26 September 2023

Kieron sharing Cooktown culture through coding

| Sarah Martin
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Cooktown’s Kieron Saunders is using his passion for coding to share Indigenous culture through gaming.

From Cooktown gamer kid to Brisbane Grammar graduate and now working towards a career as a game creator, Kieron Saunders is going places.

The youngster is completing his third year at Queensland University of Technology studying, currently focused on bringing the Dreamtime stories he learnt as a kid to life through games to create a vivid digital window into Australia’s Indigenous culture.

“My vision is to create a game where players can immerse themselves in Indigenous stories from Dreamtime and experience them firsthand,” the Bachelor of Games and Interactive Environments student said.

“One of the great things about this project is the fact that players will learn about the original tribes of that location and their language through voiceovers and subtitles.”

Kieron remembers where it all started, on the couch in Cooktown playing Call of Duty as a 15-year-old, when his mother asked if he wanted to go to boarding school.

A few weeks later he was accepted into the Cape York Leaders Program and Brisbane Grammar School.

“I was really happy,” he recalled.

“I didn’t really have much of a plan for my future but going to Grammar made me realise I had a lot of options.”

The shy teenager said he struggled with the high academic expectations at Brisbane Grammar, but he focused on the positives.

“I had a moment when I realised my family and friends (in Cooktown) are still going to be there,” he said.

“I can just do the best for my family and myself by sticking (with) it.”

With high school graduation looming, Kieron said he was torn between studying to be a teacher or pursuing his love of gaming.

“Education was an option because I was inspired by teachers I had in high school,” he said.

“I was a difficult student at times, but I am exceptionally grateful for the effort they put in and the sacrifices they made for me to achieve something that I can be proud of.

“Coding was also a strong passion – I love fantasy books and anything to do with world building.

“With coding I can create any world that I can imagine and I also realised there were opportunities for me to do things in the future that I could bring back to assist my community and the people who helped me.”

His passion for creativity and longing to build and explore new worlds won out, with Kieron accepting a tertiary scholarship from Cape York Leaders Program to the Queensland University of Technology.

Kieron is now working, with permission from the Elders, on recreating Dreamtime stories and incorporating details about the culture and language of the region where they originate, and hopes his work will inspire others.

“I hope it can inspire other cultures to do the same,” he said.

“I would love to see a digital version of, let’s say, the Native Americans’ stories.

“I see this game as a tool for enhancing Indigenous representation in gaming and promoting cultural awareness.”

Kieron is the first in his family to attend university, and said he is proud to have inspired his younger sister to follow in his footsteps.

“She wants to get into a coding degree, same as me,” he said.

“She enjoys the idea of game design because she’s an amazing artist – we can create beautiful artworks and then bring them to life together.”

Kieron is also inspiring others outside his family as a role model for the Cape York Leaders Program and often gives back by supervising CYLP events and camps and sharing his journey.

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