In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Relationality in Indigenous Food and Medicine Games
  • Elizabeth LaPensée (bio)


Indigenous teachings about relationality—the understanding that all life is intricately connected from the biological to the philosophical to the spiritual to the actionable (Cajete 2000)—can inform games of all forms from video games to tabletop games with themes of resilience. Such games fit within Games for Change, a subset of serious games that are focused on social change. While game designer Jane McGonigal’s (2011) study looks to games that have the ability to stimulate the mind and create psychological benefits through engaging in play, scholars Mary Flanagan and Helen Nessenbaum continue related work with Values at Play (, which features Eric Zimmerman ( and other game designers who are inspired to integrate values in their games and game-based systems.

As an Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish game designer, writer, and artist, I contribute to games with the hope of facilitating Indigenous community members, particularly youth, remembering and activating teachings about our creative connection to place. In particular, the suite of touchscreen games Gathering Native Foods (2014), the board game The Gift of Food (2014), the arcade-style web game Mawisowin (2012), and the alternate-reality game Techno Medicine Wheel (2008) each share Indigenous perspectives of resilience in relation to land, traditional foods, and medicines. Each game draws from Indigenous perspectives of relationality to inform visual aesthetics, user-interface design, and rules that engage players in Indigenous resilience. [End Page 191]

Games for Change

Before the Games for Change movement was named, work such as Ben Sawyer’s Serious Games Initiative (, Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games (, and Jane McGonigal’s work in Alternate Reality Games provided pathways of interest. Ludica, a women’s game collective devoted to exploring alternatives to the dominate culture of games, proposes that we are currently revisiting the historic New Games movement, which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a response to the Vietnam War and civil unrest (Pearce et al. 2007, 261). The collective considers Games for Change an area of the New Games movement, which has returned in the context of digital games (Pearce et al. 2007, 262). To this end, the Serious Games Initiative brought the Games for Change movement to life after a gathering of developers, academics, nonprofits, and foundations in 2004. The nonprofit supports this area of games through resources including events, publications, and game incubators ( Efforts such as youth workshops, games of varying genres, and research projects all contribute to the Games for Change movement.

Since games for change are considered a subset of serious games, they are expected to involve some form of learning (Susi et al. 2007, 1). Serious games are generally understood, thanks to Charles Abt, as games to inform, train, and educate. This is in-line with the Serious Games Initiative, which defines serious games as projects that involve “exploring management and leadership challenges facing the public sector” ( Meanwhile, Ian Bogost (2007) dismisses the “serious games” term as “high brow” and instead uses “persuasive games” to promote games that persuade players through gameplay. While this has been debated, most agree that serious games are not to be correlated with “edutainment games,” which are seen as “the combination of one of the lowest forms of education (drill and practice) with less than entertaining gameplay” (Charsky 2010, 178). Rather, serious games encourage higher-order thinking skills through engaging game-play (Charsky 2010, 180).

However, it should be understood that different games create different learning outcomes (van Eck 2006). Rao adapts Kinneavy’s classification to break down serious games as “newsgames ([to] persuade, express, [End Page 192] or inform), art games (to be beautiful, to express), educational games (to inform), health games (to inform, to persuade), persuasive games (to persuade), training (to inform), advergaming (to persuade), [and] political games (to inform, persuade, express)” (2011, 8). Overall, serious games are mostly applied to military, government, educational, corporate, and healthcare sectors (Susi et al. 2007, 1). Relevant to my work, the Ludica collective interprets any game in which “the player experience and community are...


Additional Information

pp. 191-200
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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