Rather than trying to crank out one in a crowd of great posts for this week's theme about actually being thankful for something, I thought I'd play with some of the imagery at the core of the holiday. I had this fantastic idea to discuss video gaming's legacy in regards to America's favorite yearly dinner bird; so fantastic, in fact, that Chad Concelmo read my mind across time and space and stole it two years ago
With that key item down (though he neglected to mention the value of turkeys as scouts on New World maps in Age Of Empires II - HA!), there wasn't much left to work with. The closest games have come to involving pilgrims, to my knowledge, are Scott Pilgrim: The Game on XBLA and PSN, and at a stretch, Settlers Of Catan (since the pilgrims settled and yeah, I'm totally pushing it). Given that Ocean Spray has yet to release a third-person bog-harvesting bonanza, all that remains are Native Americans, Which are the main reason the pilgrims had to be thankful in the first place. If native tribes hadn't bailed those pasty Britons out, the white man would've had to rely mostly on other bits of Europe to wipe out this continent's original inhabitants.
Yep, Native Americans have pretty much gotten every last bit of the shaft over the centuries, but the world of video games has at least tried to make some reparations. Granted, those reparations tend to be saturated with sterotypes and misrepresentations, what with all the hair-feathers, moccasins, and tomahawks you could ask for, but there's a general trend amongst Native Americans in video games in that they all tend to kick a lot of ass.
Fighting games are likely the first arena that comes to mind in this respect. Fighting franchises from Asia, America, and Europe all feature some pretty badass Amerindians. Killer Instinct
's Chief Thunder tears it up with twin tomahawks and a fabulous, feather-esque mohawk. From Mortal Kombat 3
comes the Apache shaman Nightwolf, who proves himself more than capable of dealing with Outworld oppression, nevermind the white man. And it'd be ridiculous to neglect Thunder Hawk, the mountain of a man who originally appeared in Super Street Fighter II Turbo
to reclaim his Thunderfoot tribe's lands from Shadaloo. Two of these three characters have managed to maintain a presence up through the most recent installments in their franchises, and if the hopes/rumors that repeatedly pop up regarding a new Killer Instinct
game ever bear fruit, I expect we'll be seeing Thunder again as well.
Attempts to allow players to rip it up as a Native American are hardly that new, however. As far back as the NES, Jaleco gave it the old college try by reskinning a Japanese platformer and releasing it as Whomp 'Em
in the US. Terribly punny title and even more terrible box art aside, the game itself was a reasonably playable adventure, with a themed stage and weapon acquisition system not unlike the first Mega Man
Similarly hideous, more recent efforts to "glorify" a Native American protagonist fell fairly flat, in the form of Brave: A Warrior's Tale
or The Search For Spirit Dancer
, depending upon whether you stumble upon its weak, 360 and Wii port form, or originally awful PS2 version. Thankfully, the game was panned and generally unnoticed, leaving plenty room for the first truly respectable Native American game protagonist, Prey
's Tommy Tawodi.
Tommy's one of few, if not the only, Amerindian game characters to not be sporting a headdress, coup stick, or any of the other stereotypical trappings typically assigned to Native American depictions. He's just a mechanic and everyday joe who happens to be a tribesman and live on a reservation, and even has clear reservations about that state of affairs. The spiritual powers bestowed on him once he's set loose in the Sphere that abducts him and his people at the beginning of the game expound upon his racial identity, but without being a caricature or offensive. And, not unlike his more cartoony, fighter-inhabiting brethren, Tommy kicks a lot
of ass. Combatting one's way through an entire super-ship that's hell-bent on wiping out your planet takes quite a bit of cajones, and in the end, Mr. Tawodi definitely proves he has them. Even with a sequel on the horizon that's set to feature a completely new, unrelated main character, Tommy's secured himself an integral role in Prey 2
's plot, because he's just that awesome.
So I guess, in the end, I am kind of thankful, in that I appreciate this land's original populace is at least starting to get some respect in a medium I appreciate. Despite the fact that Native America, on the whole, has been obscenely hosed (and probably by some of my own ancestors, at that), a few more Tommy Towadis, and even some refinement of and representation by the Nightwolves and T. Hawks out there, might go at least a little ways toward an apology for all the smallpox.
One day, we might even make up for that whole Custer's Revenge
thing. I mean, seriously, who greenlit that?
LOOK WHO CAME: