Gaming

Australian Video Games: We Speak To First Nations Creators – Junkee


“There are stories, ideas, language and art that only First Nations People are allowed to share and tell and if we’re given the space, greater diverse pieces of work happen.”

Sun’s out, Invasion Day’s around the corner, and the lurgy got itself an upgrade. Not a great start to 2022, but let’s not count the year out just yet.

I’d love to introduce you deadly lot to another deadly lot, who are making waves in the local gaming space. They come from all parts of the games industry in some form or another, myself included — there’s a whole, wide world out there, and not just for programmers. So these fellas below and I yarned about who they are and what they do in making video games, and who knows, maybe you’ll find a future career path?

Let’s get cracking!


Phoebe Watson — Yarra Gunditj Game Designer

Who are you, who’s lands do you work on, and which mob do you come from?

My name is Phoebe, and I am a proud Yarrer Gunditj Woman from the Marr Nation. I work on the lands of the Boonwurrung people.

What have you done in the industry?

I have worked as a game designer and cultural consultant for Dragonbear Studios on their first title, Innchanted. I have also given many talks at events such as PAX and Freeplay about the importance of inclusion and the sensitivities around including Indigenous culture in games.

“It is a position that needs support and proper compensation for everyone, along with the involvement of elders and other Indigenous people.”

Recently, I have worked with Star Stable Entertainment on their newest project, Curie, as a junior designer and writer, and with GUCK on their Indigenous-led project codenamed Future Folklore.

What’s a key challenge you see for Indigenous games workers?

One of the biggest challenges facing Indigenous games workers at the moment is being approached or hired as a green tick to companies wanting Indigenous involvement. It is a position that needs support and proper compensation for everyone, along with the involvement of elders and other Indigenous people. Indigenous games workers are being expected to be the decision-makers for entire communities, where results could negatively impact many people.

What’s an opportunity for them?

Despite the challenges, people are realising now more than ever the rich pool of stories, art and inspirations that are waiting to be shared. We have an opportunity to have our stories and experiences shared with everyone to enjoy.


Colin W. Smith — Jagera Actor/VO Talent

Who are you, who’s lands do you work on, and which mob do you come from?

I’m Colin W. Smith, I primarily work on Yuggera country and I’m from the Jagera mob so I feel lucky to be mainly working on home country.

What have you done in the industry?

I’m mainly an actor for stage and haven’t done a great deal of voiceover in the gaming industry as yet — I had a few voices in Company Colossal, not much else! — but that’s something I’m keen to remedy.

“I look forward to the day when there are more Aboriginal stories in video games, as I think we’ve got valuable and unique yarns to spin.”

What’s a key challenge you see for Indigenous games workers?

I think the challenge for us mob is not having a clear path on how to make a sustainable career out of the work. I’m hoping in the near future that mentoring and other development opportunities will become more frequent and prevalent. And I look forward to the day when there are more Aboriginal stories in video games, as I think we’ve got valuable and unique yarns to spin.

Got a quick, funny story about your experience?

I had this hilarious experience once where I was working with my bestie, Kevin Powe, who is a developer working out of Tavern Of Voices: we were putting together a proof of concept for an animated project, and one of the voices he gave me involved someone dying and horrible gurgling death, so — saving that voice for last just in case something went disastrously wrong — I swigged half a mouthful of water and tried to scream through it, without getting water all over the mic and the booth! Somehow managed to do it too, and apparently the results were shudder-worthy.


David Parkin — Trawlwulwuy Company Director

Who are you, who’s lands do you work on, and which mob do you come from?

My name is David Parkin, I am the founder and Managing Director of Luggarrah. I am currently working on Djab Wurrung country (Western Vic). I am a Trawlwulwuy man, from Tebrakunna country of the Trowunna nation (North-East Tasmania).

What have you done in the industry?

Since late 2018, I have been creating career pathways for students from regional and diverse backgrounds by linking them with game developers through immersive events and learning programs. Through these events and learning programs we have had 440 students participants across eight events from 23 different regional secondary schools where 30 industry representatives have presented unique insights about themselves, their roles and the industry.

“There are stories, ideas, language and art that only First Nations People are allowed to share and tell and if we’re given the space, greater diverse pieces of work happen.”

I am currently working on a number of things for 2022, and part of the IGEA Diversity and Inclusion Group/ MIGW Steering Committee 2021 & 2022.

What’s a key challenge you see for Indigenous games workers?

The key challenge I see for Indigenous games workers is “Space” — which is culturally safe, open to new thoughts, methods and ideas, inclusive and supportive. One that does not misrepresent, misappropriate or silence growth of/for First Nations People.

There are stories, ideas, language and art that only First Nations People are allowed to share and tell and if we’re given the space, greater diverse pieces of work happen.

What’s an opportunity for them?

Opportunities for First Nations People in the Games Industry are increasing and can vary from state to state. Attend local meet-ups where possible both virtually and in-person, follow your favourite studios and devs online, ask questions of what they are doing to engage/ encourage and support FNP, look for courses online to develop your skills (Udemy, Blender, Twine, YouTube) always keep learning, make a start on things you want to create and make mistakes.


Arthur Ah Chee, Jr. — Wangkangurru Project Manager/Artist

Who are you, who’s lands do you work on, and which mob do you come from?

I am Arthur Ah Chee Jr., I work on the land of the Kaurna people here in Adelaide, South Australia. When it comes to my heritage both my mother and father are Indigenous. For the most part I say I come from the Northern Simpson Desert region, my family being the Wangkangurru people. I was born in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. I try to do my best to go back to Alice for Christmases, Native Title meetings, and even just to meet up with family.

I mostly find I do a lot of project management and team leading when I am involved in group projects, though I would mostly consider my formal skills to be in 3D assets and environment art.

What have you done in the industry?

I do a lot of community work, mentoring, and I like to try and get some tutoring in as well. I am currently working in VR for some government bodies, in the early stages of business development for my Indigenous games start-up. I have been working on a game to put to market with my small team, and am currently in the early stages of working with local Kaurna elders and a South Australian museum in making an immersive story-telling experience.

“Our uniqueness can’t be understated, and we have a lot to be proud of and a lot of good we can share with the world.”

While I am currently mentoring two young Indigenous brothers, I would also love to help any of our mob who are interested in knowing more about getting started.

What’s a key challenge you see for Indigenous games workers?

I think the isolation and desire for self-expression, trying to feel you are staying true to yourself while trying to juggle the needs of day to day life. Whether it is finances, family or cultural obligations. Being as there aren’t many of us mob in our country, we can feel extra isolated in an industry that is already niche. I can’t help but imagine the feeling of loneliness only gets deeper with how dense the bigger cities may be.

I deeply worry that we’ll just be a flavour, a fun novelty to the world but not seen as something to be rightfully cared for. Our uniqueness can’t be understated, and we have a lot to be proud of and a lot of good we can share with the world.

What’s an opportunity for them?

I see that there is a good opportunity right now to build your networks. We are lucky to have such caring industry peers who want to support Indigenous people. Try to go to more industry events, try to share Linkedin and Twitter accounts. Do what you can to share your name, so you don’t seem like such an anomaly. Put yourself out there as someone who wants to do the best for others.


Samara-Jade Sendek is a freelance narrative designer and writer. See her tweets at @jadedsynic.

Photo Credit: Getty Images



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