Growing Up Ojibwe: The Game

Strengths

  • Experience Ojibwe cultural practices
  • Gain cultural and historical knowledge
  • Enjoyable game-based environment
  • Free download

Overview

Growing Up Ojibwe: The Game is a free to play game, developed by Eleanore Falck, as an intern at the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC). In the game you play as an Ojibwe youth, experiencing cultural practices and developing cultural knowledge.

Illustrative image showing character jumping next to bear.

Quick Video Review

Interview with Eleanore Falck

Game Overview

In the game, you play as either either Tommy or Annie Sky, and are sent on a mission by Nookomis (their grandmother). Because important cultural knowledge has been forgotten by many, you are sent to learn important information, and then share that information with others.

There are four stages in the game (five levels) each consisting of a task to complete: collecting firewood, collecting sap, spearfishing, and harvesting wild rice. As you complete these different tasks you encounter spirit helpers and knowledge holders who help you gain important knowledge. Examples of these are gidagaakoons (a fawn), esiban (a raccoon), amik (a beaver), misko-bineshiinh (a cardinal), name (a sturgeon), and makwa (a bear). Before receiving important Ojibwe related knowledge from these helpers, you must first make an offering of asemaa (tobacco).

Illustrative image showing tobaco pouch, and character next to bear.

After you make the offering, you information, which will will soon be shared with others as they ask you questions. In this way you are able to complete a simple review of the cultural information you have learned. As you engage in the game your Mino-bimaadisiwin points increase, showing your “spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being.”

Illustrative image showing the bear (Makwa) giving some information about the cession treaties.
Illustrative image showing an individual asking the character a question about how the US aquired the Ojibwe land.

Four Tasks

Your first task (and first two levels) is to collect firewood which will be needed in the Spring to make maple syrup.

Illustrative image showing collection of firewood.

The following task is to tap and collect collect sap from the sugar maple trees, later to be turned into maple syrup and sugar. You are reminded to offer asemaa before tapping any of the trees. Before going out you also need to put on your aagimag (snowshoe), so it is not too difficult to walk in the snow.

Illustrative image showing tree taping stage.

After the ice has thawed in the Spring, your third task is spearfishing with imbaabaa (your father). This particular evening you are fishing for ogaa (walleye). In this section you also learn about the controversy around spearfishing.

Illustrative image showing character and father on boat, fishing with animal in front.

Your final task is to harvest manoomin (wild rice) in the Summer with Nimaamaa (your mother). Your mother acts as the poler, pushing the canoe through the rice using the gaandakii’ganaak (a long stick). You act as the knocker, using your bawa’iganaak (knocking sticks), to knock the rice into the boat.

Illustrative image showing the rice harvesting scene - in boat with ducks in water.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed playing this game, and from what I can tell is one of the only digital games focusing on Ojibwe culture. For both Ojibwe and non Ojibwe (especially those living around the Great Lakes area) this is a great introduction to the culture, which would hopefully lead to increased understanding and respect, and might lead to additional interest in the culture.

The inclusion of some vocabulary in Ojibwe was welcome, but I found myself skimming over those words instead of trying to internalize them, given that progress in the game is in no way dependent on understanding them. Given that this game was completed in an internship position over two summers, it was probably out of the scope of the project, but it would have been nice to have some additional elements designed into the game to help with the language portion of the culture. On idea would have been to have the option to hear the dialogue spoken in Ojibwe.

The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission helps support the treaty rights of the Ojibwe tribes in the area, and as such, is a reputable source of information for this game and much of the in-game factual information came from GLIFWC pamphlets. It should be noted that Eleanore Falck is Oneida herself, but grew up with a mix of Oneida and Ojibwe teachings, as there are many Ojibwe in her home area. In the process of the game development she took the important step to ask questions and make sure the game was teaching the right things and in an appropriate way.

While this game only scratches the surface of the Ojibwe culture and some of the topics explored in the game, it is still a good introduction. The game feels more like a game than an educational lesson, so that is another thing that was done well. At about an hour of game play, it is of a reasonable length to play the game during an evening at home, or as part of coursework in traditional or other educational settings.

Play the game

The game is available to be played online, on Windows, or Android devices. Click the link below to play online or download.

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Sources

Sources used in this review include the itch.io page (Growing up Ojibwe: The Game), Growing up Ojibwe (Wisconsin First Nations), The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary, gameplay and review of screenshots and video footage, and communication with Eleanore Falck via email and during the Podcast interview.