Thunderbird Strike // Messages of games

LaPensée says that her game, Thunderbird Strike “doesn’t judge” the player through its gameplay. In the game, players can control a fantasy bird of thunder to either destroy things that remind of the tyranny of humans over the environment, or create through restoration of animal populations. Whether players choose to destroy, save, or a mixture of both, they will still be working towards getting a higher and higher score. Many games choose to penalize players for doing something “wrong”, or against the general message of the game. LaPensée producing a game that doesn’t “judge” in this way makes it, in a way, more impactful for the player. It allows the player to construct her own meaning in the game, and to pursue what she thinks is most important rather than what the designer thinks is important. For LaPensée, this nonjudgemental nature of the game allows her to communicate both the varied messages of her native world as it has to do with activism, as well as the struggles that the culture is facing, both with connection to the modern world and to the natural world that is fast disappearing.

“This does not only matter because we should stop believing lies. Changing the stories we tell ourselves – remembering that (to use another of Haraway’s formulations) “it matters what ideas we use to think other ideas with” (12) – is the only way we will succeed in changing the world.”

This quote articulates something that many other writers skirt around, but do not mention outright, and something that is quite a delicate topic in our current world, which is that it matters greatly not only how we think of things, but the process that leads to us thinking those in the first place. This could be the root of many problems in our culture, and is something that many are entirely unaware of. The only way that we can change, and enact true help in the world, is through changing the origin thought (if you will). If we do not change or become aware of the underlaying mechanism behind our ideas, they will never truly change in any long-term and meaningful way.

This quote also gives perspective to Thunderbird Strike. Though many have theoretically and abstractly thought of how the pipelines affect Native culture (it is in the news everywhere, after all), for many there is no pressure to think anything more than abstractly about it. This game forces one to think more directly about it, to confront their underlaying schema about Native culture by very literally becoming the thoughts and prayers of a Native culture, in the form of a mighty Thunderbird. I think the game has the potential to succeed very much in this respect, however, it falls short in its simplicity. The art style and general message and idea of the game is good, and does communicate the message that LaPensée is trying to, but the act of playing does not, due to the lack of fine control and true impact. 

One thought on “Thunderbird Strike // Messages of games

  1. In your post you mention that the game’s lack of judgement allows people to create their own meaning behind the game, and I agree. However, I saw the game’s lack of judgement and the player’s freedom to choose what they find important in a negative light. I though that, because there was a lack of judgement, there was an allowance for the player to be a complicit body in the game. In other words, they could watch the environment being ruined and do nothing to stop it, simply fly in the air without striking anything with lightning. Though you get no points for this, you also do not lose any points. Because you do not lose any points, there is a danger of the player choosing to read that as “If I am complicit in the destruction, I may not gain anything, but I also do not lose anything. Therefore, complicity may not be the best choice, but it is okay”. This is the reason that I agree with your comment about the act of playing the game not communicating LaPensee’s message, because the game does not reinforce the harm that comes from being a complicit body.


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