Recreating ancestral worlds with virtual blocks

 |   Microsoft NZ News Centre

Waka (Māori watercraft/canoe) built from Minecraft blocks

Whetu Paitai’s always been good at building. In fact, he might still be a builder in Australia if it weren’t for two things: a broken leg and a promise kept. Thanks to life’s strange twists he’s back home in the Coromandel, but instead of putting up houses, he’s reconstructing the world of his Tīpuna (ancestors). 

The path was laid almost a decade ago, when Whetu was in hospital with a broken leg. A university lecturer in the same ward raved to him about Minecraft. When Whetu suggested his daughter try the game she was instantly hooked – and so was he. The pair bonded over their shared passion for creating digital worlds. 

Fast forward a few years, and Whetu, now a father of four, often wished his tamariki (children) could connect with their culture by learning to speak te reo Māori, something he’d never learned to do. A promise to his wife saw them return to New Zealand and he’s never looked back since.   

Now Whetu has not only reconnected with his culture and heritage, immersing his children in te ao Māori (the Māori world), he’s found a new calling: designing games that introduce his culture to countless other children. His latest is a brand-new world built for Minecraft: Education Edition, Ngā Motu (The Islands), giving students a taste of what life was like in a traditional Māori (fortified village).  

There’s great value in little things 

Whetu is the founder of Piki Studios, a game design company he runs while home-schooling his children on the remote Coromandel Peninsula. The leap from builder to educational games developer may seem like a big one, but Whetu remembers being drawn to technology from an early age. 

“When I was a kid I enjoyed computers, but the geeky stereotype didn’t fit with the Kiwi view of being a boy. I grew up in Harataunga (Kennedy Bay), surrounded by bush. Computers went on the back-burner.” 

When he returned to New Zealand, and still a massive Minecraft fan, Whetu was seduced afresh by digital technology, so he retrained. Armed with new digital skills, he found himself helping out with the admin at his children’s kohanga reo (Māori-language preschool), and a lightbulb went on: “If I could be involved that much in my kids’ education, how much more involved could I be?” 

Whetu realised that by marrying his passion for IT with education, he could help other children learn the language and culture too by creating fun new resources 

And so his game building began. He started by creating an online game, Mahimaina (Minecraft in te reo Māori), to help children learn the language, joined by around 100 students. More games are set to follow, both online and traditional board games, which Whetu hopes will be used by schools and whānau (families) around the country.  

“There’s great value in little things,” he says. For a child, seeing their culture represented on major global platforms is incredibly empowering.”  

It was exactly what one of the world’s largest tech companies was looking for.  

Last year, Microsoft came knocking. Would Whetu like to create a uniquely Aotearoa (New Zealand) resource for Minecraft: Education Edition?  

A voyage through Aotearoa 

“It blew our minds,” says Whetu. “I knew Minecraft, but it wasn’t till we explored Minecraft: Education Edition, tweaked it, played with it and saw all the additional things it could do that we realised all the potential. This will open up so much more space for Māori and all Kiwis to learn and play in the Māori world.”  

Minecraft: Education Edition brings the world of Minecraft to classrooms around the world, offering hundreds of free lessons as well as a global educator community. Immersive game-based learning helps students build key 21st century skills including creativity, collaboration and STEM. Educators across New Zealand are already using Minecraft to transform learning, from learning programming with Hour of Code to designing sustainable villages and even reconstructing Gallipoli in-game. 

Whetu is the first to create a brand-new world immersed in te ao Māori. Characters based on his children and their friends guide young players as they walk through Ngā Motu, from the impressive waka hourua (sea-going canoe) at the beach to the with its wharenui (large meeting house) decorated with kōwhaiwhai (painted panels) and tukutuku (woven lattice). Pātaka, rua (food storage areas) and a hāngī pit for cooking can also be found in the  

Whetu has gone into painstaking detail to make sure everything has a uniquely Aotearoa flavour, right down to the kumara (sweet potato) gardens where children can create new buildings. The resource packs swap typical swords for more appropriate patu (clubs) and even the mobs will have Kiwi kids feeling right at home.  

