indigenous Futurisms can take many forms in areas of focus as well as types of expression. For Indigenous people who live in an urban place, Indigenous Futurisms can mean learning about that place as it was before colonization in order to restore plants, waters, and land in the present with hope for continuance in future generations (Bang et al. 2014). In regards to pressing issues such as climate change, it can refer to contextualizing the current state in relation to past, present, and future in order to generate solutions (Whyte 2017). For scientists, writers, and artists, it can be a space within which to express culturally rooted science ideas through, for example, comics (Roanhorse et al. 2017). In games, imaginings such as dystopias, utopias, spacetime travel, robots, and planetary interweavings are represented not only through aesthetics, but through design and mechanics as well (LaPensée 2018).

Regardless of what form Indigenous Futurisms takes, works truest to Indigenous ways of knowing reflect spacetime as simultaneously past, present, and future (Little Bear 2000) with the understanding that we are already living in the post-apocalypse. So what now?


Bang, M., L. Curley, A. Kessel, A. Marin, E. S. Suzukovich III & G. Strack. (2014). Muskrat Theories, Tobacco in the Streets, and Living Chicago as Indigenous Land. Environmental Education Research. DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2013.865113.

Bear, L. L. (2000). Jagged Worldviews Colliding. In M. Battiste (Ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision (pp. 77-85). Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.

Dillon, G. L. (2012). Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

LaPensée, E. (2014) Indigenously-Determined Games of the Future. kimiwan zine, Issue 8: Indigenous Futurisms.

LaPensée, E. (2017). Transformations and Remembrances in the Digital Game We Sing for Healing. Transmotion, 3(1): 89-108.

LaPensée, E. (2018). Indigenous Futurisms as Game Design. Workshop on Integrated Design in Games, Beacom Institute of Technology, Dakota State University, Madison, South Dakota, United States. November 8, 2018.

LaPensée, E. (2018). Thunderbird Strike: Survivance in/of an Indigenous Video Game. Video Game Art Reader, 2(1): 28-37.

Roanhorse, R., E. LaPensée J. Jae, & D. Little Badger. Decolonizing Science Fiction and Imagining Futures: An Indigenous Futurisms Roundtable. Strange Horizons (Jan. 2017).

Todd, L. (1996). Aboriginal Narratives in Cyberspace. In M. A. Moser, D. MacLeod, Banff Centre for the Arts (Eds.), Immersed in technology : Art and virtual environments (pp. 179-194). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Whyte, K. (2017). Indigenous Climate Change Studies: Indigenizing Futures, Decolonizing the Anthropocene. English Language Notes, 55(1-2): 153-162.