'Offensive': Tony Hawk's Pro Skater uses Māori tā moko for 'poly-face' tattoo option

The newly relaunched Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2 video game has prompted outrage with several facial tattoo options for players that mimic Māori tā moko. 

Screenshots of the indigenous-inspired tattoo customisations available for players to choose from - titled 'poly-face', 'big island' and 'dastardly' - did the rounds on social media after the game was released on Friday. 

"Eww, who asked for this and thought it was a good idea?" one Twitter user captioned the images. 

"I couldn’t get past the fact that it’s called 'Poly-face', oh my God," said another. 

Pākehā/Māori tattoo artist Timothy Russell dubbed the use of tā moko in this context "offensive", using a Twitter thread to explain "the basics on why this sucks". 

Russell first clarified that the use of "tā moko'' doesn't just refer to facial tattoos, but actually encompases any act when one Māori person makes permanent markings on another Māori person "which reference their whakapapa", or line of ancestry. 

This concept is a core part of Māori identity, Russell explained, adding that it's always been considered a "grave insult" to replicate the moko of another person, due to how it specifically relates to the wearer's individual identity and family background. 

"So because all of these markings have meaning, what do you think happens when someone who doesn't understand them draws one?" Russell continued on Twitter. 

"It's kind of like when you see people make up racist fake 'Asian' lettering, like you know what they're trying to do but it just doesn't make sense." 

Russell explained that the fact the tattoos are 'set' options players are able to pick from a catalogue in the game's 'create a skater' section' is also disrespectful because it's the "antithesis of the core kaupapa of moko", which is heavily based in the personalized nature of each tattoo. 

"This adoption of our art purely for aesthetics is just another act of cultural colonisation, something not meant to be sold once again commodified by people that don't understand, just because it 'looks cool' or exotic," Russell said. 

Russell's thread was widely praised for being informative and important by other Twitter users, including game designer Jon Melchiade, who worked on the recent Tony Hawk game. 

"This was really enlightening and I'm glad I caught this thread," Melchiade replied to Russell. 

"It's clear that we still have room to improve and learn. We try hard to be inclusive and respectful about what we include in our games.

"I'm gonna share this along to the 'create a skater' team so we can do better." 

Russell thanked Melachiade for his response, adding that consulting with Māori practitioners in a collaborative way when interested in including body art like this in games could create a "really great" result.