Whetu’s younger daughter requested her favourite bird, a pīwaiwaka (fantail), you can interact with a native kunekune pig and even an extinct moa, New Zealand’s famous giant bird, complete with sound recreated by the experts at national museum Te Papa. Children can learn words in te reo Māori from the guides, or via in-game exercises. 

In future iterations, intrepid voyagers will be able to visit the taniwha (guardian) in the harbour and collect kaimoana (seafood) near some pink terraces that may remind New Zealanders of the long-lost Pink Terraces, destroyed by a volcanic eruption more than 100 years ago. All of these will add to children’s glossary of Māori words and understanding of Māori history and narratives. 

“I would love the kura (schools) to build their own or wharenui, explore the world on their own and learn how to care for the moa,” Whetu says. 

“We’re believers in learning being organic, being able to explore all the elements, because nothing in our lives exists in isolation. Our mission is for everyone to be able to play these games and see more than just what a waka is – they’ll be able to see how it fits into that whole world,” Whetu explains. 

A “serendipitous” opportunity 

This philosophy is exactly why Microsoft New Zealand’s Sam McNeill and Anne Taylor came to Piki Studios. 

Whetu’s so passionate about education and helping all kids, not just his own, understand our indigenous culture and that really shines through when you speak to him. He’s a natural teacher,” says Anne, Education Lead for Microsoft New Zealand.  

The creativity and attention to detail with which Whetu has approached this project just blew us away. What he’s created goes way beyond what we could ever have expected.” 

Whetu acknowledges getting the call from Microsoft was daunting, being a small family business dealing with a large multinational corporation. It was a relief to find he was working with people who shared the same values and goals.  

A better opportunity couldn’t have presented itself. Straight off the bat, Sam and Anne knew te ao Māori, believing in dealing honestly and genuinely with indigenous people, and we never lost any of that closeness that is so important. It was truly serendipitous.”  

The group were determined to ensure all the translations were accurate. Two professional translators, Hemi Kelly and Piripi Walker, worked with Whetu and the team to translate the language pack for the game, including the instructions. There were even some new words for some of the more in-game Minecraft items. 

“It was important to make sure te ao Māori was respected as its own being, the mana (status) and cultural IP of each artefact upheld and maintained throughout the process,” Whetu says.  

The most difficult part was the timeframe, just five short weeks. Luckily Whetu was supported by other Māori working in the tech space, making it a truly collaborative process. And of course Whetu’s children acted as in-house quality assurance keeping Dad on top of his game. 

First Harataunga, then the world? 

Soon Ngā Motu will reach an audience beyond New Zealand, as Piki Studios is now an official member of the Minecraft Partner Program, enabling it to add to the resources available in the global Minecraft Marketplace. For now, the game will be available to classrooms in New Zealand, as part of Microsoft’s Schools Agreement that provides resources such as Minecraft: Education Edition to every State and State-Integrated school. 

 “Ngā Motu is a truly amazing resource for Kiwi students and teachers and we know they’re going to absolutely love exploring and building on this world,” says Anne. 

“It’s not just Whetu’s children. We showed it to some of our global colleagues and the excitement in the room was just palpable. 

Not bad for a boy from Harataunga. 

For more information on Minecraft: Education Edition in New Zealand please visit: or visit Piki Studios 


Te waihanga anō i ngā ao tuku iho mā ngā poraka mariko 

Mai anō e taunga ana a Whetu Paitai ki ngā mahi waihanga. Ina, tērā pea e mahi waihanga tonu ana ia i Ahitereiria engari nā ēnei mea e rua: i whati te waewae me te ū ki te kupu oati. Nā ngā āhuatanga o te ao kua tau atu ki te wā kāinga i Hauraki, engari kāore ia i whakatū whare, kei te whakatūtū kē anō ia i te ao o ōna tīpuna. 

