Allen Turner democratizes Indigenous mythology in games that empower everybody
By Craig Keller
Teaching DePaul students to craft professional-caliber video games is just one goal of the DePaul Originals Game Studio (DOGS), says its creative director, Allen Turner, a senior professional lecturer in the Eugene P. Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media’s School of Design.
“Making an entertaining experience is aspect number one,” says Turner, who previously worked in tech support and design for such pioneering video game studios as Bungie, Day 1 Studios and Wideload Games. “But we’re also making the experiences accessible and useful outside DePaul, particularly in marginalized communities, so we can show people this is a valid career option they can explore at DePaul.”
To meet those diﬀerent challenges, it helps to be a “shape changer,” an identity Turner says sprouted from his African American Lakota Sioux roots. Turner began exploring that heritage as a youth when relatives from South Dakota’s Sioux reservations visited his family in the Ida B. Wells Homes, a public housing complex of the Chicago Housing Authority. He later became involved with the American Indian Center of Chicago and other institutions as a storyteller.
“I like the idea of taku skan skan, a Lakota term for creation that says we’re always in motion,” says Turner. “Creation didn’t happen way back then—it’s happening all the time within you.”
“It’s about seeing yourself as a mythic creator coming into a circle of other creators and dismissing this idea of hierarchies.”
— Allen Turner
That philosophy and mitakuye oyasin, a Lakota benediction celebrating the interconnectedness of all living creatures, informed Arboretum Mysterium, a card game Turner designed that replaces the European symbols on tarot cards with images of nature. He has used the game in community outreach to help youth “reexamine the big stories in your life you’re carrying. It’s about seeing yourself as a mythic creator coming into a circle of other creators and dismissing this idea of hierarchies,” says Turner.
Ehdrigohr, a fantasy-horror, role-playing board game Turner designed, also draws on the mythologies of Indigenous cultures and involves therapeutic self-examination. Its nocturnal adversaries, the Shivers, are a metaphor for the debilitating eﬀects of depression Turner sees as pervasive in underserved populations.
Similarly, the antagonists of the video game currently in development at DOGS are grotesque contortions of beings warped by depression and despair. Rose, a mystical dog who fell from the sky, battles and evades these enemies as the game’s main character. Yet, like every game Turner creates, the keys to victory are teamwork and hope.
“When we get into these creation spaces, and when we’re playing with another person, we become present and more open and vulnerable in a way that we just aren’t in our normal day-to-day interactions,” says Turner. “In those moments, that’s where we can ask these big, deep questions, and that’s where we can allow ourselves to imagine new ways of being.”