Carl Petersen Develops a Lakota Video Game to Revitalize Language

Carl’s Dream

“My dream is to operate a video game design studio based on my reservation; a studio that would create and maintain games made about, for and by Native American people.”

The first game will be called Kaga Tipi (Tipi Builder), and will allow children and youth to build a traditional Lakota tipi in real time with instructions spoken in Lakota.

Carl’s Home and Community

Carl grew up in the town of Eagle Butte, South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, which is where they would like to base their business. While Eagle Butte is the largest town on the reservation, it is by no means urban; “there are few places within the continental United States more than 100 miles from a McDonald’s or a Walmart.”

Cheyenne River has high rates of unemployment and poverty. “It is hard to go very far in the town of Eagle Butte without seeing the signs of people living in abject poverty, though symptoms can range from slum-like trailer parks to packs of feral dogs – the once-loved puppies of families who could not afford them.”

But despite the hardships faced by Eagle Butte residents, Carl says, “As far of the people of the town go, most are friendly. There’s a kind of camaraderie in the perils that most face every day.”

What motivated Carl to develop his dream?

Carl received a vision of creating a video game specifically for Native American people when they were thinking about what they wanted to do with their life following graduation from high school.

“I played video games a lot throughout my life and I wanted to help bring those experiences to people,” they told us.

After enrolling in the game design program at Dakota State University, they were working one summer at the Crazy Horse Memorial when they first told someone of their idea to build a video game that would incorporate Lakota culture history and language into a single experience “like that of someone living the culture when it was fully alive and well prior to the assimilation of our people into the euro-American culture.”

The Dream as a Solution

Carl’s dream of a Lakota video game would start out small with a single-player game such as of allowing players to go through the process of constructing a Lakota tipi in the traditional way with all dialogue and voice acting in the game in the Lakota language with English subtitles.

“With my games, I want to reach as many people as possible, but primarily the tribal members of the Lakota-speaking nations across the Great Plains,” They said, adding, “My idea goes one step futher than producing a single game, as I hope to find or train like-minded indigenous game developers to create a sustainable studio that could eventually be a great asset on my reservation.

“My idea exemplifies entrepreneurship in that it is filling a niche to bring a much-needed product to both end-users and different organizations, be they tribal schools themselves or other businesses looking to make a change in tribal communities, especially those of the Lakota in South Dakota and surrounding states and provinces.”

The Potential Impact in the Future

“Preferably, the game would be a massively multiplayer online game able to bring together Native peoples from across the world to experience their cultures together to learn their languages in a conversational way and to form a new identity of what it means to be a tribal citizen in the 21st century.”

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