He mea whakatakoto tēnei ara i tōna tekau tau ki mua, i te wā i rō hōhipera a Whetu nā te whatinga o tōna waewae. I te waha pakaru haere tētahi kaiako whare wānanga ki a ia mō Minecraft. I te meatanga a Whetu ki tana tamāhine kia whakamātauria e ia te kēmu i tino rawe rawa atu ki tana tamahine – me ia anō. Ka hono tahi rāua i runga i tō rāua kaingākau ki te waihanga ao matihiko. 

Ka huri ngā tau, kua whā ngā tamariki ināianei a Whetu, me tana manako kia hono ana tamariki ki tō rātau ao Māori mā te ako ki te kōrero i te reo Māori, kāore hoki a Whetu i mōhio ki tōna reo. Nā tana kupu oati ki tana hoa wahine ka hoki mai rātau ki Aotearoa, kāore mo te hoki whakamuri.  

Nā, kua hono atu a Whetu ki tōna ao Māori, koinei hoki te ao o ana tamariki, kua whai ia te tino oranga mōna: te waihanga kēmu me te tūhono atu i tōna ahurea ki ngā tamariki huhua. Ko tāna mea hou rawa ko tētahi ao tino hou mō Minecraft: Te Putanga Mātauranga, Ngā Motu, e pā atu ai ngā ākonga ki te āhua o te ao i roto i tētahi pā Māori.  

He mea nui kei roto i ngā mea iti 

Nā Whetu i whakaara ake a Piki Studios, he kamupene waihanga kēmu e whakahaerehia ana e ia i a ia e kura ana i ana tamariki i te kāinga i te takiwā mamao o Hauraki. Ko te whakaaro pea he tino nui te neke mai i te mahi waihanga ki te waihanga kēmu mātauranga, engari i maumahara a Whetu ki tana kaingākau ki te hangarau i a ia e paku ana. 

“I ahau e tamariki ana he rawe ki ahau te raweke rorohiko, engari kāore i ū te āhua o te ihu rorohiko ki te whakaaro o te iwi o Aotearoa mō te āhua o te tama. I pakeke mai ahau i Harataunga, i waenganui o te ngahere. Ka whakarerea ngā rorohiko.” 

I tana hokinga mai ki Aotearoa, ā, ka mutu e kaingākau tonu ana ki a Minecraft, i riro te wairua o Whetu ki ngā hangarau matihiko, nā ka hoki ia ki te ako. Ka riro mai i a ia ōna pūkenga matihiko hou, ka huri ia ki te āwhina i te kōhanga reo o ana tamariki me ngā mahi tari, ā, i reira ka taka mai he whakaaro ki a ia. “Mēnā e pēnei rawa te nui o taku uru ki te mātauranga o aku tamariki, kia pēhea te whakawhānui kē atu i tōku uru atu? 

I kite a Whetu mā te hono i tōna kaingākau mō te ao rorohiko ki te mātauranga, ka taea e ia te āwhina i ētahi atu tamariki ki te ako i te reo me ngā tikanga mā te waihanga i ngā rauemi pārekareka hou.  

Nā, ka tīmata tana mahi waihanga kēmu. I tīmata ia mā te waihanga i tētahi kēmu tuihono, Mahimaina (ko Maincraft i roto i te reo Māori), hei āwhina i ana tamariki ki te ako i te reo, me ngā ākonga tata ki te 100. He nui atu anō ngā kēmu kei te whai mai, ngā kēmu tuihono me aua kēmu papa anō, ā, ko te tūmanako o Whetu ka whakamahia e ngā kura me ngā whānau puta noa i te motu.  

Hei tāna, “He mea nui kei roto i ngā mea iti.” “Mō tētahi tamaiti, ka nui te whakamana i te kite i tō rātau ao e whakaaturia ana ki ngā pūhara ā-ao nui.”  

Koinei tonu te mea e kimihia ana e tētahi o ngā kamupene hangarau nui rawa o te ao.  

I tērā tau i whakapā mai a Microsoft. Kei te hiahia a Whetu ki te waihanga i tētahi rauemi ahurei ki Aotearoa mā Minecraft: Education Edition?  

