A digital island populated with moa, pīwaiwaka, double hulled waka and Māori characters has opened doors for Kiwi students to see te reo normalised in one of the world’s biggest online games – Minecraft.
Ngā Motu (The Island) is Minecraft’s first Education Edition and built especially for Aotearoa. The traditional Māori world was developed by Whetu Paitai of Piki Studios together with Microsoft and launched as part of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Maori language week).
"One of the things that Microsoft and Piki Studios agreed on pretty early on is what we were going to focus on in our world. We're focused on Te Reo Māori, but you can't kind of focus on Te Reo Māori alone, it has to be framed in the whole culture," Mr Paitai said.
Students at Newlands Intermediate in Wellington were quick to embrace the indigenous language adaptation, putting the popular game through its paces as test-gamers.
"They have been some of the best play-testers I've ever worked with. They're crazy but a cool kind of crazy," said Mr Paitai.
Players are able to add their own elements, one young budding software developer "reskinning" a Minecraft bat to make an extinct huia, a bird once native to New Zealand.
"I really like Māori," said Vedant Madhusudhan, "I'm not a New Zealander but I still really like the language. I think it's fun to learn."
Education lead for Microsoft New Zealand, Anne Taylor, says Minecraft helps develop the skills that children need for the future, "things like collaboration, things like communication and also STEM".
The immersive game made relevant to Maori culture getting a big thumbs up from the classroom of kids.
"It's pretty cool, it's a pretty new thing. Not many games have Māori bits in them," said 12-year-old Bailey Puha-Harris as he navigated his way through sailing a waka.
With options for fluent speakers or those just starting out, the digital world can be all in Te Reo Māori, or in English with Te Reo Māori peppered through it.
"It's about normalising our culture and our heritage and making it more accessible to everyone so we can revitalise Te Reo Māori," Ms Taylor said.
Ngā Motu will be available free to all state and state-integrated schools across New Zealand, and the resources Piki Studio creates for Aotearoa will be also available to the millions of Minecraft players worldwide.