‘Maori Piano’ was released in the gaming market in late December and includes slot reels depicting Maori men and women, waka, KFC buckets, handcuffs, pounamu, stylised bone carvings and a rendition of the haka Ka Mate.
The game’s developer, Aristocrat, who are based in the Australia, said the game “celebrates the cultural heritage of Maori people living in New Zealand.”
“[Maori] are known for their rich mythology, distinctive crafts and performing arts developed during the centuries in a complete isolation,” the game’s description reads.
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The slot game, which has been rolled out throughout New Zealand gaming rooms features 3D modelled characters in high definition which the developer states allows “great immersion into the game and the culture of the people.”
Symbols are described simplistically, for instance, as a “canoe with Maori voyagers,” and a “golden symbol with stuck out tongue.”
Maori public health advocacy organisation Hapai Te Hauora slammed the game for cultural appropriation.
Hapai Te Hauora chief executive Lance Norman said the association drawn between Maori symbols and gambling is an “insult” as Maori suffer disproportionate harm from problem gambling in New Zealand.
“Maori intellectual property has been used as comforting and familiar inducements, with the potential to lure vulnerable people to online gambling.”
“It’s use is particularly offensive to Maori,” he said.
Maori and Pacific adults are five to eight times more likely to become problem gamblers than other New Zealanders, a study published in 2016 found.
The Ministry of Health followed 3000 randomly selected people over a two-year period and recorded how many of them developed clinical gambling problems.
Lead researcher, AUT University Professor Max Abbott had said the over-representation of Maori and Pacific problem gamblers in the study was due to their increased exposure to electronic gaming machines and lower standard of living.
A similar study into Maori problem gambling by Te Runanga o Kirikiriroa in 2015 found gambling had significant effects on the cohesion, cultural identity and financial stability of Maori families.
Electronic gaming machines, in particular, were identified as having an isolating effect on Maori from families and the community.
The use of Maori cultural icons was not only insulting, but also illegal, Norman said.
Sovereignty over representations of cultural icons significant to Maori was enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi, and remains in legislation in New Zealand.
Norman said Aristocrats “abhorrent and unsanctioned misuse” of Maori culture in this way is not only a breach of New Zealand laws but is likely to breach similar laws in other jurisdictions.
Hapai Te Hauora called for Aristocrat to apologise to all Maori, and to offer a specific apology to Ngati Toa Rangatira and Ngai Tahu, whose relationship with Ka Mate and pounamu respectively are protected by New Zealand law.
Aristocrat’s other culturally-themed slot games include Voodoo, Viking, and Geisha.
Aristocrat has been approached for comment.