square bulletOngoing Survivance

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September 28, 2017

From Elizabeth LaPensée, PhD, Assistant Professor of Media & Information and Writing, Rhetoric & American Cultures, Michigan State University

“Survivance” is the vision of shifting the perspective of Indigenous people as survivors to thrivers. Anishinaabe writer and scholar Gerald Vizenor has inspired generations of Indigenous artists with this idea. In homage of his work, I designed the social impact game Survivance which promotes the idea that everyone is an artist and that creating art can lead to healing. Indigenous communities are in particular need of healing due to the intergenerational effects of colonization. The loss of land, family, and culture has been devastating to the well-being of these communities, which have been left with very little, resulting in consistently high rates of substance abuse, domestic violence, exposure to sexual assault, and suicide. Survivance hopes to respond to these issues with hope by walking community members through the process of using the creation of art to heal present and future generations.

In the Survivance game, players begin by choosing a quest from any phase of the Native life journey—described by storyteller and artist Roger Fernandes—based on where they feel they are at in their life or what speaks to them. The phases include the Orphan, the Wanderer, the Caretaker, the Warrior, and the Changer. The quest steps unfold in day to day life and can last anywhere from minutes to weeks depending on how a player engages with the quest. When the quest is complete, they create an act of survivance—art in any form which helps players process their experience during the quest. Players then determine if they want to share their act of survivance online.

As a social impact game, Survivance provides a structure for Indigenous people to create art in any medium as a method of healing from the ongoing impact of colonization on displaced, erased, and eradicated communities who experience issues such as sexual assault, domestic violence, substance abuse, and youth suicide. By walking through the steps of game quests that engage players in storytelling and creating art, players find that expressing themselves can heal themselves. In optionally sharing their art, the game facilitates wider impact with their families and communities by continuing, for example, stories, language, and art styles that may otherwise not be passed on to further generations.

Since its launch, Survivance has been modified by various community members into self-determined workshops, long-term programs, and even a zine. The Survivance zine is curated by Demian Diné Yazhi’ through R.I.S.E.: Radical Indigenous Survivance & Empowerment and reflects determination and ongoing growth.

All communities are welcome to play and adapt Survivance for their own journeys.


Elizabeth LaPensée, PhD, is an award-winning writer, designer, and artist of games, comics, transmedia, and animation. She is Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish, living near the Great Lakes as an Assistant Professor of Media & Information and Writing, Rhetoric & American Cultures at Michigan State University.