[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 4: games of empyre

Penix-Tadsen, Phillip ptpt at udel.edu
Wed Mar 25 01:19:46 AEDT 2020

Dear Alenda and all,

I’ve really been enjoying the conversation over the past few weeks, thank you! I am an admirer of the work of so many people on this listserv, thanks once again for including me!

In case you would like to read more about games and game development in Latin America and the Global South, I wanted to share links to my book Cultural Code: Video Games and Latin America <https://drive.google.com/open?id=1JGwwVvfKWdP6oXtqIk8ccXUfAM05rJDY> (pre-publication proofs, typos and all), my edited anthology Video Games and the Global South <https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ZdSQVAr_WXMh7lgAFo0F2wlsKDXkVt1R> and the report Video Games: More than Just a Game (in Spanish <https://publications.iadb.org/publications/spanish/document/Los_videojuegos_no_son_un_juego_Los_desconocidos_%C3%A9xitos_de_los_estudios_de_Am%C3%A9rica_Latina_y_el_Caribe.pdf> and English <https://publications.iadb.org/publications/english/document/Video_Games_More_than_Just_a_Game_en.pdf>), which I co-authored and which highlights the work of 50 game studios throughout Latin America.

Given our current situation with the global pandemic (and inspired by a this recent piece by Shira Chess <https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/essential-guide-mobile-games-social-distancing/?fbclid=IwAR0iscViuTBnJfqCExU4WYuOlq0sLh3-rXjS0lzwt6QCqlreDbT5vrHleuM>), for my contribution I thought I would go in a more pragmatic direction and offer you this annotated list of casual games from Latin American and Latinx developers to play on your own or with your family members while you are sheltered in place, quarantined or otherwise locked down.

In their own ways, each of these games engages Alenda’s opening questions about recentering game studies beyond the US / Western imaginary, discovering neglected games / developers and illustrating concerns related to localization, colonialism, geopolitics and economics.




Casual Video Games from Latin American Developers for your Pandemic Cloister 

Casual video games—those played on mobile devices and social networks—have profoundly impacted the way games are developed and played throughout Latin America and across the globe, opening doors for small indie developers to bring their games to the global market while bringing an increasingly diverse audience into game culture. Right now, it’s an ideal time to broaden our horizons, increase our gaming literacy and discover what we can learn from these games from Latin American and Latinx developers.


Today I Die <http://ludomancy.com/today/> (2010)


Daniel Benmergui, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Along with I Wish I Were the Moon <http://www.kongregate.com/games/danielben/i-wish-i-were-the-moon> (2008) and the prototype for Storyteller <https://www.kongregate.com/games/danielben/storyteller> (2008), this point-and-click pixel art web game helped turn Daniel Benmergui into an award-winning developer and a darling of the international indie community. Deceptively simplistic but surprisingly complex, Today I Die challenges the player to intuitively manipulate simple mechanics and animated sprites to transform a chaotic and turbulent gamespace into a harmonious and peaceful poetic oasis.


Fhacktions GO <https://www.tap.io/app/143074?region=us> (2020)

iOS, Android

Posibillian Tech, Asunción, Paraguay

Want to use your computer to save a world where all systems have collapsed and global networks have shut down? Now’s your chance! Like other multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, Fhacktions GO pits teams of five remotely connected players against one another in battle. Unlike others, this game was designed in Paraguay, and it is the first MOBA to use GPS technology to generate geolocative environments based on the player’s actual surroundings.


Garfield: Survival of the Fattest <https://apps.apple.com/us/app/garfield-survival-of-the-fattest/id789677229> (2015)


Fair Play Labs, San José, Costa Rica

The majority of Latin American game development projects aren’t modeled on original intellectual property (IP), but rather work-for-hire and outsourced development for global media publishers, an approach that can provide stability, help build a portfolio and offer global visibility for relatively small developers across Latin America. Costa Rican firm Fair Play Labs has also created games including the casual soccer game Journey to Real Madrid <http://www.fairplaylabs.com/projects/journey-to-real-madrid/> (2012) and the Steam, PlayStation Portable and PS Vita platformer Color Guardians <http://www.fairplaylabs.com/projects/color-guardians/> (2015).


September 12th: A Toy World <http://www.newsgaming.com/games/index12.htm> (2003)


Newsgaming.com, Montevideo, Uruguay

Having been referenced by everybody in game studies by now, September 12th is a legendary “serious game” or “newsgame,” a ludic editorial on the U.S.-backed “war on terror.” Around the same time they published this game, Gonzalo Frasca and collaborator Sofía Battegazzore also designed the webgame Madrid <http://www.newsgaming.com/games/madrid/index.html>, a contemplative homage to the victims of a 2003 terrorist attack in Madrid, Spain in the form of a whack-a-mole style candlelight vigil published just days after the incident. I will forever wish I could have experienced playing September 12th for the first time without any “spoilers”—so if you can, find a Windows machine, download it, and discover for yourself how it epitomizes Ian Bogost’s concept of “procedural rhetoric,” the way video games can make political statements.


