Elijah Kingi expressed their culture and personal narrative through a Master of Design Innovation.
Elijah Kingi (Ngāti Korokii Kahukura and Ngāti Raukawa) moved from Gisborne to study design in the creative heart of Wellington at Te Kura Hoahoa—School of Design Innovation.
What drew you to your programme of study?
I wanted to continue living in and studying in Wellington after completing a Bachelor of Design Innovation at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.
Studying at the School of Design Innovation is enjoyable because it focuses on “why” we design. A lot of other design programmes focus on what and how we create, but my undergraduate and postgraduate experiences taught me to delve deeper into the why. The most important learning for me was how to embed my culture and my sense of self into everything I create.
How did the Master of Design Innovation support your development as a designer?
I was able to make every assignment my own and focus on my love of storytelling and games—I didn't have to break the brief as we were encouraged to develop our own style.
My entire life I’ve known I’m Māori and Pākehā, but I only recently began to explore what that means for me.
I started on this personal journey by playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends, where I created a character that straddles cultures and explores reconnecting their identities. I came out of that experience having learned more about my relationship with my cultures and thought if I can do it, then I can help others do it too.
To help me understand my own story, I weaved the topics of Māori health frameworks, decolonisation, and game mechanics into my assignments.
It ultimately led me to design You Are Broken, a Table-Top Role-Playing Game (TTRPG) where players create characters with rich backstories and explore the narratives surrounding their culture, helping them connect to their heritage within the game and ideally, outside of the game as well.
What excites you about being able to design this game?
The game is a tool that I would have used in my youth. If I had this tool growing up, I’d be such a different person, or at least I would have become the person I am today earlier.
If I can help people become themselves and explore who they really are through a fun and engaging medium, that’d be cool.
Has the Master of Design Innovation lived up to your expectations?
I loved how nerdy I could be in the Master of Design Innovation. I did not have to pigeonhole my love for things into certain areas or force it into my projects where they don't really fit. Instead, I got to focus on my passions for a full year. It was a great time, stressful during the thesis writing, but still an enjoyable experience.
Who were your supervisors and what did you enjoy about working with them?
They’re knowledgeable and empathetic people. They speak to different parts of the project, are a part of Aotearoa, and both understand the bicultural narrative of our country.
Dylan understands what it is to be Pākehā and is on his way to learning about being a good Te Tiriti o Waitangi partner, a thing all Pākehā should strive for. He spoke earnestly with me about the exploration of life in our country.
Bobby is super knowledgeable about Te Ao Māori and Māori frameworks, and holistic ways of being. He really helped me contextualise a lot of what I was reading and struggled with. He also gave me a lot of freedom to explore ideas and take agency with different things.
Often, I would feel I’m not ‘Māori enough’, or that I didn’t have a right to speak on certain topics, but Bobby taught me that as long as it's part of my story and it is authentic, then I have the right to tell it. They’re both brilliant people and my role models in academia and life.
What are some opportunities the University has offered you?
I’m working with Te Paewai—Wellington UniVentures to get some funding to make the game, and I have been a part of some TTRPG workshops set up by my supervisor Dylan Horrocks and other TTRPG students throughout the University.
What are your plans for the future?
I am currently working on building my game and getting it ready for production. I’ll be starting my own business where I hopefully get to make and play a lot of meaningful and powerful games.
I would like to write my own stories with people that look like me or have had the same experiences as me. I wish to give those people an opportunity to write themselves into stories or at least see themselves represented in the stories they see around the world.