When Rivers Were Trails

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When Rivers were Trails
Title.png
Developer(s)
Elizabeth LaPensée and Indian Land Tenure Foundation, Michigan State University’s GEL Lab
Publisher(s)
Elizabeth LaPensée and Indian Land Tenure Foundation, Michigan State University’s GEL Lab/Itch.io
Engine
Unity
Platform(s)
Windows and Mac
Release date(s)
2019
Genre(s)
point-and-click adventure, edutainment, free-to-play
Mode(s)
Singleplayer

When Rivers Were Trails is a point-and-click adventure game about the impact of colonization on Indigenous communities in the 1890's. It won the Adaptation Award at IndieCade 2019.

Full Description[edit | edit source]

When Rivers Were Trails is a 2D point-and-click adventure game in which Oregon Trail meets Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. An Anishinaabeg in the 1890’s is displaced from their traditional territory in Minnesota and heads west to California due to the impact of allotment acts on Indigenous communities, facing Indian Agents, meeting people from different nations, and hunting, fishing, and canoeing along the way as they balance their wellbeing.

Developers[edit | edit source]

Developed in collaboration with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and Michigan State University’s Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab thanks to support from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and contributions from over thirty Indigenous writers, artists, and musicians.

The game features over thirty Indigenous contributors with creative directing by Nichlas Emmons, creative directing, design, and user interface art by Elizabeth LaPensée, art by Weshoyot Alvitre, and music by Supaman and Michael Charette.

Indigenous writers include Weshoyot Alvitre, Li Boyd, Trevino Brings Plenty, Tyrone Cawston, Richard Crowsong, Eve Cuevas, Samuel Jaxin Enemy-Hunter, Lee Francis IV, Carl Gawboy, Elaine Gomez, Ronnie Dean Harris, Tashia Hart, Renee Holt, Sterling HolyWhiteMountain, Adrian Jawort, Kris Knigge, E. M. Knowles, Elizabeth LaPensée, Annette S. Lee, David Gene Lewis, Korii Northrup, Nokomis Paiz, Carl Petersen, Manny Redbear, Travis McKay Roberts, Sheena Louise Roetman, Sara Siestreem, Joel Southall, Jo Tallchief, Allen Turner, and William Wilson.

The team from the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab included Alex Hogan, William Johnston, Nathan Kellman, Ellie Locatis, Declan McClintock, Amber Ottarson, Kieran Peasley, Rebecca Roman, and Harrison Sanders.

The game also invited guest writers Toiya K. Finley and Cat Wendt.

Gameplay[edit | edit source]

Players are challenged to balance their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing with foods and medicines while making choices about contributing to resistances as well as trading with, fishing with, hunting with, gifting, and honoring the people they meet as they travel through Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and eventually must find a place to call home in California. The journey can change from game to game as players randomly come across Indigenous people, animals, plants, and run-ins with Indian Agents. Gameplay speaks to sovereignty, nationhood, and being reciprocal with land.

Websites[edit | edit source]

Awards[edit | edit source]

When Rivers Were Trails was awarded for Adaptation at IndieCade Festival 2019, October 10-12, 2019, Santa Monica, California, United States. IndieCade is the leading international independent games festival.

Showings[edit | edit source]

  • When Rivers Were Trails curated for the "heart of the game" Exhibition, Hedreen Gallery, December 1, 2018–March 3, 2019, Seattle, Washington, United States.
  • When Rivers Were Trails curated for the "Narrative Innovation Showcase," Game Developers Conference, March 18–22, 2019, San Francisco, California, United States.
  • When Rivers Were Trails accepted to the "Indigital Play" Exhibition, Native American and Indigenous Studies Association Conference, University of Waikato, June 26–29, 2019, Aotearoa, New Zealand.
  • When Rivers Were Trails invited to "This IS Kalapuyan Land" Permanent Exhibition, Washington County Museum, Portland, Oregon, United States. August 15, 2019–present.
  • When Rivers Were Trails invited to "Indigenous Futurisms: Explorations in Art and Play" Exhibition, University of California, Davis, Davis, California, United States. October 2, 2019 – January 31, 2020.
  • When Rivers Were Trails accepted to IndieCade Festival 2019, October 10–12, 2019, Santa Monica, California, United States.
  • When Rivers Were Trails accepted to imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, October 22–27, 2019, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
  • When Rivers Were Trails accepted to Game On! El Arte en Juego Festival 2019, November 22–30, 2019, San Martín Cultural Center, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  • When Rivers Were Trails accepted to Serious Games Showcase & Challenge, Orlando, Florida, United States. December 2–5, 2019.
  • When Rivers Were Trails accepted to Open World Arcade, Akron Museum of Art, December 7, 2019, Akron, Ohio, United States.
  • When Rivers Were Trails invited to "Lines on the Land: Mapping Clackamas County" Semi-Permanent Exhibit, Museum of the Oregon Territory, Oregon City, Oregon, United States. January 2020 Opening.
  • When Rivers Were Trails invited to be exhibited at the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, United States. January 30, 2020.
  • When Rivers Were Trails accepted to be exhibited at the IndieCade Showing at E3, Los Angeles, California, United States. June 9-11, 2020 (Canceled Due to COVID-19).
  • When Rivers Were Trails accepted to be exhibited at A MAZE., Berlin, Germany. July 22-25, 2020.
  • When Rivers Were Trails accepted to be exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Arcade Indie Developer Showcase, Washington, D.C., United States. August 1-2, 2020.

Publications[edit | edit source]

Presentations[edit | edit source]

  • National. Peer Reviewed Conference. LaPensée, Elizabeth and Nichlas Emmons. "When Rivers Were Trails: Sovereignty and Nationhood in Game Design." 20th Annual American Indian Studies Association Conference, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States. February 6–8, 2019.
  • International. Peer Reviewed Industry Conference. LaPensée, Elizabeth and Allen Turner. "Narrative Innovation Showcase." Game Developers Conference, San Francisco, California, United States. March 18–22, 2019.
  • National. Peer Reviewed Conference. LaPensée, Elizabeth and Nichlas Emmons. "Mapping Indigenous Sovereignty and Relationality in When Rivers Were Trails." Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Washington, DC, United States. April 3–7, 2019.
  • International. Invited Keynote. Peer Reviewed Conference. LaPensée, Elizabeth. "When Rivers Were Trails: Sovereignty, Nationhood, and Relationality in an Adventure Game." Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. May 16–18, 2019.
  • National. Peer Reviewed Conference. LaPensée, Elizabeth. "Relationality Mechanics and Land as Levels in Indigenous Games." Association for the Study of Literature and Environment Conference, University of California Davis, Davis, California, United States. June 26–30, 2019.
  • National. Peer Reviewed Conference. Emmons, Nichlas and Elizabeth LaPensée. "Indigenous Educational Intervention Through the Video Game When Rivers Were Trails." National Indian Education Association Convention. Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. October 8–12, 2019.
  • International. Peer Reviewed Industry Conference. Emmons, Nichlas. "Exploring Indigenous History in When Rivers Were Trails." Games for Change. Online. July 14-16, 2020.

Media[edit | edit source]

Reviews[edit | edit source]

Citations[edit | edit source]