Carl Petersen is a member of the Oohe Nunpa (or Two Kettles) band of Lakota — a tribe indigenous to the North American Great Plains — and a 21-year-old self-proclaimed “Gen-Z/Millennial.” But his childhood wasn’t the always-online one you might expect. His first dial-up connection was to Rapid City, South Dakota, a town 180 miles from his home near the city of Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation. After realizing that a month of “just checking his email” cost almost $2,000, Petersen’s dad canceled the service.
That isn’t to say that his life was devoid of the web — he’s an avid gamer, and has logged 6,000 hours in World of Warcraft, despite not having a good connection at home until he was 16. “I’d play on a 600-millisecond latency,” he says, then “lug my PC into town to download the newest patch.”
The towns on the Cheyenne River Reservation are a far cry from your typical American communities: Despite the reservation being nearly twice the size of Delaware, there are more than 100 miles between Eagle Butte and the closest Starbucks or McDonald’s. That isolation is typical of many reservations in the U.S. (and of reserves, their Canadian equivalents) — and the result of centuries of government policies that stripped Indigenous people of their cultural heritage and restricted many aspects of their lives.
Now a senior at Dakota State University, Petersen is developing a game of his own, Tipi Kaga (Tipi Builder), with the help of a $10,000 Dreamstarter grant. The grant is awarded annually to help young Indigenous Americans pursue dream projects, with Petersen’s being to “create video games to ensure the survival of the Lakota language.”
In practice, this means he’s using the grant to launch Northern Plains Games — a video game studio located on the Cheyenne River Reservation — with the intent to develop games made by, about, and for Indigenous people. Tipi Kaga is the studio’s first game, and is designed to teach conversational Lakota by having players build a traditional Lakota tipi in real time, with instructions spoken in Lakota.
Read more: Polygon