As an avid gamer, Morgana Watson eagerly awaited the day she could become immersed in a role-playing video game that truly reflected her culture.
“I’ve been a gamer since a child and, about 10 years ago, I was playing one of my favourite games, Tomb Raider, and thought, ‘I can’t wait till someone makes a Māori Tomb Raider or a Māori God of War’, but it never happened.”
Inspired by the “incredible Māori speakers” at a 2018 technology and innovation event Ko Māui Hāngarau, Morgana decided she would have to make the Māori game herself.
With a background in performing arts and education, including teaching te reo Māori and Māori culture, Morgana had the creative skills, tikanga knowledge, and passion to back up her aspiration.
“But I had no idea how I was going to get there – I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” she laughs.
Morgana cold-called a list of the 10 tech and innovation people she wanted to work with and all said they would love to be part of the project. She was also put in touch with several Māori game developers who provided advice.
Buoyed by her initial success, Morgana founded game development company 4Phase Games, and today the New Plymouth company is in the game pre-production phase, with the aim of producing a playable prototype in 2021 and a completed game by 2023.
Her team of tech experts is spread throughout the country and includes artists, legal advisors and Māori combat specialists.
As creative director, Morgana is not stopping at one game, with the long-term plan to make a game series.
“It started out as wanting to create a game that I wanted to play, but it has ended up being about an indigenous movement – the responsibility of creating interactive media that is authentic, and represents our narratives, mythology and culture true to who we are."
“It’s knowing that we are dealing with old, old knowledge and being able to bring that to life and following the tikanga, so that it’s respectful."
Game players will be dropped into a Māori world based on myths and legends – a fantastical, adventure, combat game that will be entirely in te reo, with English subtitles. Different dialects will be used and there will also be “nods and winks” to various iwi.
Financing the venture has been a challenge, but through grants, COVID-19 support and mentoring initiatives, connections through the New Zealand Game Developers’ Association, and working with Christchurch creative company Māui Studios, Morgana has been able to progress her dream.
“The people involved aren’t here for the money,” she says. “They see this as an incredible opportunity.”
She hopes it has long-term influence, helping to create generational opportunities for Māori in the tech and gaming industry.
And she says living in Taranaki has been crucial to the game’s development.
“To do this and form the narrative of the game, I have to be connected to my land and people and I would not get that connection if I was living anywhere else."