Indigenous Peoples Are Decolonizing Virtual Worlds
September 3, 2018 8:21 AM   Subscribe

In an industry marred by its lack of self-awareness, one project is creating a more inclusive vision of the world.

Your mission is to explore space until you find your missing sister. You set off for the stars in your grandfather’s space canoe. Along the way, you visit different planets and meet a galaxy of characters inspired by Hawaiian mo’olelo (stories) who help you on your quest. On a water planet, you learn how the kukui, or candlenut, can make cloudy water bright blue — which allows you to meet a helpful shark. On a lava planet, you hula dance to make kukui trees grow from the ground of a pink-red desert, and on another, you wake the boar-like, eight-eyed demigod Kamapua’a from sleep by throwing kukui at him.
posted by poffin boffin (5 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this -- I know plenty of people at my work who will be interested in this.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:28 AM on September 3, 2018

While at Kiwi Foo this year I had the chance to sit in on a few discussions about technology and Māori. As a pakeha American outsider it was really interesting to listen and learn. Some of the conversation was unsurprising for me, like "what are tech priorities for our community" or "how do we get more representation in tech and media?". But there was a lot more complicated things, too.

Like cultural sensitivities; one guy spoke compellingly about how the command-oriented nature of GUIs made him uncomfortable because in his culture you didn't directly command people to do things. It's not like he was worried about hurting the computer's feelings, but he was wondering what it did to him to have such a commanding interaction with his desktop. That different perspective has changed how I think about human/computer interaction.

Another person I met is working on machine transcription of te reo Māori. Speech recognition. The big tech companies don't really support Māori now but are working on it. He feels it's important for the Māori community to have its own version of this technology, to not just use the colonizer's tech. Given how delicate AI development is (say, selection of the training set) I'm certain a Māori-native product will be different and quite likely better than GenericTechCo's implementation of language #87. As this linked article says
“Hardware and software is culturally biased. Robotic epistemologies are caught in a 500-year bubble, a particular way of looking at the world,” Lewis says. “It gave us some good things, but it also gave us colonialism, slavery, and sustained environmental degradation. Do we really want those biases trained into future technologies and A.I.?”
posted by Nelson at 10:16 AM on September 3, 2018 [8 favorites]

A few followup links for further reading: Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace. Jason Edward Lewis and Obx Labs, a collection of digital artwork he's involved with.
posted by Nelson at 10:25 AM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's not like he was worried about hurting the computer's feelings, but he was wondering what it did to him to have such a commanding interaction with his desktop.

That’s super-interesting. As we use our tools, our tools train us to think and act, and who knows what options get lost? I found Gregory Cajete’s Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education invigorating, since it presented different models of teaching and learning than the ones I had been raised with (it’s probably time to re-read it, in fact).

And I bet this is doubly true for gaming, because problem-solving and narrative models change from culture to culture, so there must be gaming experiences that can’t be had from within the current paradigm....
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:24 PM on September 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also previously: Never Alone (homepage:, a game I have enjoyed. It was created in partnership with Native Alaskan elders and storytellers.
posted by rafaella gabriela sarsaparilla at 6:40 AM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

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