The Shade Forest  <https://playplayfun.com/the-shade-forest-game/play/> (2015)


Amandapps, Sāo Paulo, Brazil

Brazilian drag queen developer Amanda Sparks followed up on the Android game Flappy Drag Queen <https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=floppyamanda.com.diefox&hl=en_US> (2014) with this “unusual action platformer game where kisses and slaps are your primary weapon of choice.” It is a great example of a casual LGBTQ game from a Latin American developer, speaking to serious issues with a sense of humor.


Klepto Cats 2 <https://hyperbeard.com/game/klep2cats/> (2018)

iOS, Android

Hyperbeard, Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City-based developer Hyperbeard focuses on creating fun, poppy casual games. Klepto Cats 2, like their other games Chichens <https://hyperbeard.com/game/chichens/> (2017) and Clawbert <https://hyperbeard.com/game/clawbert/> (2017), offers brief, enjoyable experiences that all types of players can easily get into on their mobile devices. In this way, it evidences the impact of casual games, which have created new opportunities for Latin American developers and audiences alike. Everybody loves cats!


Tropical America <http://www.tropicalamerica.com/> (2002)


OnRamp Arts, Los Angeles, USA

Developed as part of an after-school violence prevention program in an LA high school with a primarily Central American student body, this interactive narrative uses black-and-white digital images reminiscent of woodcut prints to take its player on a journey through the history of violence, power and inequality in Latin American, from Moctezuma to Subcomandante Marcos.


Mucho Taco <https://1simplegame.com/games/mucho-taco.php> (2015)

iOS, Android

One Simple Game, Zapopán, Mexico

Some developers aim for universal appeal, while others use their local or national culture as an asset when designing games. Mucho Taco bridges the gap, combining fluid mechanics that make it a breeze for players of all skill levels with elements of Mexican mythology and gastronomy, as the player harnesses the power of the Sun Tortilla and the wisdom of Barbacoatl to make taco after delicious taco.


Preguntados <https://www.preguntados.com/> (2013)

iOS, Android, Facebook

Etermax, Buenos Aires, Argentina


Perhaps you’ve played this global smash hit trivia game, known in English as Trivia Crack <https://www.triviacrack.com/>. The secret to its success is crowdsourcing the content of its trivia questions, allowing Etermax to overcome a classic hurdle for developers of trivia games—the creation of localized content that is relevant to players in diverse cultural contexts across the globe.


Huni Kuin <http://www.gamehunikuin.com.br/en/> (2016)

PC, Mac, Linux

Bobware, Sāo Paulo, Brazil

Developed in collaboration with the Kaxinawa (or Huni Kuin) people of Brazil, this simple jungle platformer joins the ranks of “indigenous” console games like Mulaka <https://www.lienzo.mx/mulaka/> (Lienzo, Chihuahua, Mexico, 2018), using the medium of the video game as a way of spreading indigenous knowledge and culture in novel ways to global and local audiences.


Kingdom Rush <http://www.kingdomrush.com/> (2011)

iOS, Android, Steam

Etermax, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Kingdom Rush series is popular among fans of the casual “tower defense” genre, where players situate defensive and offensive structures in order to block the path of an invading force. It is also a reflection of the strength of Uruguay’s game development scene, which has been bolstered by factors including taxation and immigration policies favorable to developers, higher education programs in game design and an ever-expanding community of like-minded professionals.


Borders <https://gonzzink.itch.io/borders> (2017)
Windows / Mac

Gonzalo Alvarez, Port Arthur, USA

Artist and illustrator Gonzalo Alvarez was a college student when he created Borders, a retro-style 2D adventure game that pits the player as an undocumented immigrant attempting to cross the desert into the United States on foot, as a recognition of the hardships his own parents and others have faced. Like other “immigration games”—think of the remarkable Monopoly modification Turista Fronterizo <http://www.thing.net/~cocofusco/StartPage.html> (Ricardo Dominguez and Coco Fusco, 2006), or Crosser <https://vimeo.com/14929009> and La Migra <https://vimeo.com/14929591> (Rafael Fajardo and SWEAT, 2000 and 2001), which are modifications of the arcade classics Frogger and Space Invaders, respectively—Borders tackles immigration and life in the US-Mexico borderlands with brilliance, imagination and procedural grace.


Best regards,


Phillip Penix-Tadsen
Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies
Game Studies Minor Advisor
Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
University of Delaware

Video Games and the Global South <http://press.etc.cmu.edu/index.php/product/video-games-and-the-global-south/> (ETC Press, 2019)
Cultural Code: Video Games and Latin America <https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/cultural-code> (MIT Press, 2016)

