Minecraft project to help carve digital space for CHamoru people

UNDERWOOD: Robert Underwood gestures as he talks about the Kumisión i Fino' CHamoru yan i Fina'nå'guen i Hestoria yan i Lina'la' i Taotao Tåno's role of restoring place names to their original CHamoru names and making sure they are spelled and pronounced correctly and consistently during the Mayors' Council of Guam meeting in June. Post file photo

Indigenous culture and language are normally thought of as tradition-bound and not involved in high-tech fields, said Robert Underwood during a virtual meeting with the Rotary Club of Tumon Bay Tuesday.

"But as it turns out, there's a lot of high tech in indigenous cultures and language. A lot of science, technology, engineering and math that goes back for hundreds of years that many of us sort of discounted," he added. "So we wanted to find a digital space for indigenous people. For CHamoru people."  

Underwood is a member of the coordinating committee for the Commission on CHamoru Language and the Teaching of the History and Culture of the Indigenous People of Guam, and together with Vincent Munoz, a tech entrepreneur and owner of Next Generation LLC, was speaking to the Rotary Club members about the $700,000 project to develop a Minecraft Education and Games in CHamoru program.

Part of the project is to develop two worlds in Minecraft, one for the multiplatform Bedrock Edition of the game and one for the Education Edition of the game. These worlds will include language lessons, cultural experiences, legends, and native flora and fauna, built on a one-to-one recreation of Guam in Minecraft. 

"A simple vision is that I venture to say that maybe not very many of you know five endemic plants to Guam – what (are) their uses and their origin and their name. As a result of this kind of game, we envision that the kids who are playing this game will know that within two or three days ... they'll be using it," Underwood said. "Think about what that does for how they view the world, how they engage into their immediate environment. How they see everything around them ... So, it's not a kind of tradition-bound game. It's also engagement in science, technology, engineering and math."

The target audience is the age group from five to 15. Underwood said they are assuming it will take about three months to assemble a team and a year and a half to launch the game.  

A similar project was done in New Zealand, with an organization for Maori people, and Guam is working off that model. 

"We're using that platform. And then we're creating focus groups. We've had already a couple of meetings ... The focus groups are pretty intense and important. Because even though this happens with any group of people, CHamorus and people who are advocates of CHamoru language and culture don't all share the same vision ... And there's no vehicle from which they are able to get involved in that," Underwood said. "We think kind of in a way force-feeding this into a whole new domain will get them involved ... and they'll get to some kind of commonality." 

Part of the project is also to train local CHamoru people to work in video games with the purpose of helping to develop a gaming industry on the island, Underwood said.

And the hope is to be able to launch into other projects in the future, he added.

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