Alright!!! After much discussion, much review, some more discussion, and some more review, we’ve finalized the two aboriginal groups that will be represented in First Encounters. For the past couple weeks we’ve been going over this aspect of the game in more detail with our review board (made up of some distinguished academics at Carlton University), and it’s been decided that for the 1500s, we’re going to go solely with the Mi’kmaq, and for the era circa 1000 C.E., the cultural group will be the ancestors of today’s Inuit, the Thule. Let me explain.
First of all, the Mi’kmaq (or L’nuk?… re: Jan. 20 post about the confusing aspect of cultural names) were chosen because this was the group that Cartier had reportedly encountered when he first arrived on the shores of North America. As you probably guessed from previous posts, we were also planning on including the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee), for Cartier had also encountered this group as he moved west along the St. Lawrence river. The problem became evident when it came down to character design, settlement design, and also figuring out how the player’s character could seamlessly move from a Mi’kmaq settlement to an Iroquois settlement (they weren’t exactly right next to each other geographically, nor were they the best of friends). In a historical sense, the game started to lose its authenticity; so by focusing on a single indigenous culture the game becomes, well, more historically accurate and less prone to chronological or circumstantial gaps. Furthermore, a major concern brought up by the review board was the possibility of First Encounters portraying a “universal Native”, which we completely agree would be counter-productive to our goal of recreating a convincing historical setting. More importantly, these kinds of careless errors perpetuate negative stereotypes by overlooking the rich cultural diversity of this continent’s First Peoples. Sticking to one aboriginal group, therefore, eliminates the possibility of committing such an offensive folly. Or at least we think so. (Readers, please let us know what you think!).
Moving backward to the period circa 1000 C.E., choosing the appropriate aboriginal culture there was a bit more complicated. Think about it: it was a thousand years ago! It’s difficult to say exactly whom the Vikings encountered, and even harder to determine the context of those relationships. L’Anse aux Meadows, in northern Newfoundland, is considered to be one of the most convincing pieces of evidence demonstrating the Norse presence in North America, 500 years before Columbus stepped aboard the Santa Maria. During that time, it is highly believed (if not outright proven) that the Dorset or Beothuk inhabited the region, and that maybe there had been contact between these aboriginal groups and the new comers, but it’s not clear to what extent this relationship developed. Some sources say that there had most likely been trade between these groups, but that for some reason the relationship broke down and the Vikings left the region after only a few years.
Thankfully, it has been pointed out by our review board that the Vikings would have almost certainly encountered the Thule, the ancestors of the Inuit. Culturally, (and some say genetically), the Dorset and the Thule are two different peoples. They had very different sets of tools, as well as survival mechanisms, which included distinctive ways to hunt and build shelters. Some sources have even mentioned that the Thule were probably surprised at how such a technologically unsophisticated people were able to survive in those environmental conditions. Therefore, in terms of the game, this aspect of technological sophistication is extremely important in helping determine which learning modules, as well as which cultural assets, are going to be included in First Encounters. Now that we know we’re looking at only the Thule and Mi’kmaq, research for the game has become a lot more focused and precise.
So, let me extend a big thank you to our review board for making these things clear. Now people, it’s FULL STEAM AHEAD with First Encounters! Aww yeah!