How Gaming Is Getting Young Maori and Pacific People into Tech Careers

Credit: GameTan

This story was originally published 20/12/2020

Maori and Pacific people are massively underrepresented in New Zealand’s tech and gaming industries — making up less than five per cent of the tech world. Ray Cocker, founder of GameTan, hopes that introducing kids and their families to gaming, will help grow interest and career paths for Maori and Pacific kids in tech.

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Ray Cocker’s on a mission to help making gaming more accessible and build pathways for Maori and Pacific people into careers in STEM and the New Zealand tech industry. The statistics are dire and as it stands, communities are challenged to see the career opportunities behind games — whether that be in esports or more traditional tech jobs.

“The statistics remain low for our people,” Cocker says on a video call from his home in Auckland. “Out of the whole population, Maori and P.I. only make up two percent of the tech industry. After all these programmes and initiatives the Government tired to run and increase those percentages, it was still nothing. So I said I would fill that gap.”

GameTan’s mission is to excite Maori and Pacific people into STEM or tech career pathways through their passion in gaming — helping them to see the industry (and opportunities) behind the games they’re playing. GameTan started early 2019 and is already building relationships with the NZ games industry, the Government and big tech players including Microsoft and Datacom.

Choose Your Difficulty

There have been more barriers than you’d think running a start up like this. Part of is that New Zealand, Cocker says, is just too slow at getting involved in things and waits until there’s a huge and obvious benefit. He cites the story of Grinding Gear Games, which Tencent famously acquired controlling shares in for $100 million, as a lost opportunity for New Zealand investors to keep Path of Exile and its success onshore.

“From personal experience, in tech and innovation, we’re real slow and it’s a huge barrier here in New Zealand. New Zealanders are only quick to move once they see a massive benefit so people wait until something huge happens and then they jump onboard.”

It’s not only NZ’s inability to move quickly that’s a big barrier. The cost of tech means that most kids end up with a console, instead of a PC, which restricts how they can interact with the games they’re playing and the way they see opportunities in tech and gaming.

“Unfortunately,” Cocker says, “PC gaming, as much as it is awesome, is also very expensive. So a lot of our kids just end up with an Xbox or Playstation and there isn’t much interactivity with consoles, you can just push start and you play. Whereas with PC, you can mod, start your own server, all of this awesome stuff that you can’t do in console gaming, so it puts a huge barrier for kids and families.”

The basic idea is that it starts with gaming and then evolve it into introducing kids to the newest tech and showing them that there’s whole industry behind the games they play.

“The good thing about it,” Cocker tells me, “is that all those skills are transferable. If you can code in a game, you can code an app.”

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Pacific People agree with him and have thrown their support behind the initiative, helping to fund GameTan and turn into something that can led people into new career opportunities that might be a little bit off the beaten path.

“University isn’t for everyone,” Cocker says. “Some people don’t like hands on stuff. So we try to be open to different pathways both through the traditional education route and apprenticeships as well as project based activities. That’s basically how we try to get our kids involved, branching out through those different pathways. We work with organisations like AMP, Microsoft and Datacom…and they’ve opened up their doors to potential apprenticeships.

“So, rather than [kids] finishing school, and going into something like university, it’s leaving school and getting straight into the industry and getting trained from the ground up. Like trades, except it’s tech.”

Build Your Team

Not everyone’s on board with what Cocker’s doing and, unfortunately, its usually the parents that are the most skeptical, with as much education going into showing them the value and possibilities of the tech industry as there is getting the kids involved.

“The only time when people thought that gaming could make money was when [esports players] Twizz and CoverH went to New York [for the Fortnite World Championship], lost, and still came back with seventy-six thousand dollars each,” Cocker says. “People went, fuck, man, you can do stuff with gaming. Parents started rushing at me and asking how they could get their kids into that.”

“The kids are so fast and onto it with with technology and games,” Cocker continues, “but the parents aren’t. So we’re always trying to educate the parents more because they’re the ones that influence their kids and play a major role in their kids pathways in the future.”

He says it’s hard to break through the stigma that gaming is just kids sitting down and raging at their computers, so parents often don’t see the industry that sits behind the games their kids are playing.

“It’s hard for them to translate gaming into the career pathways behind it and to also see the benefits of gaming…We’re trying to educate the parents on the good side and educate the kids on how to control their emotions.”

Cocker has big plans for the future, not just for GameTan but ideas around how support systems and education can be reshaped to helped Maori and Pacific people push into STEM and the tech industry, moving the needle far beyond 2 percent.

“The ways I wish to see things run,” he says, “is for the entire education system to change. Still have traditional options available but have other options like apprenticeships [in tech] and project based learning. Those are way more impactful for our people and it’s way more impactful for people that learn differently. This isn’t one size fits all; being more connected [to the industry] and more fluid benefits everybody and the whole country.”

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