“I Would Tell Her Why We Made it”: Native American Youth Making Digital Games

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


American Educational Research Association


New York, NY

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Many individuals tout the “democratizing” potential of the Maker Movement (Dougherty, 2011), but too often making revolves around a narrowly defined set of individuals, activities, and spaces (Buechley, 2013; Brahms & Crowley, 2016). Such a conceptualization of making excludes members of nondominant communities and their making practices. Here, we present one example of making at the margins and explore how such practices are in dialog with mainstream conceptualizations of making. As part of a two-week, pre-college preparatory summer camp, 47 Native American youth (12-14 years-old) from an Indigenous community in the Southwestern United States developed interactive, digital stories of five different community sites. The story development process began with youth participating in site visits guided by community leaders during which they collected photographs, and took notes. Youth, working in small groups of 2-4 students, were then guided through a storyboarding process that was intertwined with iterative cycles of game development in the Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling (ARIS) platform, a narrative-based programming platform for non-programmers. We present case studies (Stake, 1998) of two groups whose interactive stories centered around a series of sculptures created by a local artist. Data sources include field notes, audio recordings of significant moments of collaboration, final reflective interviews with youth, photographs of the groups’ design processes, and design artifacts produced by each group, such as their storyboards and screenshots of their in-process and completed games. Findings reveal youths’ awareness of themselves as transmitters of the cultural knowledge represented by the sculptures and the tremendous responsibility associated with that role at a time when much of the community’s cultural knowledge is “going dead,” as one student, Veronica, reflected (Interview, 6/15/17). In final reflective interviews, we asked youth how they would explain their games to their grandma, and most students carefully considered how they would broach the topic of using a digital platform to tell community-based stories that are typically shared orally. For example, Grace stammered a bit and began her answer with “I would tell her why we made it” and eventually elaborated that she would describe ARIS as a ”place where they make games” (Interview, 06/13/17). In emphasizing why she and her group made the game they made, Grace highlights a significant awareness of authoring for her community: things are not made for the sake of making but must have a purpose that benefits the larger group. Overall, youth worried about getting “the facts” right to create an accurate representation of the “most important sculptures,” those which expressed “the things most important to the people a long time ago” (Interview, 6/13/17 and 6/15/17). In particular, youth expressed a concern of accurately representing the tools and materials used by the artist to create the sculptures. This presentation contributes to our understandings of culturally responsive making through its examination of Native American youths’ design processes and their concerns regarding the responsibility that comes with sharing cultural knowledge in a digital format.

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