Sunday, May 1st, kicked off the first KiwiWeek celebration in New Zealand, called Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa. Aimed at spreading awareness of Kiwi games and designers, the organizers have created a stacked schedule of events for the week, including game releases, actual play live streams, panels at Big Bad Con, and bundles on DriveThruRPG and itch.io.
“Aotearoa New Zealand has developed a vibrant and exciting community of gamers and game designers. We can’t easily make it to GenCon or Dragonmeet or the JoCo Cruise,” Morgan Davie, a game designer and podcaster based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington), told io9 over email. “But we think our games and gamers have a fresh and unique energy that everyone can enjoy.” While you might not know it, games like Monster of the Week and The Sprawl are both written by New Zealanders.
io9 was able to chat with a couple of designers and participants who are involved in KiwiWeek, including Liam Stevens (who describes himself as a Kaitiaki, a steward or caregiver who is part of the community responsible for KiwiRPG), and Brendon Bennetts. “The community belongs to all of us, and the [forum] to the community. No one head stands over the others here.” Stevens, also who runs the Toa Tabletop podcast, told us. Stevens continually stressed the importance of community in KiwiRPG. “In Te Ao Māori community comes first, so I felt it was important for us to build a community that was self-supporting and less reliant on overseas parties supporting Kiwi individuals,” he added.
Liz Parker, a Waipā- based podcaster, said in a press release provided to io9 that “the story of Aotearoa’s creative industries is making our small size our greatest strength, because it’s easy here to share knowledge, work fast, and try new things with the community behind you. We’ve seen it in film and television and video games, and now in tabletop RPGs.”
“We are a culture that is extremely social, putting community and the group before the self, and that aligns well with a hobby like RPGs that is inherently social in nature,” Stevens added. As a Māori creator, Stevens wants to help bring other native, indigenous voices to the forefront of design. “By creating a community that is distinctively based in Aotearoa it would signal to other Māori in the hobby that their voices are wanted. We are few and far between in this hobby, especially in the design space, so I want to put the call out and see who we can welcome in.”
Bennetts agreed. “As a community, I’m struck by how generous everyone is with support and collaboration. If I’m stuck on a bit of adventure design, I know there are a dozen expert game masters who’ll happily offer advice.”
“The theater of the absurd holds true to our art,” Stevens said about the kind of Kiwi culture that we can expect from Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa, “and RPGs are no different.”
“It’s tricky to make generalizations [about Kiwi gameplay culture],” Bennetts noted. “But I think kiwis have a distinct sense of humor that comes through when we play games: the deadly serious can sit right next to the very silly followed by unexpected moments of poignancy.”
“Everything is tongue in cheek and firmly self depreciating. This extends to our culture, which has had a bit of a cultural cringe at attempts to be taken seriously. We are shaking this though, and doing much better at finding our voice,” Stevens added. When asked what Stevens hopes an international audience will gain from this, he expressed a desire for people to see and recognize the breadth of talent that exists in Aotearoa, and “from a Māori lens, so many international creators love appropriating Māori cultural tropes into their games, perhaps now they can see how we actually do things ourselves.”
“There is a Māori proverb that goes ‘Kāore te kūmara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka’, which means ‘the kūmara (sweet potato) doesn’t speak of its own sweetness.’” Bennetts, who is also the DM of Dungeons & Comedians, (which will have a livestream on May 8th), added. “Kiwis tend to be humble to the point of refusing to promote themselves even when they’ve got something amazing on their hands. Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa is a chance for us to speak about the amazing things each other is doing.”
“TTRPGs are getting bigger and bigger all the time… I think what is really growing is the embracing of other TTRPGs beyond D&D. For example, I know lots of people who play Monster of the Week (especially after it got played on The Adventure Zone), but don’t even realize the game was made here in Aotearoa by Mike Sands of Generic Games.”
io9 asked Stevens about the state of contemporary game design, asking him to choose a couple favorites to share. “This is very tough, like choosing between children,” he joked. “I think a serious contender for greatest game designer ever was Greg Stafford. That man was a treasure. For contemporary designers, the two I am most excited about are Pam Punzalan and Zedeck Siew. As for games, I keep coming back to Mothership and Mörk Borg. They just speak to me.”
Bennetts was more specific, and choose games from Aotearoa. “I have a real soft spot for Steve Hickey’s game Soth. It’s a kind of inversion of the usual Lovecraft influenced games, where you play a group of small-town cultists trying to summon a dark god. The tone is dark but (at least when I play it) it turns into a hilarious chaotic mess like something out of Breaking Bad,” he said. “I’d also like to mention Morgan Davies’ new game Paranormal Wellington, which perfectly captures the deadpan humor of Wellington Paranormal (as you might guess from the title). If you’re familiar with both Powered by the Apocalypse games and kiwi idioms then a 7-9 roll being a ‘Yeah, Nah’ result is extremely satisfying.”
Stevens helped create the name of the event, Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa, which honors the Māori te reo (language) and the culture of play at the heart of Kiwi sensibilities. “Te Ao Māori and RPGs integrate very well. We are a storytelling culture, our traditions are oral and we use metaphor and story to teach lessons and explore philosophy,” he explained. “It’s something we lean heavily into from a very young age, so RPGs feel natural as we are primed from youth to explore problems through the lens of story and others.”
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