11/26/2014 07:21 EST | Updated 01/26/2015 05:59 EST

Indigenous video game designer takes stand against Custer's Revenge

When the video game Custer’s Revenge first came out more than 30 years ago, a successful boycott eventually pulled the game from store shelves. The controversial video game, made for the Atari 2600 by Mystique (now defunct), depicts indigenous women tied to trees and cacti and raped.

When indigenous game designer Elizabeth LaPenśee found out this game was again available for play online she took to Twitter to voice her outrage.

“The game reinforces systemic violence against native women,” said LaPenśee.

Daniel Starkey, a Choctaw Nation game journalist, was researching a story about Native American representation in games when he came across YouTube videos of Custer’s Revenge. Starkey spoke with LaPenśee about his find. The two of them were able to find several game-play footage videos on YouTube, but it wasn’t until Starkey dug deeper that he actually found a playable link to a re-made version of the game.

“I’m not in a position to go to that link, download it and play it. I don’t know how far back that would put me in my personal healing,” said LaPenśee from her home in Oregon. But Starkey did download the game to prove that it can be played.

“[It] made me sick to my stomach and brought me to tears,” said Starkey. “I respect its right to exist, but it’s almost impossible for me to figure out how anyone could consider the game of cultural value to anyone.”

LaPenśee is a former game journalist turned game designer. Until now, LaPenśee had not spoken out against violence against women in video games. The gaming industry has come under fire for its sexual harassment against women and female game designers and journalists have had their safety and lives threatened.

LaPenśee said she has stayed quiet for this very reason.

“If anyone were to attack me in that way, I just don’t have the allies in the game industry who would help protect me and look out for me, I have the native community too,” said LaPenśee.

LaPenśee, who designs games that promote indigenous heritage and healing, said her decision to speak out now is based on her career’s work.

“This has been my whole life’s work, starting off as a gamer and then looking at native representation in video games. And finding the places that we can step up, and step in and define our representations ourselves,” said LaPenśee.

“For me stepping out isn’t just about the game industry, it’s about personal experiences and having to be the voice of someone who is part of a statistic, that a game like this is reinforcing what creates that statistic.”

In the last 24 hours, since LaPenśee`s initial tweet and the follow-up Twitter conversation, several videos of game-play footage have been taken down. Starkey added the footage violates YouTube’s terms of service by containing explicit content and uncensored nudity. 

LaPenśee said that even though a game like this exists, the indigenous community can change the narrative by replacing the content with positive messages.

“We can make games too. We’re completely capable of it. The tools are much more accessible, the technology is much more accessible than it used to be,” said LaPenśee, adding a lot of her work is responding to a game like this.

Clarification : An earlier version of this article may have given the impression that the game in question was made by Atari when it fact it was made by Mystique, a now defunct company.(Nov 26, 2014 10:31 PM)