Indigenous people survive even in video games: Deborah L. Madsen, ‘The Mechanics of Survivance in Indigenously-Determined Video-Games: Invaders and Never Alone’, Transmotion, 3, 2, 2017


Excerpt: Survivance as a legal concept names the right to inheritance and more specifically the condition of being qualified to inherit a legacy. In his essay “Aesthetics of Survivance” (2008), Vizenor describes survivance as “the heritable right of succession or reversion of an estate” (1). This aspect of survivance is overlooked by those scholars of Vizenor’s work who focus rather on the conjunction of the terms “survival” and “resistance,” terms that are important most fundamentally as they intersect with the capacity to transmit and to accept the inheritance of the past that is itself the intersection of survival and resistance. That is to say, acts of resistance and survival form the axiology (or ethical action) of survivance; the preservation of tribal languages, for example, or the transmission of traditional stories, are acts that ensure the continual availability of the tribal values of knowing and being in the world that are encoded in those words and stories. These Indigenous lifeways constitute the inheritance that motivates survivance. Thus, survivance is not a static object or method but a dynamic, active condition of historical and cultural survival and also of political resistance, practiced in the continual readiness of Indigenous communities to accept and continue the inheritance passed on by elders and ancestors. In this sense, claims made by recent Indigenous video-game developers to speak to youth through digital media by creating games that transmit tribal legacies of language, stories, ontologies, and ways of knowing and being in the world, speak to the practice of survivance. Indeed, the particular capacity of video games to engage active participation in the making of stories offers a powerful means to encourage and sustain survivance. In what game designer Elizabeth LaPensée (Anishinaabe/Métis) refers to as “Indigenously-determined” video-games, then, survivance is both a substantive dimension of the experience of playing a game and also the underlying structural principle that governs the game mechanics that are determined by Indigenous epistemologies.

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