I am a proud Wiradjuri woman.
Storytelling as a connection to culture is vital in maintaining the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. It’s how we share our culture, it’s how we share our connection to the land, and it’s how we maintain our traditions and customs. Where I am from, we have a distinct connection to the trees. They hold the stories of those we have lost, carved motifs of those who are buried near them. Since the colonisation of Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have experienced a traumatic disconnection between life, culture, and country. Through storytelling, we have been able to share distinct special moments, experiences, and advice that colonisation had almost succeeded in destroying.
Since my early childhood, I have been a gamer. I would consider myself a ‘casual’. I always reach for a game that will provide a deep connection to the characters and the world through narrative development. Hand me a game without that depth, and I am more likely to abandon it due to the proliferation of action or violence (whatever floats your boat, to be honest). One element of gaming that I have always appreciated is the ongoing sharing of culture and beliefs through a system of community. Whether it’s diving into my much-loved queer games or learning more about history through real-time strategy games, it’s an ever-changing experience that broadens my horizons. It is also one thing that I have discovered and cherish about my Indigenous brothers and sisters; they are always sharing culture, willing to have a yarn, and always wanting to love those around them in their community.
DragonBear Studios is a Melbourne-based indie game development studio that endeavours to tell unique stories while including Indigenous artists, writers, and makers in the development of their games. Proud Aboriginal Gamilaraay man, and writer of the game Innchanted, Dane Simpson, shares his perspective on sharing history and its importance.
“We have been here forever,” he tells me, “and we have been through a lot, so sharing stories of our culture is a great way to bridge the gap and normalise a positive understanding of Indigenous culture.”
Through storytelling mechanisms such as video games, Indigenous and non-Indigenous gamers alike will be able to connect on a history we are still working towards uncovering and understanding. Simpson expresses hope for the future of video games in Australia.
“I hope that including Indigenous flavour and representation in games will hopefully one day go on to become the norm in Australian games and create great opportunities for collaboration and creativity between both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people.”
Changing The Landscape
Years ago, I was new in my journey of carving out my cultural and historical connections. My family had heritage so ingrained in this landscape that I had no idea how significant it was to my own journey of discovery. I would consider myself a green thumb to my culture and heritage and have been struggling to find defining moments that help me to understand where I am in this world.
I found this to be true when I ventured to PAX years ago and saw that DragonBear Studios were bringing Indigenous culture, art, and music to gaming through their release Innchanted, a charming game that brings together culture and gaming in a perfect harmonious couch co-op. The deep pride that I felt for my culture and our shared histories was unmatched; the access I had to learn so much more had been given to me through video games.
It was an experience that I was new to navigating. I have faced many internal preconceived notions regarding my heritage and if I am truly connected. Video games have always been a place I can find a sense of belonging and identity.
Simpson echoes the sentiment of finding solidarity through engaging in storytelling and sharing of history.
“Our history is now everyone’s history, and it’s sadly rarely taught in schools,” he says. “Until this changes, games are a fun and approachable way to engage people with stories about our culture and values. It can make opportunities for connection, curiosity, understanding, and solidarity.
Victorian-based studio Drop Bear Bytes are the developers of Broken Roads, a narrative-driven RPG that emphasises the importance of representing what it means to be an Indigenous Australian without the generic stereotypes and racist depictions we so often witness—the essence of diversity and representation done with consultation of and collaboration with Indigenous peoples.
Proud Noongar woman Karla Hart has been working closely with Drop Bear Bytes. Hart has written almost all of its Indigenous content and said that accessing Noongar culture in Broken Roads has been exciting.
“We have over 17 million gamers in Australia and many more across the globe, so accessing a platform that is so popular across ages that includes storytelling, culture and language of an Indigenous group – and in this instance Noongar, is exciting,” Hart says. “… for Noongar people, they will be able to see and hear their language and culture in a space where it is extremely rare. ”
Broken Roads not only creates experiences for Noongar players, but also offers the opportunity for other Indigenous gamers and non-Indigenous people to immerse themselves in the ancient culture. Junior Narrative Designer, Anniemay Parker, says that the inclusion of Indigenous content and storytelling allows a light to shine on a part of Australian history that people often neglect.
“As a Non-Indigenous person who has been working closely with our Noongar consultants and writers, the design of our quests have been adjusted to respect cultural protocol in the Southern parts of Western Australia,” Parker tells me. “I’ve also enjoyed learning Noongar words and phrases to build a dictionary of the words players can see and learn in Broken Roads.”
This is the beautiful part about Indigenous culture and storytelling. There is so much to know about the traditional custodians of this country; how Indigenous storytelling can give us so much insight into a wonderful culture and history that is rarely spoken about in a positive light.
The Future Of Gaming Through Storytelling
STEM educator and developer Rhett Loban has utilised VR technology to immerse gamers in Torres Strait culture—literally. Torres Strait Virtual Reality (TSVR) provides users with insight into Torres Strait stories, culture, and practices; perspective and knowledge being the critical element of the teaching material used at University of New South Wales. The knowledge, wisdom, and history that First Nations Australians have to share with the gaming industry is boundless.
“Storytelling in gaming is actually really insightful as within this world, you need to do certain tasks for the Noongar community, and it has to be done according to protocol,” Loan says. “And so if you don’t complete the task correctly, you find out what the repercussions are of the incorrect option, so it is actually a really incredible way to learn so much without realising as you are actually doing not reading about something.”
Having video games that represent our culture, land, language, and stories is meaningful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I’m so incredibly proud to be a Wiradjuri woman, and I have so much hope for the world of video games through beautiful sharing of culture and language, not only for Indigenous Australians but for Indigenous people globally.
“Indigenous people across the world have universal values about respecting your family, listening to the land, sustainable use of resources, and protecting and looking after the natural world,” says Dane Simpson. “These cross-mob values are at the heart of understanding of Indigenous culture.”
There is a spiritual vitality to connecting to our culture through storytelling that brings us together in a deep respect for our ancestors, those who paved the way for us. Our Elders.