Maia is smashing stereotypes in her workplace. As a woman immersed in Māori values, she protects tombs instead of raiding them. And as a woman created and drawn by a woman game-designer, her physical proportions are a reality-check.
Maia is The Guardian, heroine of a Playstation game created by Maru Nihoniho – also, coincidentally, a Māori woman, but one lacking a gun licence. Instead, Nihoniho (Ngati Porou, Whānau ā Apanui and Ngai Tahu) is the director of game development company Metia Interactive. Her Ponsonby-based business is showcased until August at ‘The New Cool’, an exhibition of young street-culture and new media entrepreneurs.
Nihoniho is pleased to be a part of the new wave of young Māori in technologically cutting-edge and creative commercial industries. She thinks ‘safe’ careers are over-promoted to youth - “you can just take a step outside that box and apply your creative skills. I think Māori people are very creative and innovative. You don’t have to look at just staying in a mainstream type of career.”
As a Māori woman new to the industry, “at first I was getting sideways looks, like ‘does she really know what she’s doing?’ But I’m still going 2 years later and I think I’m beginning to be to taken more seriously as a game developer.” The computer game industry is not closed to women, says Nihoniho. “A lot of women are working within game development companies, as programmers or designers. But women aren’t really expected to run a game development company.”
She approached the industry from the creative, graphic-modelling and storytelling side - “I didn’t fit into that computer nerd stereotype that sits at the computer all day and programmes games. IT wasn’t a strength of mine.” But that didn’t get in the way of her business-goals. With good management, “I pulled a team together that did have those technical strengths.”
Nihoniho’s identity is reflected in the character she has created. The Guardian’s objective to protect taonga “reflects Māori values on how we see ourselves as guardians of taonga and the land and the sea and our environment. It reflects how Māori feel in general about our own culture and our taonga as well.”
Another table-turning feature of the game is that the player is rewarded for not killing innocent people, discouraging mindless violence. Her young son factored into this thinking, as well as her preference for realism of character. Reality also intruded in picking Maia’s bra-size. “It’s the game playing aspects that will keep guys interested,” she laughs, “there are a range of cool weapons and monsters to fight.”
The Guardian is attracting attention from overseas investors, including film-producers, although ideally Nihoniho would like to keep the game development in New Zealand so the local industry can develop and expand.