> El mar. 22, 2020, a las 7:04 p. m., Alenda Chang <achang at filmandmedia.ucsb.edu> escribió:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hello, empyre--thank you for sticking with us for this month on games
> during a time when it's especially hard to reach our innate sense of
> play and wonder.
> For our final week, we have a deep bench of guests with expertise in
> games and their multinational contexts. Tara and Chris and I were due
> to celebrate our recent book launches together at the now cancelled
> SCMS conference (along with Bo and Amanda), Kasyoka I met at last
> fall's SLSA, and Souvik and Phill I know primarily through their work.
> I know they can all help us to think about these questions and more:
> how can we expand or recenter games beyond a certain
> Anglo/Western/American imaginary? What are some neglected games and
> game histories? Geopolitical implications of games? How do we talk
> about games in relation to localization, region, translation, and
> colonialism and its aftermaths?
> Or, another possible starting point... in the foreword to Video Games
> Around the World (edited by Mark Wolf), Toru Iwatani (best known for
> the game Pac-Man) writes, "Most players appear to be playing games
> according to a set of rules, but they are actually playing with the
> developers' itareritsukuseri, which in Japanese means 'a gracious
> hospitality that is more fun and kindness than people expect'"
> (translated by Bryan Hikari Hartzheim). Does this apply to all games?
> Do we need comparative or regional game studies? Wouldn't that run
> into the same debates that have beset more traditional kinds of area
> studies?
> Excited to learn from this week's conversations. Sending the best to all,
> Alenda (Chang)
> --
> Guest bios:
> Tara Fickle
> Tara Fickle is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of
> Oregon, and Affiliated Faculty of the Department of Ethnic Studies,
> the New Media & Culture Certificate, and the Center for Asian &
> Pacific Studies. She received her Ph.D. from the University of
> California, Los Angeles, and her B.A. from Wesleyan University. Her
> book, “The Race Card: From Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities,”
> (NYU Press, 2019), explores how games have been used to establish and
> combat Asian & Asian American racial stereotypes. More information can
> be found at tarafickle.com.
> Souvik Mukherjee
> Souvik Mukherjee is Assistant Professor of English Literature at
> Presidency University, Calcutta, India. Souvik has been researching
> video games as an emerging storytelling medium since 2002 and has
> completed his PhD on the subject from Nottingham Trent University in
> 2009. He did his postdoctoral research in the humanities faculty of De
> Montfort University, UK and at the Indian Institute of Technology in
> New Delhi, India where he worked on digital media and narrative
> analysis. Souvik's research examines their relationship to canonical
> ideas of narrative and also how video games inform and challenge
> current conceptions of technicity, identity and culture, in general.
> His current interests involve the analysis of paratexts of video
> games, the concept of time in video games and the treatment of
> diversity and the margins in video games. Besides game studies, his
> other interests are (the) digital humanities and early modern
> literature.
> Kasyoka Mwanzia
> Kasyoka Mwanzia is interested in cultural studies and digital media in
> the global South including: production, distribution, use, and
> consumption of video games; video games as active archives that make
> local knowledge discoverable and reusable; and critical making based
> on situatedness. At heart she is interdisciplinary and interested in
> real world linkages between scholarship, practice and use. Kasyoka
> received her MA in Media Arts Cultures from a consortium of
> universities in Austria, Denmark and Hong Kong. She will begin
> pursuing a doctorate in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University in
> Fall 2020.
> Christopher Patterson
> Christopher B. Patterson (Ph.D., U of Washington) is an Assistant
> Professor in the Social Justice Institute at the University of British
> Columbia, where he researches transpacific discourses of literature,
> video games, and new media through the lens of empire studies, Asian
> American studies, and queer theory. He is the author of Transitive
> Cultures: Anglophone Literature of the Transpacific (Rutgers
> University Press, 2018), and Open World Empire: Race, Erotics, and the
> Global Rise of Video Games (NYU Press, 2020). His articles have
> appeared in Cultural Studies, American Quarterly, Games and Culture,
> M.E.L.U.S. (Multi-ethnic Literatures of the United States) and other
> venues. He writes fiction under his alter ego, Kawika Guillermo, and
> his stories have appeared in The Cimarron Review, Feminist Studies,
> The Hawai’i Pacific Review, and other magazines. His debut novel,
> Stamped: an anti-travel novel (Westphalia Press, 2018), was a Finalist
> in Literary Fiction for American Book Fest, and won the 2020
> Association for Asian American Studies Book Award for Fiction. His
> upcoming queer speculative novel, All Flowers Bloom, is forthcoming
> from Westphalia Press in March 2020. As an organizer and public
> scholar, Chris founded the podcast New Books in Asian American Studies
> where he is a current co-host, and serves as the Prose Editor for
> decomP Magazine.
> Phill Penix-Tadsen
> Phillip Penix-Tadsen is a specialist in contemporary Latin American
> cultural studies and regional game studies, focusing on the
> intersections between politics, economics, digital media and visual
> culture throughout Latin America today. He earned a Ph.D. from
> Columbia University and is Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin
> American Studies at the University of Delaware, where he regularly
> teaches courses on Latin American cultural studies and game studies.
> Penix-Tadsen is the author of Cultural Code: Video Games and Latin
> America (MIT Press, 2016) and editor of the anthology Video Games and
> the Global South (ETC Press, 2019). He has published work in journals
> including Feminist Media Histories, Letras Hispanas and Latin American
> Research Review.
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

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