Entertainment | Te Reo Māori

‘Blew them away’: Rangatahi in awe of te reo Māori virtual reality game

Wiremu Grace’s ‘Atuatanga’ VR game is free to play in Christchurch and Wellington during the Doc Edge festival.

Tūrehu is a spirit-being in Wiremu Grace’s te reo Māori virtual reality game 'Atuatanga’ who helps reconnect players to the atua to save humanity. Photo / Atuatanga

A te reo Māori virtual reality game that rangatahi Māori can’t get enough of will be free to play in Christchurch and Wellington over the next fortnight as part of documentary festival Doc Edge’s immersive exhibition. Later in the year, it’s hoped the game can be taken to kura and marae to experience.

“Two weeks ago, I was in kura kaupapa for two days taking them through the game,” says Wiremu Grace (Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Te Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Porou), who wrote and directed Atuatanga and also performed the motion capture (character movements) for it.

“It was amazing. The kids, the rangatahi, they just loved it, they wanted more. It blew them away.

“When we were at Māoriland [film festival], we had them lining up. They came back three or four times and they were hogging it.

“To me, that’s where our storytelling is going.”

If he can get the funding, Grace hopes to take the game out to more kura and also to marae.

“I’m trying to get some money at the moment to take it on the road, to have 10 or more headsets, [and] go into kura.

“My hope is that this will not just stay in the headsets but will instigate some things in real life as to what you can do for the world.”

Set almost a thousand years in the future, the premise of the game is that “mankind has destroyed the earth” and the task of players is to “reconnect to the atua to save humanity,” helped by a guide in the form of a tūrehu or spirit-being.

“Virtual reality guides you deep into a Māori world view, showing future destruction if we don’t take action now ... Atuatanga’s intuitive game play allows you to bring about the change the world needs,” a description of the game says.

Atuatanga has a special whakapapa and powerful environmental message, says Grace.

“There’s the stories that my dad told, he grew up in Tūpāroa about 30 kms from Ruatōria, right on the coast. He grew up with no electricity, catching your own water and growing gardens.

“Back in those days, they had tohunga - all of that spirit stuff was real to them in my understanding. And tūrehu was one of them, one of the stories that he told us about.”

A tūrehu or patupaiarehe is the spirit-being that guides Atuatanga players: “Your task is to find the Tūrehu, bring her out of hiding and make the journey to the Atua,” the game’s description says.

“I’ve had that story since I was a kid about tūrehu. We used to go stay there [in Tūpāroa] and it was kind of scary, kind of different for us. So, I think, the genesis of the idea [for the game] came from tūrehu.

“Years later, I always had that story in my mind. I actually had an experience of tūrehu myself, when I was going through a stage in my life where I was fasting, I was in the bush doing some karakia-type things. I don’t know where that came from but it sort of just came out of nowhere.

“The idea strengthened and I thought well this is something I’d like to tell, and I didn’t know how I was going to tell it. And then, the opportunity came up.”

Wiremu Grace. Photo / Supplied

Creating the game, Grace decided to “push” the story out into the future. It’s set in 3011.

“I thought the tūrehu and the atua of the past, of my dad’s days, things have changed. There’s been so much that’s happened since then. And the way that we are treating our environment, our atua, tūrehu and whakapapa - not us as indigenous people or Māori.

“If we look at the Western world and what’s happening, then it’s not too far-fetched to think in the future that our atua and tūrehu are going to leave us behind and wait for us to exit the earth because they will live on. We as humans have a short time on this earth, if we continue to do what we are.”

Grace says whatever technology or method is used to tell Māori stories like Atuatanga it is imperative there is a solid cultural foundation which is honoured and respected.

“In general, our own stories that are coming down through our whakapapa, our reo, our tikanga, I think that sometimes it can be overlooked that these are the actual foundation of who we are. For me, they are the absolute foundation of who I am.

“So no matter what the technology is or the way in which we tell stories, if we honour those foundations, if we use them as our guide of how we can explore our world and tell who we are in that world, then we’re safe.

“It’s when we try and copy or be other than ourselves, be not true to where we come from, that’s when I think we go off a bit.”

Grace says he’s “a bit of a one-man band” at the moment, doing his best to get the game out to Māori. He’s been finding it hard to drum up funds through government because of cost-cutting but is hopeful that getting the game into overseas festivals will help generate some pūtea.

“By the end of the year, I think I’ll know. If I can get headsets, I’d like to do a pilot scheme around Wellington and then I’d like to take it nationwide.

“But my aim is to be able to go into schools and marae and do a traveling education [programme], like the giraffe that goes to schools. [Harold the Giraffe], that sort of thing.”

Wiremu Grace’s virtual reality game Atuatanga will be free to experience as part of Doc Edge festival’s Immersive Exhibition, on 23 - 29 June at Tūranga Christchurch, and 3 – 14 July at Te Auaha Gallery Wellington.