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Indigenous video game character based on Saskatchewan woman’s background

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WATCH: Self-expression and storytelling are becoming common themes in video games. That rings true for a Saskatchewan-born actor who's provided the voice for a character based on her own Indigenous culture and background – Aug 8, 2021

Video games have become a popular hobby or profession for many around the world. The player more than ever has the ability to express themselves through their video game.

That is the case for animated character Mina Sky, also known as Thunderbird in the hit video game Rainbow Six Siege.

The character Sky is based on the Indigenous culture and background of her voicer, Sera-Lys McArthur.

“I was a big fan of video games as a kid, and this was something on my bucket list,” McArthur said.

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McArthur grew up in Regina and is a member of the Pheasant Rump/Nakoda First Nation. She has been acting for two decades after getting her start on the CBC show Revenge of the Land.

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McArthur says this was a gig that she really wanted and ultimately pursued. She put her all into the audition for this first video game voice acting gig of her career so far.

She told Global News the game developer at Ubisoft Canada waited until after she was cast to then design the animated character based on her culture from the First Nation in southern Saskatchewan.

McArthur adds Ubisoft cast her, then asked about McArthur’s cultural heritage, then sourced some cultural advisors from Saskatchewan to help design the character, before doing any voice-over work.

“I’ve played video games my whole life, I have never seen an Indigenous-based character before, or the way they went about the designer (Mina),” McArthur said over Zoom from her Toronto home.

Ubisoft is known for its video games of historical accuracy, including the Assassins Creed franchise.

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Ryerson University professor of video games Kris Alexander says now more than ever in the video game world, people can find a game or create a game portraying or telling their unique story highlighting any specific culture, background or idea.

“There are conversations happening out there about representation and inclusion,” Alexander said.

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“It’s easier more than ever before to find curated playlists for particular communities of people.”

Alexander says game makers such as Ubisoft have been making games in this vein for some time now, along with many others.

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The University of Saskatchewan‘s director of social accountability in the college of medicine, Manuela Valle-Castro, says in this day and age, there needs to continue to be the opportunity for any culture or people to be included in society “in order to make meaningful contributions to culture.”

“In order to be represented in culture, they need to access to participate in society as a whole,” Valle-Castro said.

Valle-Castro says while it may be happening more frequently in video games, there is room for improvement in other forms of mainstream media.

The character Thunderbird is a medic and pilot in the game and is enrolled in the Bold Eagle program — a real training program designed for Indigenous youth that gives them a taste of the cultural experience.

Developers added the ability for Thunderbird to heal anyone without her Kona station. McArthur said Kona in the First Nation language means friend.

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She added that the whole experience, seeing an animated character come to life and featuring her home culture and way of life, has been awesome.

McArthur says it was important to her to land the role as a way of expression during these difficult times for many Indigenous people with the continued searching of Indigenous residential schools and unmarked graves being found.

“As an artist, me being able to contribute to the conversation means a lot to me,” McArthur said.

“Hopefully it means a lot to my community as well, all Indigenous people.”

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McArthur says this is not the last of her voicing responsibilities as she will voice any further projects featuring the character down the road as well.

“I’m excited to see what the future holds for me and (Mina) Thunderbird.”

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