Meet the woman smashing gaming's glass ceiling

From being told 'girls don't make games' to heading her own development studio, Christchurch local Maru Nihoniho refuses to conform to tech sector cliches.

Speaking to Newshub Nation, Nihoho discussed the importance of racial and gender diversity in a business still struggling with a 'boys club' image.

"As far as I know I am the only Māori woman in New Zealand that heads her own game studio."

Nihoniho founded Metia studios in 2003, a business she says was born purely out of 'curiosity'.

"I wanted to make games. I had no experience in design or development, so I took myself overseas for a couple of years to find out everything I could about development."

When she returned home and began producing games she found commercial success with titles like Cube for the PlayStation Portable. But she soon moved on to games designed to do more than just entertain.  

"We make fun and educational games, and most of them have a learning outcome."

Metia's games range from Pa Wars, a tower defence game translated into te reo, to Sparxx, a digital form of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) aiding players with mild forms of depression.

Nihoniho, who was named in Forbes Magazine Top 40 Women in Technology last year, says that while diversity in tech has made progress since she started, there's still a long way to go.

"In the games industry, it's still very male-dominated. When I first started out...there were comments that I heard like 'girls don't make games' or, 'are you from the marketing department?"

Representation of women within games themselves also causes controversy, with female characters often heavily sexualised and given little agency compared to their male counterparts.

At the video game industry's largest event last year, the Electronic Arts Expo (E3), only eight percent of titles shown had an exclusively female protagonist.

To buck this trend, Nihoniho writes strong female leads into her games, including her latest title Guardian Maia, a text-based adventure based on Māori history and mythology.

She hopes the stories her games tell will motivate more Pasifika and Māori woman to follow her into game development.  

"I hope that [Guardian Maia] is seen as inspirational and that others will see it as different. It's a story that hasn't been told because it's come out of my mind as a female and as a Māori female."

The video game industry is now the most profitable form of entertainment on the planet, worth over $200b NZD globally. New Zealand's own sector is worth over $500m in total.

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