A mobile game that pits a white, 19th Century sheriff-like figure—one who brandishes a pair of pistols—against stereotypical images of Mexicans and Indians has prompted opposition by both Native American game developers and educators.
The game, designed for iOS and Android systems, is aptly titled “Clash of the West Cowboys Shootout.” The objective of the player, or “Black Jack Ketchum,” is to kill or leap over the Mexicans and Indians in his path. For $1,000, which comes in the manner of bags of money and gold bullion peppered across the ground, the player can upgrade to “Buffalo Bill,” who brandishes a shotgun in place of Ketchum’s six-shooters.
In the game description, the Mexicans, who are illustrated as both lanky and corpulent, and the Indians, who are portrayed as dull-eyed and dopey, are referred to as “a gang of criminals who are violently committing crimes.”
Elizabeth LaPensée, an Anishinaabe and Métis game developer and researcher, said the game “couldn’t [be] more racist” and that it justifies the historical murder of Mexicans and Indians.
“Games like these portray Native people as fodder to be killed,” she said. “They’re representing them as lazy, as evil, because they justify the shootout by saying that these ‘Indians’ are in a gang and that their acts are making the situation.”
Version 1.0 of the game, created by EMax Inc Enterprise—a 4-year-old software company, was created on August 27, 2013, but its design is anachronistic, said LaPensée, and a throwback to the early days of Nintendo-like technology.
“Just on a very basic level, it isn’t getting any reviews from the top game review websites. It’s not getting a lot of attention,” LaPensée said. “At the very least, it’s just a bad design, you’re typical mechanics. There’s nothing innovative about it.”
But it’s the game’s narrative and message that’s most problematic to LaPensée.
“I think it’s antiquated. I think it’s horrible, and it’s horribly racist,” she said. “I mean, you couldn’t get more racist in the depiction of this chief-like figure. … I think the saddest part of this is that it’s probably coming from a place of ignorance, mimicking or repeating what this designer is seeing in films, but if they had any awareness at all then they would know that this is not OK.”
LaPensée added that the game’s narrative reflects the position of the early U.S. government toward its indigenous population—that is, people of color were an obstruction to wealth and plenty.
“To me, personally, it’s shocking to see a game like this come out now. Games like these were coming out in the 90s. … But it is rare to see this level of, just, racism. It’s really the narrative [that’s the issue here]—the [literal] clearing the Indians out of the way to get to the gold.”
Maka Clifford, an adjunct instructor of world and regional history and geography at Oglala Lakota College in Kyle, South Dakota, who is also a high school teacher, said people in general, and especially the designers of the game, dehumanize groups when they utilize stereotypes.
“[The game creators] aren’t thinking about how others may be impacted by it,” he said, adding that the images emphasize white dominance.
“Clearly,” he said, “from the images of the game alone, you’ve got your heroic Custeresque-looking cowboy with their flowing locks and big chest and they’re shooting a bunch of brown people. I mean, there’s just no getting around that—that imagery alone is disturbing, problematic. It reinforces stereotypes about the dominance of white men and the subordinance of people of color in this case because it’s just not limited to Indians in this example.”
In an email to ICTMN, Audra Simpson, Kahnawake Mohawk, an associate professor of anthropology at Columbia University in New York City, wrote that, in this game, the antagonists’ parentage is crime enough.
“This appears as a very base, cartoon-like template for literally ‘playing’ or gaming the ‘conquering’ of the American West, where white men are rendered in the same bodily form, indistinguishable from each other [and] are made equal in their purpose: virtue and desire,” she wrote. “The virtue is ‘fighting crime’ and the ‘desire’ is for riches. But what is the crime of the so-called criminals they are fighting? Being brown and being in the way. It is nothing short of playing racialized violence, as these white men are killing the bodies of brown others for that purpose. Quite ugly. What were these game-makers thinking? The reviewers of it on iTunes are suitably unimpressed, I hope for the right reasons.”
Currently, there are a number of Western-theme mobile games available for download, but none that pit white cowboys against Mexicans and Indians.
Representatives of EMax Inc Enterprise did not respond to ICTMN’s request for comment.