Native Americans, while underrepresented in video games, have impacted the industry since the beginning.
To commemorate National American Indian Heritage Month, we've compiled some of the most impactful Native American characters in the video gaming industry. Some you might recognize; others might be new to you.
American Release: March 1991
First released in Japan under the title Saiyūki World 2: Tenjōkai no Majin, the platform game drew inspiration from the Mega Man and Mario games.
First released in Japan at the end of 1990, it was adapted from the novel "Journey to the West."
When the game was released in the United States, developers removed every book reference by editing the sprite and graphics. Jaleco changed the original protagonist to a Native American and the setting to the Old West.
The representation in Whomp'Em is arguably one of the first American Indian representations in the United States that did not follow the cowboys and Indians archetype of previous arcade games.
Whomp'Em was available on the NES.
Brave: The Search for Spirit Dancer
American Release: April 3, 2007
A personal favorite of someone on the BESN.TV team, this platform game made a hero out of a young Native American. The boy, named Brave, journeys to save his tribe from an evil Wendigo and learns new attacks and skills that will help him as the game progresses.
The game received poor ratings because of its poor production and technical issues but is still memorable for its story and the bravery of Brave.
First available on PlayStation 2, the game received an enhanced port for Xbox 360 and the Wii under Brave: A Warrior's Tale.
American Release: November 8, 2005 (PS2, Xbox, GameCube); November 9, 2005 (Microsoft Windows); November 22, 2005 (Xbox 360); October 10, 2006 (PSP)
Controlled from a third-person perspective, 19th century Apache marksman Colton White goes on an action-adventure roleplaying journey reminiscent of the present-day Red Dead Redemption 2.
Bandit attacks can happen in any town you travel to, giving you the option to defend yourself or head for the hills. You can also hunt and kill a variety of animals such as wild buffalo and farm animals. There are tons of minigames sprinkled within Gun, and you can cause mischief or eliminate the mayhem.
Only available for four consoles on the first and second days of its rolling release, Gun sold 225,000 copies in its first month. It was well-liked by players but not by Native American groups.
The Association for American Indian Development petitioned and boycotted the game, claiming Gun misrepresented Native Americans. AAID wanted the game either removed or edited and rereleased.
Instead of doing either of the things, publisher Activision issued a short apology instead:
Activision does not condone or advocate any of the atrocities that occurred in the American West during the 1800s. Gun was designed to reflect the harshness of life on the American frontier at that time. It was not Activision’s intention to offend any race or ethnic group with Gun, and we apologize to any who might have been offended by the game’s depiction of historical events which have been conveyed not only through video games but through films, television programming, books and other media.
Colton White placed seventh on Game Informer's "Top 10 Heroes of 2005."
Mortal Kombat 3
April 15, 1995
This list is not complete without the inclusion of Nightwolf.
First appearing in Mortal Kombat 3, he was a shaman and a historian chosen to help defend the Earthrealm against Outworld.
Nightwolf's characterization has had the advantage of changing and adapting over time, as Native American players and groups became more vocal about their representation in visual media. When he debuted in the mid-90s, he was touted as a "nontraditional" American Indian; his reveal had all the makings of "traditional." In the present Mortal Kombat games, his characterization has become more well-received by critics and Native American groups alike.
Nightwolf is currently available as a fighter in Mortal Kombat 11, which is available on all consoles and PC.
To find out more about National American Indian Heritage Month, you can go to their website.
Are you an Indigenous video game developer? We would love to interview you! Please contact Erika Heck at email@example.com.