When Rivers Were Trails is a "Native-themed decision-based RPG" based on the classic Apple ][+ game "Oregon Trail," in which you play an 1890 Anishinaabeg person who has been forced off your land in Fond du Lac, Minnesota and must migrate through the northwest to California.
The game was created by Elizabeth LaPensée — an Anishinaabe game creator from Baawaating — and a team of more than 20 indigenous writers and artists, including visual artist Weshoyot Alvitre and composers Supaman and Michael Charette.
LaPensée says that she used to joke that she wanted an Oregon Trail-style tee with the slogan "You have died of colonization," and that was the germ of the idea that she pitched to Dr. Nichlas Emmons for the Indian Land Tenure Foundation's project to develop K-12 Lessons of Our Land curriculum.
The writers used drew on their own families' stories of displacement to craft the narrative and interactions in the game.
This is a sovereign game funded by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, making the gameplay considerably. The game goes so far as to end by warning the player that people are being scaled in southern California, which was true of the time because there were still bounties for Native scalps in the 1890s. The player is forced to choose which way they want to go in a final decision which leads to different endings and life paths. All of the Indigenous creatives involved wanted to make sure the gritty but real truth was included.
When Rivers Were Trails [Elizabeth LaPensée and co/Indian Land Tenure]
Real Native history in a video game: An Indigenous take on The Oregon Trail [Adrian Jawort/Indian Country Today]