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ĀteaMay 1, 2019

Stink as: another video game appropriating Māori taonga

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Another day, another flagrant rip-off of Māori taonga and intellectual property, this time in a middling video game. Don Rowe reports. 

When the developers of the world’s most popular strategy game decided to bring a fleshed-out Māori race into Civ IV, they consulted, among others, with the Māori New Zealand Arts & Crafts Institute, a legal entity enshrined in New Zealand law to foster and promote Māori culture.

“Having that research available to us, to have those people available to us to make sure we were doing this right was extremely valuable,” they said at the time.

Even then, there was pushback from those who said the inclusion of Kupe without direct permission from his descendants was unacceptable.

But that was a hell of a lot better than whatever this shit is:

H1Z1 is yet another in the increasingly crowded ‘battle royale’ genre of video games, in which players compete to be the last man standing in a large multiplayer combat zone. Battle Royale games are generally free-to-play, and so the developers turn a profit by selling custom skins and ’emotes’ for players to distinguish themselves in the scrum.

It’s no small business. Fortnite, the most popular game in the genre, made in excess of $4.5 billion last year. Fortnite has, according to some, become more than a game and is now a virtual world in which the young socialise, replacing the bus depots of yore, and so having the latest kit is a real urge for players. Fortnite even hosts occasional in-game concerts, and have faced accusations of copyright infringement from everyone from the creator of the Carlton dance to rapper 2 Milly – but none of their transgression have been so egregious as H1Z1’s ‘Maui’ skin.

The ‘Maui’, a Rock-esque physique in a lavalava with pseudo-Polynesian tattoos and a tā moko mask frozen in full pūkana, is part of the ‘macho’ crate. That crate also includes new weapons, musclier characters, ATVs and machine guns decorated with Polynesian iconography, and even a chance to ‘intimidate your enemies with the Ultra Rare Haka emote’.

It releases tomorrow as part of a planned update to the base game.

Of course, Māori are no strangers to having taonga like tā moko flogged by offshore corporates. There’s a long and infuriating tradition of using Māori taonga to sell beer, Halloween costumes and even to burnish staff uniforms – wear it on your jacket, not your skin, though!

But selling half-baked Māori caricatures in a middling game is a new low, perhaps best and most easily described in the form of a meme:

Keep going!