The Top 7… Native American stereotypes

We look at digital depictions of North America's First Peoples

Tala - Darkwatch

Nothing captures the American imagination quite like the mythology surrounding the Wild West. Darkwatch took it one step further and added a bevy of gothic supernatural weirdness, including the luscious Tala (who was voiced by Rose McGowan.) Tala is a Native American Darkwatch agent tasked with hunting down head vampire Lazarus Malkoth. After a sexy romp with protagonist Jericho Cross, she too becomes a vampire and abandons all clothing for a life of blood suckery.

While it could be argued that the only thing stronger than the white man’s lust for land is his lust for women, I’d argue that Tala is a vast improvement over the appalling depiction of Indian women in Custer’s Revenge. Tala’s an empowered female who’s not afraid to be sexy and go after what she wants. But is it insulting to Native Americans to make one of them the object of goth lust? A quick peek at the Suicide Girls makes us think that goth lust is A-OK, regardless of ethnic origin. Tala created such a stir that she was featured in Playboy’s hot videogame chicks spread with luminaries Lara Croft and BloodRayne, quite an honor for a relative newcomer.



Nightwolf - Mortal Kombat 3

What better place to explore the notion of the Native American warrior than in a fighting game. One of the divisive new characters introduced in Mortal Kombat 3, Nightwolf is an ass-kicking native who becomes a “sin-eater” to protect his tribe. By absorbing the tribe’s sins, he can use their evil power to bind the Dragon King to the Netherealm. Mortal Kombat’s plot was always a bit off-center, but with 3 any semblance of coherence went off the cliff like so many panicking buffalo.


Above: Nightwolf playthrough in MK3

Best of all, when you beat MK3, “Nightwolf peacefully regains the lands his Native-American people lost over many years. They establish their own proud nation and soon become the great leaders of the world.” Wait, they what? Obama vs Nightwolf: FIGHT!


Above: This has exactly nothing to do with Mortal Kombat

While this pro-Indian sentiment is certainly heartwarming, much of Nightwolf’s character is wide of the mark. Sin-eating is usually tied to European religious practice (the only indigenous example we could find is the Aztec goddessTlazolteotl), and the very concept of Sin itself is Christian. In the more practical realm, Nightwolf’s “Rhino Charge” move makes no sense at all, as rhinos haven’t lived in North America since the Pliocene epoch. Nightwolf’s “Animality,” in which he turns into a wolf and chews his opponent to death is a reference to Native American shaman’s practice of shape-shifting into a spirit animal. Shape shifting is used to honor the sacred, primal relationship between the shaman and the animal spirit, celebrating the strength and sustenance they provide each other. The bastardized MK version is more for gratuitous shock value.


Above: Nightwolf’s “Animality”


Above: Nightwolf in the film Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, as portrayed byLitefoot

Arguably, fighting games are about fighting, not plot. Every character has a nonsensical tacked-on backstory and is defined mainly through attire, weaponry and special attacks. For more examples of Native American “warriors,” see Chief Thunder in Killer Instinct, and T-Hawk in Super Street Fighter II.


Above: Chief Thunder’s ultimate combo in Killer Instinct

Colton White - GUN

GUN invited players to “Experience the Brutality, Greed, and Lust that was the West.” While many were keen to try out this “GTA in the Old West,” the Association for American Indian Development demanded Activision recall GUN for its “harmful and inaccurate depictions of American Indians.” Aside from the wanton slaughter of Apaches as a mission objective, the AAID also objected to the game’s erroneous depiction of Indian scalping practices and misinformation about the slaughter of sacred white animals. Activision countered with a typical “we didn’t mean to offend anyone, it’s nothing you haven’t already seen in movies, etc. etc.” Sadly, the URL the AAID used in its boycott campaign is now inhabited by ads for rape porn.


Above: A scene from GUN’s infamous Apache-slaughtering mission

For more examples of ultraviolent Old West games with rootin’ tootin’ Injun stereotypes, seeRed Dead RevolverandCall of Juarez.

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