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Katuku Island - Bringing Mãori culture to video games

Today, playing various games online is very easy. You can just head to leading gaming platforms to enjoy your favorite entertainment. But what if you want to try something unique and refreshing other than the classic options? Well, a culture-based Māori game, Katuku Island, can be a good choice to start with..

Katuku  Island is an adventure game that delivers the perspective of the indigenous people of Aotearoa, New Zealand, Māori. Precisely, the game focuses on motivational cultural aspects such as toi, Māori and indigenous cultural codes, as well as literacy development.

It is designed with the aim of transforming the lives of young Māori people who have been struggling in the current educational system through the art of carving (whakairo). For example, with this game, players can master some cultural talents, such as whakairo or toi.

Notably, in 2022, this Mãori game won the NYX Game Awards in the category of Mobile Game – Best Innovation. This perfectly shows that the game was a success and has a massive following. But what is Katuku Island all about? How was the game developed, and who was behind the idea? We will uncover all the answers in the article.

The History Behind Katuku Island

The idea and concept of Katuku Island belong to two Māori educationalists, Craig Callaghan and Dr. Phyllis Callaghan. According to them, they have met a lot of students with low self-esteem and poor literacy skills throughout their educational careers. That's the exact reason why they decided to create a game that would make a difference not only for Māori people but also for Pacifica students and indigenous populations across the globe.

Callaghans devoted themselves to 10-year-long research to understand crucial aspects such as why students lack success and what the reason for low motivation is. They extended their knowledge base into Māori art, business, graphics, publishing and using gambling platforms with Prezzy.

Later on, they assembled a team of young Māori musicians and artists and also invited a Canadian Indigenous software company, Animikii, to participate in the development. It was hugely important for Craig and Doctor Phyllis that whoever was to be part of their team should have an understanding of indigenous populations and their challenges.

The key idea behind Katuku Island is empowerment through an indigenous perspective: knowing who we are and where we came from, understanding the challenges of the past, and creating our present and future. It successfully combines the desire to address inequities in technology and English skills.

In simple words, this game is all about connection – Whakairo. Additionally, this Mãori game aims to indigenise the technology world through unique cultural storytelling. This means when we are confident and can recognize the world from the indigenous perspective first, improved literacy will be a byproduct.

Katuku Island – Design and Gameplay

Just imagine the world has come to an end, and there is only one oasis left that can help you survive: Katuku Island. Before you can make your way to this island, you should first master such elements as Māori art, culture, and carving. You also need to complete tasks on literacy and pass various challenges.

All weapons and elements of the game, including the background, the avatars, the animals, the survival and literacy tasks — everything you can see during the gameplay is related to Mãori culture. You will also see the Mãori score and music. These are the foundational elements of the game that help players improve their literacy skills and understand more the Māori culture.

In addition, Katuku Island comes with a real-time assessment tool that identifies the areas in which the player shows resilience. This helps to encourage players to advance further and turn negative experiences into positive ones.

Katuku Island was launched in July 2021. Recently, it has completed the third phase and is actively moving into the fourth and fifth phases of the project. Each phase brings some new changes to the game. For example, the second and third stages focused more on MVP and aimed to create more advanced graphics, multiple new levels, etc. In the last phases, with their implementation, game developers intend to add in-game items that players can purchase during their activity on the platform.

To sum up, we can note that Katuku Island has set a great example by reflecting on the challenges faced by indigenous people, such as the struggles with standard education system. The value that the game brings was also recognized by people, and one of the proofs of this is the latest prize it received in 2023 – Finalist in the Learning Games Awards.

Check out Katuku Island in the following storefronts:

Google Play Store
Apple App Store
Microsoft Store

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