Following concerns raised by New Zealand gamers, the developers of H1Z1 have removed a Polynesian-inspired outfit from an upcoming update.
The skin, themed after the Polynesian trickster demigod Maui (characterised by Dwayne Johnson in Disney's Moana), featured a mashup of facial tattoos, markings and cultural dress from Polynesian cultures.
The skin was announced on Wednesday as part of a broader introduction to H1Z1's upcoming content patch for the PS4. But New Zealand gamers began asking developers Daybreak Games about the origins of the Maui skin, particularly the use of sacred facial tattoos and expressions. A particular bone of contention was also raised with a new skin on an assault rifle: some believed it was supremely insensitive to appropriating Māori motifs only weeks after the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand's history.
The Māori culture has been replicated in video games before, most recently in Civilization 6 as one of the new factions introduced with the Gathering Storm expansion.
But adding the Māori likeness to a video game isn't as simple as drawing a new skin. Māori designs, particularly the facial tattoos and expressions used in indigenous performances (including the Haka war dance, which was due to be added to H1Z1 as an emote), tell the story of every Māori tribe and family. They're highly sacred, which is why Civilization developers Firaxis worked with the Māori Arts & Crafts Institute to ensure their representation of Māori motifs and culture was culturally appropriate.
"[The tattoos are] not just something that you can make up because it has a lot of meaning to the Māori people, and the tattoo that's put the face tells a story," Firaxis franchise lead designer Ed Beach explained to Digitially Downloaded.
Kotaku Australia contacted Daybreak yesterday for comment and clarification on the Maui skin or creation. We also contacted the Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, following their work with Civilization 6, to ask whether Daybreak had consulted on the skin's design. The Institute hadn't replied by the time of writing, while Daybreak declined to answer whether they had contacted any cultural authorities during the design process. The company did refer us to a statement on Twitter, which announced the skin's removal.
After careful consideration, we've made the decision to remove the Maui Outfit from tomorrow's Macho Crate release. We take cultural representation seriously in all of our games, and want to apologize for any offense we may have caused.
— H1Z1 (@H1Z1) May 1, 2019
The company also thanked users for directly raising the issue, noting that it "was definitely not our intention" to offend.
Kotaku Australia has followed up with Daybreak, asking if the Maui skin would be reintroduced to H1Z1 following consultation, or if the skin is being abandoned altogether. As for H1Z1, the rest of the content patch, which adds third-person ADS, a new arcade mode and a Rambo-style Macho outfit, is due for release tomorrow. More details can be found here.