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The Top 7… Native American stereotypes

Brave - Brave: The Search for Spirit Dancer

As Native Americans in games go, Brave isn’t half bad. There’s no scalping or ethnic cleansing or rape. It’s a cartoony, kid-friendly platformer in which the titular Brave learns “native skills” like tracking and imitating animal noises to solve puzzles and progress through levels.

While Brave does lean heavily on pan-Indian stereotypes relating to “connection to nature” and “shamanic powers,” it lacks the cruelty or indifference of some of the other entries on this list. It’s not going to win any awards for historical accuracy, but is definitely a step in the right direction.

Tommy - Prey

Prey deserves credit for presenting a Native American character who feels like a real person, whose heritage is explored as an integral part of character and backstory rather than a lame-assed excuse for why he has powers. The opening cutscene does a fantastic job of introducing Tommy and acknowledging the plight of current-day Native Americans torn between tradition and the modern world.

Above: The intro to Prey

Granted, the subsequent alien shoot-em-up is filled with sci-fi weapons and settings, but the relationship between Tommy, his girlfriend and his grandfather are well-developed throughout. As Tommy builds an understanding and acceptance of his heritage through communication with his grandfather’s spirit, his shamanic powers increase and he’s better able to fight the marauding aliens. Sure, there’s the token Spirit Hawk and Spirit Bow and shamanic mumbo jumbo, but few games have made the attempt to reconcile the iconography and spirituality of Native American culture with a coherent, realistic character. This is a perfect example of how to treat a sensitive subject with maturity and empathy, something that happens too infrequently in games.

Nov 24, 2008

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