Anger over apparent use of Māori tā moko on character in Xbox game Starfield

The appearance of a tā moko on a character in one of the year's most hotly anticipated and ambitious video games has prompted anger online.

Space exploration game Starfield, which is set for release on September 3 from Bethesda Game Studios, recently published a deep dive gameplay trailer which showcased many characters, among other elements.

In one sequence, a character with what appears to be a New Zealand accent addresses the player with a tā moko on full display.

However, the use of the Māori facial tattoo has been slammed online, with commenters wondering what consultation Bethesda Games Studio had before signing off its use.

"Use of tā moko in games without Māori consultation is a huge no-no. If Starfield wants them in, they need to do their research and clearly define in-game what is tā moko and what is kirituhi. We already did this with Cyberpunk 2077," one commenter said on Twitter.

"That's bad," another said.

"I wish video game companies would stop being so obsessed with us and trying to put this shit in their games," another posted online.

What appears to be a traditional Maori facial tattoo has been used in video game Starfield, causing anger online.
Photo credit: Bethesda Game Studios / Xbox

However, another sympathised with game developers over their desire to include tā moko, but said it was important for the companies to explain the process they used to integrate it.

"It would be challenging for all game studios to authentically represent all other cultures, so contextual use is key. The consensus we're seeing from Māori is that the Starfield moko has problems, which alone can be seen as insulting to Māori because Moko are taonga."

When Newshub approached Bethesda about the tā moko usage in Starfield, the studio said it had "no comment to provide on this".

It's not the first time the use of Māori imagery has caused issues with games.

In May, a Swedish tabletop game maker was forced to apologise for using an illustration of Tāme Iti in the upcoming publication of its rulebook.

In a page posted on Twitter on April 27, company World of Darkness shared information about the 'Glass Walkers tribe' from its upcoming rulebook Werewolf: The Apocalypse.

That tweet, which has subsequently been deleted, was shared on Reddit with user UnusualSoup saying: "So a game called World of Darkness has stolen someone's image for their game. And that is making me feel a bit sick. The person on the right is called Tāme Iti. Please don't steal/appropriate people for your game. Especially if you don't understand their culture."

In December 2020, futuristic video game Cyberpunk 2077 caused uproar by using tā moko as a customisable option within its character creation.

"As a gamer, it doesn't ruin the entire game, but it casts a shadow on it for me as an indigenous person," Morgana Watson​, the creative director of MW Consultancy and 4Phase Games told Stuff.