A common trope in horror fiction is the Native American burial ground. It’s been used as a place of evil. A place that will corrupt the land and release demonic forces.
And it’s total bullshit.
I can think of at least three movies off the top of my head that use this same trope and I’m sure there are plenty more. Pet Sematary, The Amityville Horror, and The Shining. The Shining movie, at least, uses it. I honestly can’t remember if the book makes a point of it or not. I’m assuming not because the Kubrick fandom has a lot of theories on it. A lot. If anyone knows, let me know, please!
One of the more recent examples that I can think of would be Silent Hill: Revelation. Which is a total misinterpretation of the games. In the games Silent Hill was the “Place of the Silent Spirits” and, after a massacre of the native Americans that lived there, became corrupted by the settlers. But, I digress.
I’ll talk about the movies and books in a later post. Today I’d like to focus on a few games that I’ve played recently. For three games in a row I’ve encountered an Evil Shaman. Three damn games. Paranormal State: Poison Spring (2013), Shiver: The Vanishing Hitchhiker (2011), and Haunted Hotel (2016). Below there will be spoilers for the aforementioned games below but I really wouldn’t recommend playing them anyway.
You can read my review of Paranormal State: Poison Spring here if you’d like. And I thought at the time that it was fairly unnecessary and on the offensive side. Little did I know that, of the three, it at least put some effort into the story.
In the plot of Paranormal State: Poison Spring you play as an investigator helping a woman solve the mystery of the haunting of Poison Spring Park. The story that you uncover deals with a Native American woman named Ahyokah who fell in love with a Union soldier, Edward. Ahyoka’s father, the Shaman, raised a demon named Spearhand to fight for the Confederacy. So you have to gather a few materials to banish the demon Spearhand and exorcise the spirit of the Shaman.
I don’t think I really need to point out the issues with all of this (and that’s not even adding in the White Saviour overtones to it). But at least Paranormal State put in a modicum of effort into it and has the courtesy to use the Native American title. I can’t say the same for the next two games…
In the Vanishing Hitchhiker game you start off as a young man driving home. As the legend says, you pick up a young woman and she vanishes from your backseat when you get near a dilapidated house. In her place is a teddy bear that you recognize from your childhood. Does this get explained? No. Does it have anything to do with anything? No.
I’ll get into a proper review another time but the part that is relevant to this post is the plot point that every picture a young boy draws comes true and the people end up dying in real life as they do in the pictures. s it turns out, this young boy is possessed by, you guessed it, an Evil Shaman (TM).
This one (and the next) really pisses me off because there is literally no reason for the evil force to be Native American. Paranormal State at least attempted to weave it into the story throughout the game bt in Vanishing Hitchhiker the only time anything of Indigenous culture shows up is when you find the hole that the kid fell down and got possessed. It’s a tomb and your first course of action is to rifle the two Indigenous bodies there for clues. Lovely.
That is it. The game could have used literally any other type of demon and, given that there’s a church and one of the side characters is a priest (well, side character in that you find his notes about the kid and what’s going on) a Christian demon would have made far more sense so they had to go out of their way to make the evil force a Shaman. It’s fucking gross.
And they use the oh so awesome term ‘Indian’. Which would have still been gross if it were strictly in the notes you find (which were written in the forties or fifties) but it’s in the in-game text itself. There was no attempt made to even try to not be assholes about it. This game is from 2011, there’s no excuse for it.
I will be totally transparent. I did not finish this game. I never thought I’d complain about a Hidden Object style of game having entirely too many hidden object scenes. That is the whole game. You go to a floor, read some text of story, solve the scenes, solve a super simple puzzle to go to the next floor – rinse, repeat. The scenes themselves are boring and they’re very repetitive.
The characters mentioned are The Engineer, The Captain, and, you guessed it, The Shaman. Who is apparently helping the Mad Scientist create a weather control machine. So, that puts him pretty firmly in the Evil Shaman category as it’s heavily implied that the weather machine is going to be used for nefarious purposes.
After three games, from three different years, and fairly recent years at that, I was fed up. To add insult to injury not one of these characters has a proper name. They’re just called Shaman. All three of them came out in the last decade, recent enough to know better and to have done better, particularly Haunted Hotel, which came out in 2016, a mere four years ago. It also seems to be an issue tied particularly to the Adventure/Hidden Object style of game. Possibly because they’re generally focused on hauntings so it’s an ‘easy’ trope to fall back on.
I think the Shiver one ticks me off the most because, like I said earlier, it feels almost like they had to go out of their way to make it an Evil Shaman rather than any other demonic force they could have chosen which would have made more sense.
Poison Spring is the only game put out under the Paranormal State name. Shiver has two others in its series – Poltergeist and Lily’s Requiem. Poltergeist (review coming soon) is set in England but I have not played Lily’s Requiem yet, so we’ll see where that one goes. Haunted Hotel has quite a few games in its series. I think I own one of them so we’ll see how that one goes but, if I had known what was in the first one I doubt I would have purchased any more of them. Besides the insult of the Evil Shaman trope Haunted Hotel is just a rather lazy game in general.
I hope in the future games, movies, and books can do better. There is such fertile imaginations out there that falling back on the Evil ‘Indian’ Burial Ground is not only an outdated and massively insulting trope but it’s also lazy. A shorthand to denote something as evil right off the bat just because it’s not white and it’s another culture. The horror community, whether creating or consuming, can be so much better than this.
If there are any other movies, books, or games that use this (or a similar trope) that you’d like to bring to my attention for a future Focus on the Frightful look at it please, let me know down below!
GracieKat was the first co-host of Sci-Fi & Scary, Lilyn’s partner-in-crime, and sub-head of the Kali Krew. She reviews horror books, movies, and games for the site. She also does a weekly Focus on the Frightful feature, and is the site list-maker. She is also in control of the Sci-Fi & Scary podcast which will relaunch soon.