University Uses Taxpayer Money to Fund Video Game Promoting Eco-Terrorism

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The debate over privately owned pipelines on Native American lands is far from over. A university professor is keeping the dream of violent rebellion alive with a video game that allows users to destroy pipelines. The game openly promotes what many feel is “eco-terrorism,” and the funds used to develop the game came from the government.

Michigan State University assistant professor of media and information Elizabeth LaPensee is downplaying the criticism. She created “Thunderbird Strike,” and believes her game is a work of art with an educational purpose.

“The game,” Fox reports, “which was paid for in part by Minnesota taxpayers via a grant, allows players to wipe out pipelines and machinery.” Despite the destruction, LaPensee doesn’t see the game as violent.

“It certainly is not encouraging anyone to commit eco-terrorism,” LaPensee said.

This has long been the standing defense of video games. The Grand Theft Auto series, for example, did not result in a measurable increase in actual instances of grand theft auto.

Yet the energy industry sees it differently. Toby Mack, president of Energy Builders, a D.C.-based advocacy group, says the game does promote violence.

“We call on Michigan State University to pull the plug immediately on this taxpayer-funded political campaign and reject any so-called educational program designed to encourage eco-terrorism or other bad behavior,” he said.

“In the 2D side scrolling game, users control a thunderbird – a symbol from Native American cultures used by pipeline protesters, such as those who camped out to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline – to gather lightning and destroy as much of the oil industry’s machinery and pipelines as is possible, in order to score more points,” Fox writes.

The levels are divided by interstitial videos and images with a political message: “No pipelines on Indigenous land.”

The game is linked to a website that has actual calls-to-action, though they are not violent in nature. One asks visitors to “speak up against pipelines on Indigenous land.” Another suggests that players “divest money from banks.”

The Associated Press, when reporting on the game’s ties to state funding, noted that the website originally featured the phrase “in affiliation with”  in referencing MSU’s Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab. Now, the text reads: “With gratitude to Michigan State University.” It also notes that some funding came from a grant form the state of Minnesota.

LaPensee has used funds from The Arrowhead Regional Arts Council in Duluth, Minnesota, but denies the claims that the game was paid for by MSU.