Why now's the time for Māori to get into Aotearoa's gaming and tech sector

Māori make up fewer than 5 percent of Aotearoa's gaming and tech workforce but with the sector enjoying a boom time, those in the industry say it's critical we prepare rangatahi for a career in this space.

Video game maker Aaron Alexander runs a game-developing class once a week with students from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti (Dunedin).

He said he doesn't care if the young people he tutors don't want to follow in his footsteps.

His message is simple: "We have computers, we have the internet, use it, use it to make money, make businesses, get a piece of it, and whatever shape that takes."

Fifteen-year-old Ratana Kahukura has been playing video games since he was young.

He's delighted to be exposed to all aspects of video gaming in the hope he may decide on it as a career.

"I don't think any of us thought that we'd be able to do this as a job," he said.

Aotearoa's gaming and tech sector earned a record $407 million in the past year, and employed more than 1000 people. It's projected to generate $1 billion by 2026.

Taikawa Tamati-Elliffe is part of the Centre of Digital Excellence, or CODE, based in Ōtepoti. 

He said the industry is crying out to get more Māori into its workforce.

"I think it's a boom time for Māori developers purely because we have something so unique to us. We're so good at storytelling that the world hasn't seen; it's something that doesn't exist in our current market," he said.

Worldwide, digital studios are crying out for indigenous storytelling and voices.

Leading game designer and developer Maru Nihoniho said there's no better time for Māori to tell authentic stories that can't be made anywhere else in the world.

Nihoniho's video game Guardian Maia combines the mythical with futuristic sci-fi and puts Te Ao Māori on the world stage.

"I used to think to myself, 'how cool would it be if there was a Māori character that I could play?' You know, it's like seeing myself reflected back through a game."

She has talked to a lot of tamariki and rangatahi explaining how she got into gaming and how it could be possible for them too.

"Until you see someone else doing it, it doesn't really become real. And if you see people that look like you doing it and you're like, 'man, I can probably do that as well,'" she said.

Making indigenous games can also help develop a deeper connection to that culture.

Lisa Blakie's flight game Toroa also tells a story that's based in Te Ao Māori.

"I think that games have been the biggest reason for me becoming closer to my whakapapa and it's just really cool having two things that I love, you know, as my day-to-day mahi," she said.

But the biggest barrier for whānau getting into the sector comes down to money. While consoles are relatively inexpensive, the cost of a PC is beyond many budgets.

"For an entry-level computer, it's $1500. Even access to the internet is a huge barrier for our whanau," Tamati-Elliffe said.

But she said the money, the putea that could be injected into a whanau from a career in games, could help uplift them.

"It needs to happen for our whanau or else we're going to be left behind. We'll see everyone else advance and we'll still be in our manual labour jobs. Our tūpuna were never scared to traverse the sea, traversed the land. This is a new space for us to go and thrive in."

Made with the help of New Zealand On Air and Te Mangai Pāho.