Te hīkoi i Aotearoa 

“I tino mīharo mātau,” te kī a Whetu. “I te mōhio ahau mō Minecraft, engari nō te hōpara haere i a Minecraft: Education Edition, i rāwekewekehia, i pureihia e mātau, ā, ka kite i ngā mea tāpiri ka taea kātahi ka mārama ki tōna kaha ka taea. He nui ake te wāhanga ka tuwhera mai i tēnei mō te Māori me ngā tāngata katoa o Aotearoa ki te ako me te purei i roto i te ao Māori.”  

Ka heria mai e Minecraft: Education Edition te ao o Minecraft ki ngā akomanga puta noa i te ao, e tuku ana i ngā akoranga koreutu maha rawa me tētahi hapori whakaako ā-ao. Ka āwhina ngā akoranga ā-kēmu rumaki i ngā ākonga ki te whakapakari i ngā pūkenga rau tau 21, tae atu ki te auahatanga, mahi tahi me te STEM. Kei te whakamahia kētia e ngā kaiwhakaako hei takahuri i ngā akoranga, mai i te ako i te papatono mā te Hour of Code mai i te waihanga i ngā pā toitū, me te aha me te waihanga anō i a Karipori i rō kēmu. 

Ko Whetu te mea tuatahi ki te waihanga i tētahi ao hou rawa i roto katoa i te ao Māori. Ka ārahina ngā kaitākaro tamariki e ngā kiripuaki, i takea mai ēnei i ana tamariki me ō rātau hoa, i a rātau e hīkoi haere ana i Ngā Motu, mai i te waka hourua ātaahua i tātahi ki te pā me te wharenui me ōna kōwhaiwhai, tukutuku hoki. Ka kitea anō i roto i te pā ko ngā pātaka, rua me rua hāngī mō te tunu kai.  

He tino hōhonu rawa te āhua o ngā iroirotanga i oti i a Whetu kia mau ai te āhuatanga ake o Aotearoa, tae atu ki ngā māra kūmara e taea ai e ngā tamariki te waihanga whare hou. Kua whakakapia i roto i ngā kete rauemi ngā hoari mō ngā patu, ka mutu ka tino taunga ngā tamariki o Aotearoa ki ngā māpu.  

I tono a te pekepoho kōtiro a Whetu i tana tino manu te pīwaiwaka, ka taea e koe te pāhekoheko me tētahi poaka kunekune me tētahi moa kua korehāhā me ngā tangi i hangaia anō e ngā mātanga o Te Papa. Ka taea e ngā tamariki te ako i te reo Māori mai i ngā kaiārahi, mā ngā tūmahi i rō kēmu rānei. 

I roto i ngā auau o muri mai ka taea e ngā kaumoana te toro ki ngā taniwha i roto i te whanga me te kohikohi kaimoana e tūtata ana ki ngā parehua, ā, ka hoki pea ngā whakaaro o ngā tāngata ki Ōtūkapuārangi kua ngaro noa atu, i riro atu i roto i tō pahūtanga puia neke atu i te 100 tau ki mua. Ka tāpiri ēnei mea katoa ki te kete kupu a ngā tamariki me te whakawhānui i tō rātau mōhio ki te hītori me ngā kōrero a te Māori. 

“Ka nui taku hiahia kia hangaia e ngā kura ā rātau ake pā, wharenui rānei, te hōpara i te ao me te ako me pēhea te tiaki i te moa,” te kī a Whetu. 

“E whakapono ana mātau ka pā noa mai ngā akoranga, mā te āhei ki te hōpara i ngā āhuatanga katoa, i te mea e kore e noho wehe motuhake tētahi mea i roto i ō tātau ao. Ko tā mātau whāinga kia taea e ngā tāngata katoa ēnei kēmu, ā, ka whānui ake tā rātau kite i tētahi waka – ka kite kē rātau i te urunga atu ki roto i te ao whānui,” te whakamārama a Whetu. 

