Exploring the history of “allotment” through Native eyes, this month’s IntelligameClub choice is When Rivers Were Trails.

A Time When Rivers Were Trails

They say those who forget history are destined to repeat it. The speed of the modern news cycle makes it hard to remember what happened last week, much less decades or centuries ago. Games can be great for escapism, but they also can be great for passing on stories of the past. This month’s choice for IntelligameClub is When Rivers Were Trails, a game telling stories of the past and guiding thoughts of the future.

About the Game

When Rivers Were Trails is set in the 1890s as Natives are pushed off of their land by the United States government. Displaced by white settlers in a process called “allotment,” the game follows Natives from modern-day Minnesota all the way to California. Borrowing influence from games like The Oregon Trail and Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, When Rivers Were Trails tells stories of Anishinaabeg and other tribes through the words of modern-day Native writers.

This Month’s Featured Creator: Elizabeth LaPensée

A game designer and professor, Elizabeth LaPensée blends activism and Native cultures into her creations. She is Anishinaabe, Métis, and settler-Irish, and partners with community members to create interactive digital media. She stood out in national media after releasing Thunderbird Strike, a game placing players in the role of a Thunderbird destroying drilling equipment. Though she was targeted with harassment and legal threats after the game’s release, she’s continued to stand up for Native rights and representation in media. She’s partnered with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation to create this game, working in partnership with multiple Native people from many tribes to capture authentic stories and language.

How to Participate

  1. Get the game. You can download When Rivers Were Trails for free on Itch.io, a game platform that specializes in hosting indie games.
  2. Play the game, Intelligame style! Use the Club Questions below for guidance, but explore your own thoughts as well. You can even take notes or screenshots of parts that stick out to you. Maybe even play it with a friend or loved one!
  3. Chat about it in the Intelligame Discord! Even if you can’t make the live discussion, you can contribute your thoughts any time in our special #intelligameclub chat channel.
  4. Join the live discussion on September 9th at 6p on Twitch! Everyone is welcome to participate, and our voice chat channel will be open to anyone who supports Intelligame with donations on Patreon.

Club Questions

IntelligameClub Curator Jenny Windom created some great questions to think about while preparing for the group discussion! We’ll ask a couple of these directly during the discussion, but feel free to bring your own questions as well. If you want some extra credit, you can email answers to your favorite questions to the IntelligameClub Inbox; you just might see your answers show up on stream!

Reflect Before Playing:

  • What did you learn growing up about Native people in the U.S.? Consider what you know about Native culture, history, and stories.
  • Where did you learn this knowledge? How could the source of your learning have affected your perception of Native tribes of the U.S.?

Reflect During/After Playing: 

  • What stories, facts, or events mentioned in this game are most memorable to you? In what ways did they make you think? 
  • What was “allotment,” and how did it affect the people of the 1890s? How do the effects of allotment ripple through to today?
  • How does the name “allotment” influence its perception among various groups? What examples can we provide of naming shaping public perception?
  • Giving cultures the chance to tell their own stories and culture is part of what is often referred to as “decolonization.” What does it mean to decolonize the classroom? The game space?
  • When Rivers Were Trails is a game about Native peoples created and written by Native peoples. In what ways do stories in WRWT differ from stories you learned about Native peoples beforehand?
  • In WRWT, many different Native tribes support each other and unify in their resistance. What are some examples of this? How can we draw on these examples today? 

Are you excited? We certainly are! Post on social media with #intelligameclub, and let’s have a great discussion on the 9th!