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Celebrating AAPIHM: Part 1

Get to know some of the cool people of the Minecraft family!

Minecraft is a sandbox of playstyles. Some players like to build works of wonder, others to explore the deepest parts of the Nether. There’s even a few who likes to play pranks on their friends by constantly filling their chests with 24 stacks of chicken eggs – er, w-which I totally wouldn’t do! The point is that Minecraft is a diverse game, with a diverse community – and it should be celebrated. 

The Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month was established in 1977 to recognize and bring awareness to the culture and the history of Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage. Nowadays, this initiative is celebrated beyond the borders of the United States, amplifying voices and highlighting achievements across the world in countries like the Philippines, Aotearoa/New Zealand, or even Sweden. 

Today, and during next week, we will be highlighting some of the cool, passionate people we're celebrating for AAPIHM – both within Mojang Studios and the wider Minecraft community. To start us off: meet Marc and Whetu

Marc Villanueva – Philippines 

Marc is a 19-year-old college student from the Philippines with an eye for electronics engineering and marketing. He leads Kubo Studios – an 80-developer strong Minecraft Marketplace team. The pretty brave Marc started playing Minecraft around 2012 with the Pretty Scary Update. Nine years later, he’s releasing maps to the Marketplace.

“I started with zero knowledge about the market, had no concrete plans, and no team to back me up in case things would go sour," he tells me. “The main lesson that I’ve learned throughout my journey so far is that as long as you persevere and work hard to reach your goal, that goal will be achieved when you least expect it. I love what I do, and I am aiming to build a reputable brand that will represent my country.“

"For me, representing my country in this amazing space is one of my dreams."

Even though Marc still lives in the Philippines, he has had plenty of conversations with fellow Filipinos about the experience of living abroad and outside the Asian region. He paints a grim picture of the prejudice and judgment many have experienced, as well as the challenge of adjusting to these societies. 

“As a Filipino, this is really disheartening, because much of the world seems to think that we are nomads that keep bouncing from country to country just because we want to. But those of us who migrate from the Philippines do this because we want to experience a better life. We strive to help our hometowns and families survive with everything from shelter, enough food, and money.” 

For Marc, that means doing what he does best – creating amazing Minecraft content together with his team. Just last week, they released Endangered Animals: Philippines, a map that features exactly what its name suggests: endangered wildlife of the Philippines. 

“You start off outside of a native village, with textures that are meant to depict real materials that are used to create what we call 'bahay kubo' or bamboo hut in English," Marc explains. “You get to interact with the natives that introduce to you our national symbols – from the mango fruit and carabao animal to the sport known as arnis, narra tree, and the national flower, sampaguita. Overall, we wanted to capture the beauty of our country and share it with the world.  

"For me, representing my country in this amazing space is one of my dreams. Being able to fulfill that dream at a young age is a huge accomplishment for me.” 

Whetu Paitai – Aotearoa/New Zealand

Harataunga, Aotearoa/New Zealand is the home to Whetu Paitai, a Minecraft creator of Māori, Rarotongan, Scottish, and English descent, who also run Piki Studios. He believes AAPIHM shines a spotlight on many amazing cultures and peoples in America and around the world, who are not just proud of their identities, but who also use their inherent qualities, values, and strengths to help make the world a better place – both for their people and the rest of the world around them.  

These values are also a core theme in the maps that Whetu makes in Minecraft. His first exposure to game came in 2011, after meeting a university researcher in Sydney who was using it for cognitive research (thank you, Mr. University Teacher!). 

“He told us that you could start a server and get people from around the world to join,” he remembers. “I downloaded it and played it with our oldest girl who was eight at the time – the perfect age for Minecraft! She loved it, and so did I.” 

Whetu was raised in the ancestral lands of his Māori ancestors (Harataunga, Aotearoa/New Zealand). After moving back to Aotearoa/New Zealand from Australia with his young whānau (family), he noticed there weren’t many games his children could identify with. His solution was to develop resources in Minecraft that represented their culture, people, and likeness. 

“We have four tamariki (children), all who speak in their native language, Te Reo Māori. Our two youngest tamariki had Te Reo Māori as their first and only language until recently. Now, they can not only see their own likeness in one of the most well-loved games around, but have also see that it’s totally possible for them to be involved in game design themselves using the thing that makes them who they are – their own indigenous identities!” 

When asked about what work he’s most proud of, three maps come to mind: Pā Wars – a resource-gathering minigame that features a small fort based on the traditional Māori settlements called 'Pā'; Ngā Motu – an education-based map developed with Microsoft to provide an authentic indigenous experience in and out of classrooms; and lastly, the more easy-going game, Lucky Bubble Factory. 

"Lucky Bubble Factory is a super fun roleplaying game that includes a unique NPC generator with characters that represent modern Māori people in a modern town – This is important to us, as Indigenous people and culture are not only found in deep history, but also in contemporary modern contexts like business, tech and of course game design!” 

Minecraft is for everyone. No matter where you’re from or how you choose to play, everyone should feel that they belong in this community – and it goes without saying that this includes people of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. A huge thank you to Marc and Whetu for their time. Stay tuned for our next story, as we meet people from Mojang Studios itself! 

Per Landin
Written By
Per Landin

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