He whai wāhitanga i “tūpono noa atu 

Koinei tonu te tikanga whakaaro i haere atu a Sam McNeill rāua ko Anne Taylor o Microsoft New Zealand ki a Piki Studios. 

“He tino ngākaunui a Whetu ki te mātauranga me te āwhina i ngā tamariki, kaua ko āna anake, kia mārama ki tō tātau ahurea taketake, ā, ka kitea puta tēnei i ā koe e kōrero ana ki a ia. He tino kaiako ia,” te kī a Anne, Kaiārahi Mātauranga mō Microsoft New Zealand.  

“I tino mīharo rawa atu mātau ki te auaha me ngā iroirotanga katoa i roto i ngā mahi a Whetu mō tēnei kaupapa. Kua eke kē atu ia ki āna mahi ki te taumata i manakohia e mātau.” 

I kī ia i āhua wehi ia i te waeatanga mai a Microsoft, ina he pakihi whānau iti mātau e whakariterite ana me tētahi kāporeihana nui nō te ao whānui. I tau ia i tana kite i te mahi tahi ia me ngā tāngata he ōrite ngā uara me ngā whāinga.  

“Kāore i tua atu i tēnei whai wāhitanga. Mai i te tīmatanga, i mōhio a Sam rāua ko Anne ki te ao Māori, e whakapono ana me pono me tika te mahi me te iwi taketake, ā, he mea nui kāore i ngaro taua āhuatanga piri tata. He āhuatanga tino tūpono noa.”  

I tino nganga te rōpū ki te whakarite kia tika ngā whakamāoritanga. E rua ngā kaiwhakamāori ngaio, ko Hemi Kelly rāua ko Piripi Walker i te taha o Whetu me te rōpū ki te whakamāori i te kete reo mō te kēmu, tae noa atu ki ngā tohutohu. I puta hoki ētahi kupu hou mō ētahi tuemi a MineCraft ake. 

“He mea kia manaakitia te ao Māori, te pupuri i te mana me ngā rawa hinengaro ahurea o ia taonga puta noa i te tukanga,” te kī a Whetu.  

Ko te mea uaua rawa ko te wā, e rima noa iho ngā wiki. I waimarie a Whetu i tautokona ia e ētahi atu Māori e mahi ana i roto i ngā mahi hangarau, ā, he tukanga tino mahi tēnei. Me te aha, nā ngā tamariki a Whetu i whakaū i te kounga – kia eke ai a Whetu ki runga rawa atu. 

Ko Heretaunga i te tuatahi, ā, ko te ao ā muri ake? 

Kāore e roa ka tae a Ngā Motu ki ngā minenga o te ao i tua o Aotearoa, ina kua uru a Piki Studios hei mema whaimana nō te Kaupapa Pātui a Minecraft, e taea e ia ngā rauemi te tāpiri tuihono i roto i te Wāhi Tauhokohoko o Minecraft i te ao whānui. I tēnei wā, ka wātea mātau ki ngā akomanga puta noa i Aotearoa, he wāhanga tēnei nō te Whakaaetanga Kura a Microsoft e tuku ana i ngā rauemi pērā i a Minecraft: Education Edition ki ia kura Kāwanatanga, Kura Tāuke hoki. 

“He rauemi tino whakamīharo a Ngā Motu mā ngā ākonga o Aotearoa me ngā kaiako me tō mātau mōhio anō ka tino rawe rawa atu ki a rātau te te hōpara me te waihanga i roto i tēnei ao,” te kī a Anne. 

“Ehara ko ngā tamariki anake a Whetu. I whakaaturia e mātau ki ētahi o ō mātau hoa o te ao, ā, i pupū mai te whakaongaonga i a rātau.” 

Tau kē tēnei tama nō Harataunga. 

Mō ētahi atu mōhiohio mō Minecraft: Education Edition i Aotearoa haere ki: haere rānei ki Piki Studios 

Hōpara i te ao o Ngā Motu me ngā akoranga a Minecraft: Education Edition i: 

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