Indigenous refers to original peoples and their nations and communities across the world. As Linda Tuhiwai Te Rina Smith points out in Decolonizing Methodologies (1999), “‘Indigenous peoples’ is a relatively recent term which emerged in the 1970s out of the struggles primarily of the American Indian Movement (AIM), and the Canadian Indian Brotherhood. It is a term that internationalizes the experiences, the issues and the struggles of some of the world’s colonized peoples.”
Games, being complex systems that can include code, design, art, and sound, offer dynamic spaces for self-expression by Indigenous game developers. They can include card games, board games, tabletop role-playing games, live action role-playing, augmented reality, video games, mobile games, virtual reality, and more. Overall, games are dynamic systems of interaction with different affordances according to design decisions and the process of how they are designed.
Sovereignty, as described by Anishinaabe scholar and writer Carol Nadjiwon who developed wellness curriculum at Batchewana First Nation, means sustaining the right to self-determine governance and expression. This can be exemplified in the efforts of Indigenous people to regain sovereignty after years of colonization. When designing games, sovereignty refers to a community or person exercising free will in their self-expression without interference. Exercising sovereignty in terms of game development can relate to economic control and intellectual property rights.
Indigenous Futurisms is a movement consisting of art, literature, comics, games, and other forms of media which express Indigenous perspectives of the future, past, and present in the context of science fiction and related sub-genres. Anishinaabe scholar Grace Dillon coined the term, paying homage to Afrofuturism, which weaves in traditional knowledge and culture with futuristic ideas and settings.
Coined by the Anishinaabe cultural theorist Gerald Vizenor in his book Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance (1999), Survivance is defined as “an active sense of presence, the continuance of native stories, not a mere reaction, or a survivable name.” He continues: “Native survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, tragedy and victimry.” Survivance recognizes that Indigenous people never lost and frames ongoing work as continuance rather than revitalization.
Positionality is the positioning of one’s self and work, whether motivated by an ethical responsibility or to situate and expand understanding of a game. For Indigenous game developers, positionality is an act of continuance and recognition of where they and their work are coming from. Games themselves should be positioned in order to articulate what worldview(s) they portray and recognize where design influences originate. Such positionality honors ancestors whose work came before and whose efforts made games in the present and continue to make games in the future possible.
Mechanics, being the actions and behaviors that can happen through gameplay, can be seen as more than coded functions within boundaries. Core mechanics are the primary mechanics that a game relies on, while secondary mechanics are those that occur less frequently, are phased in at later points in a game, or have special conditions to function. As game designer Brenda Romero maintains: “The mechanic is the message.”
As opposed to starting a game by gathering information about cultures by external means, Indigenous games accept the the responsibility to connect with, or, in the case of Indigenous developers, maintain connections with Indigenous people and communities. This can involve visiting land as well as making offerings to and paying Indigenous elders, fluent language speakers, storytellers, and knowledge carriers to engage in designing self-determined Indigenous games.