An electronic Indigenous bird that prevents oil pipelines from causing havoc on the environment is being labelled an act of eco-terrorism.
Thunderbird Strike is a video game developed by Elizabeth Lapensee, an Indigenous artist from Michigan. It won Best Digital Media at the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival late last month. Yellowknife artist Casey Koyczan was responsible for sound-effects, audio and voice acting on the game.
The website for Thunderbird Strike states the game’s intention is to bring awareness to the Line 5 Enbridge pipeline built in 1953. The pipeline, which carries 540,000 barrels of oil from Superior, Wisc. to Sarnia, Ont., was only designed to last until 2003. During those 50 years, it leaked 1.1 million gallons of oil.
Soon after the game’s release, Minnesota Senator David Osmek remarked the game is “an eco-terrorist version of Angry Birds.”
Toby Mack, CEO of the Energy Equipment Infrastructure Alliance in Washington D.C. Explained his criticism of the game’s message.
“Putting something out there that depicts (pipelines) as bad is a naive commentary on people’s well-being,” said Mack. “We use pipelines for anything from heat in our homes to power in our factories.”
Mack also stated he believes Thunderbird Strike encourages violence against all pipeline infrastructure.
According to Lapensee, the intention behind the game is to bring awareness to how humans treat the environment, using various Indigenous themes.
“My hope is for all of the waters, including the Great Lakes, to be well for generations,” she said.
According to Koyczan, the fact the game has received accolades is a testament to its relevance.
“Winning the award for best digital media means to me that there are a lot of people out there who agree with the content of the game.” he said. “A lot of people want to see positive changes in industry, society and most importantly our environment.”
He added Thunderbird Strike is not the first game to raise questions about ethics or accountability, and framed it as mild in comparison to the likes of Grand Theft Auto or various war games that “place North America as the good guys while completely slandering other countries.”
“I think it’s interesting that when a game gets turned inward and forces us to look at our own country’s responsibilities it’s immediately scrutinized,” he said.
The American Petroleum Institute has also come out in opposition to Thunderbird Strike. Erin Roth, executive director for the Minnesota Petroleum Council, stationed out of Washington D.C., said the overall concern with the game is the violence it generates from environmental protesters.
“We’ve seen an escalation of extremist protesters who commit violent acts,” she said.
Furthermore, Roth acknowledges some pipelines, including the replacement of the Enbridge Line 3, must be fixed to ensure safety for communities.
“You can only put band-aids on these pipelines so often before they need to be replaced,” said Roth. “Some people don’t want fossil fuels and that’s where the argument is at a halt.”