Survivance (http://www.survivance.org) is a social impact game that addresses the long-lasting effects of historical trauma on Indigenous communities of Turtle Island (the continent of North America) and encourages players to engage in self-expression as a pathway to healing.
Based on the Wisdom of the Elders Discovering Our Story project, Survivance is shared online as a simple website with web-friendly videos to ensure that it is available to communities on the outskirts of Internet access. The game can be played intergenerationally and especially appeals to youth to encourage them to express themselves and choose healthy ways of living. The website opens: “Welcome. Stories inform us, empower us, mobilize us.”
Gameplay is non-linear—players may select any quest that appeals to them in their perceived phase of the journey and play or revisit quests in any order. The phases of the game trace the path of our life journey in relation to Indigenous teachings—The Orphan, The Wanderer, The Caretaker, The Warrior, and The Changer. The Elder continues the journey but exists beyond gameplay. Each phase of the journey has three unique quests. Every quest involves watching a video of an Elder and/or storyteller, such as Elaine Grinnell (Jamestown S’Klallam), Roger Fernandes (Lower Elwah S’Klallam), or Woodrow Morrison Jr. (Haida). Players then complete the quest, such as The Retelling Quest within The Caretaker, which calls on players to revisit a traditional story from their culture, listen to the story “again and again,” and to retell the story in any medium.
As a path to healing and reflecting on their experience during the quest, players create an “act of survivance.” An act of survivance is self-determined expression in any medium, such as oral stories, songs, poems, short stories, paintings, beadwork, weaving, photography, and films, to name a few. The acts of survivance are shared online, with the community, and in some cases have entered galleries and film festivals. For example, the experimental animation “The Path Without End” (2011) has played at imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival (http://www.imaginenative.org/), LA Skins Festival (http://www.laskinsfest.com/), a special event organized by the Vancouver Indigenous Media Arts Festival (http://vimaf.com/), among others.
The prototype of Survivance has shown that intergenerational exchange of traditions and stories alongside creating acts of survivance provides pathways to balanced wellbeing. Thus far, players of the prototype have described healing from historical, family, or personal trauma; recovering historical, family, and traditional stories; reviving language; and balancing emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health. The prototype has also shown a proven impact on self, community, and the world via exposure of Indigenous self-expression. Acts of survivance from players such as Shilo George (Tsistitas) and Toma Villa (Yakama) have either been in galleries or sold and thus furthered the artists’ careers.
Currently, the Survivance team is in the process of editing the Discovering Our Story web videos into shorter clips in anticipation of transforming the website into a mobile app. The hope is to bring more voices of Elders and storytellers to players to inspire more acts of survivance across the world.