Indigenous games spotlighted at exhibition, summit

By Ani Ngawhika of

Game developer Elaine Gomez of Puerto Rico demonstrates a game she has developed called Vejigantes at the opening of Whare Kariori - International Indigenous Digital gaming summit at the Otago Museum

Indigenous game developers travelled from across the globe for a “life changing” visit to Dunedin.

Wānaka Whare Karioi ā-Whenua, the International Indigenous Digital Games Summit, run in conjunction with Tūhuru Otago Museum’s Whare Karioi – an interactive digital games exhibition, opened to the public on Thursday.

Game developer Elaine Gomez travelled from New Jersey to take part in the exhibit.

Gomez was raised in Puerto Rico and is of Taino descent – the indigenous people of the Caribbean.

She felt validated connecting with other indigenous game developers, she said.

“It’s life changing for a lot of us and very emotional as well.”

The exhibit allowed visitors to play various games and learn more about indigenous cultures.

Gomez said her game, Vejigantes, incorporated many aspects of her Taino culture, from traditional practices to the skin colour of her characters.

The group stayed at Ōtākou Marae prior to the opening, sharing stories of their journeys with gaming, culture and identity.

“We’ve never met each other, but it’s our spirit that connects us.”

Game developer Casey McDonnell travelled from Seattle, contributing his award-winning game Never Alone – an adventure video game incorporating Inupiat Native Alaskan culture.

McDonnell is not indigenous himself, but said he was a “better person” having seen that way of being in the world.

“In the moment, it was the most important, meaningful thing I’ve done, and it remains that, actually.”

He got emotional reflecting on the impact of his game on Alaskan Native youth and indigenous people across the world.

“It’s still resonating with people, it’s still inspiring people.”

For Kāi Tahu game developer Lisa Blakie, Never Alone was the first game she saw with indigenous representation.

“Ten years later, our game is in an exhibition next to the game that really inspired me to start this – it feels really full circle.”

Blakie is co-director of Atawhai Interactive and is contributing its game, Toroa: Skycall.

It was a relaxing, atmospheric game where you played as an albatross, finding your way back to Pukekura (Taiaroa Head), she said.

She was “lost for words” to be interacting with such like-minded people.

“I’ve already cried like four times today. It’s so surreal.”

Another Kāi Tahu game developer Maru Nihoniho contributed her game Guardian Maia to the exhibit.

The adventure game is set in 2750, combining a world of science-fiction and traditional Māori culture.

She wanted to create a Māori game, because that was the type of game she would have loved to play growing up, she said.

It was her culture that kept her inspired, Nihoniho said.

“The more I learnt about my culture, the more I connected with it, the more I wanted to show it.

“That was my motivation.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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