|In this piece, we support and showcase Native American professionals working in creative aspects inside the video game industry. Winnie (Oglala Lakota/Eastern Shawnee), a.k.a., “ix”, is a former Associate Producer with some big name games, such as the Call of Duty franchise. As a Indigenous person working in the game industry, ix was nice enough to share some insight with Michael Sheyahshe (Caddo).
Michael Sheyahshe (“MS”): Background info: what is your tribal affiliation and where are you from?
Winnie (“ix”): I’m an Oglala Lakota/Eastern Shawnee; I grew up in Wanblee, SD on the Pine Ridge Rez.
MS: Did you have a lot of cultural interaction growing up? (Family gatherings, dances, ceremonies, etc.?)
ix: Yeah, all of my mom’s family were in a fancydance troupe based out of New York, so they were constantly traveling around dancing. My mom’s family all speak Lakota, which is kind of not common for younger people these days. They still follow many of the old ways. I also went to an Indian-only boarding high school. If any young Indians have a chance to go to one (think there are only 3 left in the US), do it! I made many friends from other tribes that I still talk to today.
MS: When did you first get into games?
ix: I liked those text games from the 80s (hitchhiker’s guide, etc) and the Nintendo dragon-and-swordsy kind of RPG games. Also in high school we had a couple of old computers, so I played a lot of Doom and Quake.
MS: What is your favorite game of all time…something that turns FRI-SUN into a ‘lost weekend’?
ix: I was hopelessly addicted to Baldur’s Gate 2, Deus Ex, Planescape, and Counterstrike. These days I play a lot of Team Fortress 2. MS: You just finished work on COD4: MW, right? What was your role there?
ix: I was an Associate Producer.
MS: What is your specialty?
ix: Getting things done! Haha. I got stuck on accounting/finances and mostly working PR events last round. It changes from project to project. The one before that mostly what I did was travel, travel, travel, and give press demos/fix scripting. I do 3d modeling as a hobby also.
MS: Did you get special training and/or education for this?
ix: No, most producers started as QA testers. I started at a game developer, and moved up from QA. I think I’ve only met two producers that have any sort of degree in my time in the industry. That’s starting to change, though. A lot more straight business degree people now. You do a ton of random things, so you really need to be awesome at something to stand out at all in Production and also be a jack of all trades at the same time.
MS: What other games have you worked on?
ix: Oh, all of the Call of Duty games except for COD1. I also worked on DS, cell phone and PSP games in the past, and wasn’t really that fond of working on mobile platforms so much; mostly for the limitations of the hardware.
MS: Have you played video games with Native American characters in them?
ix: There aren’t many; Prey and Gun are the ones that come to mind. Prey was interesting in that you could go upside down in multiplayer which is a neat idea, but they do the magical Indian stereotype heavily. Gun I felt kind of bothered by how they portray the Apaches. Eventually, I think AIM protested it.
MS: Do you have any opinion about Indigenous characters in video games?
ix: I think there needs to be more of them. I also think that I’m getting really sick of the ‘magical Cherokee’ stereotype that Hollywood and most media likes to hammer onto us. It’s really still racism but in a different way. I wish that there was an Indian character in Gears of War, COD, etc. that’s a contributing part of the squad/one of the main characters and not some mystical BS schtick!
MS: Do you know of any other Natives in the “biz” (gaming industry)?
ix: I know one female animator, but she doesn’t know much about her tribe or is really all that involved with it. It’s kind of hard finding other Indians in the industry. Most of us stay back on the home reservations, maybe. I wish we had better computer programs and equipment on reservations. That would open up more tech jobs for us. I can’t imagine what advantages I would have had if the schools where I grew up had computers, the internet, or access to some of the software other public schools do.
MS: Any words of wisdom for others (Native or non) looking to do what you do?
ix: I wouldn’t recommend going the QA route if you want to be a producer. Some people really do tend to treat testers like scum, until they’ve moved up enough to be not be in QA anymore. Go to business school, you’ll make more money right off the bat and skip all the crappy things QA has to do. Also, be aware that Producers tend to crunch year round and most that I worked with over the years don’t date or have any time to do much else than work!
If you want to be a modeler or artist, there are a lot of online resources to help. Online tutorials, Maya Personal Learning Edition has movies, and cg forums. Don’t be afraid to ask other artists for opinions in forums, they’re a great resource.Anything I’ve missed here? Modding is also another way for aspiring level designers to get into the industry. Devs do watch modding forums, and many that are talented get job offers from studios.
Don’t go to Video Game schools/degree farms. They have no respect in the industry, cost way too much, and do not teach you anything that you will actually use in most cases. I never cared what someone’s degree was in or even if they had a degree to be honest. What matters is your portfolio/reel! If it’s awesome, you’re set. (Except programmers: go to a real university and get a programming degree if you want to be a game coder.) Above all, don’t give up if you really want to make games.