Indigenous Board Game Design in The Gift of Food

If you look on a board game shelf, how many games will you see with actions based on collaboration, stewardship, generosity, and gratitude? Most likely, you’ll find mechanics like attacking, stealing, and backstabbing. Indigenous communities looking to facilitate intergenerational gameplay are thus hard-pressed to find options that reinforce their teachings. In response, communities are developing their own games for passing on teachings in many forms. As espoused by game designer Brenda Romero, “the mechanic is the message”. And the messages in the board game The Gift of Food (2014) —inspired by collaborative game development with Indigenous communities working with the Northwest Indian College—produce culturally responsive gameplay, meaning gameplay that is drawn from and that uplifts the cultures involved. In this essay, I will outline these overarching aspects of the game’s design process to show how board games can serve as important tools for passing on cultural teachings, especially within Indigenous communities.

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