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There and Back Again: Maize’s Journey to NAISA 2019

Posted by maize

Kia ora! Last month, I travelled to Aotearoa to present at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) annual conference hosted by the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. NAISA is the world’s premier scholarly organization for academics, graduate students, researchers, artists, and community members from around the globe who are interested in all aspects of Indigenous studies.

This year’s conference was particularly special for several reasons. NAISA 2019 was the first time that the conference had been held outside of North America and was the best-attended with nearly 2000 registered members! It was also the first time that NAISA hosted an arcade space titled Indigital Play that hosted an all-Indigenous lineup of videogames and virtual reality experiences for conference-goers to engage with in-between presentations.

Notable works featured at Indigital Play included Don’t Wake the Night by SANTO, When Rivers Were Trails and Thunderbird Strike by Elizabeth LaPensée, Māoriland Adventure by Johnson Witehira, as well as He Ao Hou and Wao Kanaka which were both made by Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) participants and as part of the Skins Video Game Workshops led by Kanaeokana and Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace. It also featured Terra Nova, the 2D cooperative platformer created as part of my MA research-creation thesis project. Having a designated space to go and relax, socialize, and play games during a massive academic conference was a welcome addition to what NAISA offers to its attendees, as there was as many as 27 sessions happening at the same time! Indigital Play was also a rare opportunity to meet several of the developers of the games being shown face-to-face, learn about their creation processes, and grow the international network of Indigenous videogames developers.

Image courtesy of Elizabeth LaPensée

In addition to showing his game, I also co-presented in a film screening session titled “She Falls for Ages: Indigenous Futurisms and the Imperative of Sci-Fi” with Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) artist Skawennati. In this presentation, our duo showed attendees Skawennati’s machinima She Falls for Ages, a sci-fi retelling of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Creation Story. After the machinima was shown, Skawennati spoke about her inspirations and reasonings behind some of her creative decisions as Director. I then spoke about how Skawennati’s machinimas have inspired me to explore sci-fi as the narrative genre for the development of my game, Terra Nova. I have learned through my research that representing and discussing the future can be an immensely powerful tool toward affecting real change in the present. The question period featured an interesting discussion about how my work on Terra Nova might affect the future. For me, creating Terra Nova was an opportunity to explore what it takes to make a videogame as a first-time developer. I learned how to manage a production that employed a small team and a project that asked them to create work that would help grow their capacities for creation. In that sense, the game was an investment in the future of the individuals involved in its creation.

Images courtesy of Victoria Cooke

I had the opportunity to duck out from the hustle and bustle of the conference to tour the Hobbiton film set; nestled in the rolling green fields just outside of Hamilton. It has been one of my childhood dreams to see where Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Mary, and the Gaffer all lived in Peter Jackson’s imagining of The Shire from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series. The tour even came with a banquet lunch fit for a hobbit village! I was really impressed with the level of care and attention to detail that was put into creation each of the uniquely-designed hobbit homes. Definitely a highly-recommended activity for fantasy fans travelling New Zealand!

Image courtesy of Victoria Cooke