General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 27 Feb 2021/4 Dog
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The team behind Dream of Darkness Aztecs online game

How can games question misunderstandings about the Aztecs?

We’re delighted to be working in collaboration with the team in Mexico City developing the coolest of new online interactive games based around the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico. The game is still in pre-production, so here the lead author, Javier Rayón Núñez, introduces us to what’s in store, and to the rationale behind the game...

‘Encounter with Mictlantecuhtli’
‘Encounter with Mictlantecuhtli’ (Click on image to enlarge)

There are plenty of misconceptions and open questions about the Aztecs, and games can help to correct them because of one key advantage: they allow you to craft your own answer.
I’m Javier, writer of the Lovecraft+Aztecs game in preproduction ‘Dream of Darkness’. Since 2019 my brother and I in Mexico City have been exploring real mysteries centered on the arrival of the Spanish, advised by historians and archeologists, at the same time that we add a dose of cosmic horror. Correcting the errors of this meeting is important to us because the Aztecs are our ancestors; history is my main passion; and humanity is at a crossroads. We need to learn how to live with the other, as alien as he may be, or risk falling into chaos. Video games allow us to experience and internalize these lessons in a way hopefully powerful enough, so that they get the point across in time.

‘Surrounded by Totonac Warriors’
‘Surrounded by Totonac Warriors’ (Click on image to enlarge)

It’s 500 years since the fall of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1521. The Christians systematically destroyed almost all of the written records of the Aztecs, so their unfiltered vision has been lost. More than 20 years later, priests like Sahagún recognized the mistake of his colleagues and started documenting the Aztec way of life in his book the Florentine Codex. He led the interviewing of survivors from Tlatelolco, but always with the bias of religion. This kind of Christian sources became the authority on the subject. Taking it as fact, it led to myths like the bloodthirsty Aztecs, the genius of singular men like Cortés, among others. But fortunately, in recent decades a new generation of professionals have separated facts from biases in the sources, collaborating between history, archeology, ethnography, and more fields. This can be especially appreciated in Professor Restall’s classic book Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, one of our title’s major references.

3D screenshot: facing an entity recorded in the Florentine Codex; the insert (from Book V of the Codex) is a good example of a historical reference being adapted for the game
3D screenshot: facing an entity recorded in the Florentine Codex; the insert (from Book V of the Codex) is a good example of a historical reference being adapted for the game (Click on image to enlarge)

At the same time, the field of video games opened a new way to communicate for the arts: agency. In contrast with movies, literature, and other media, there is no singular version of events. Players take control of their protagonist, solve problems in different ways, changing the end result. Fun is the objective. Sadly most of my colleagues go with the easy route: killing big bad monsters. This overcrowding has led to diminishing returns in fun as well as differentiation, trying to compete by visual fidelity but increasing almost unsustainably the costs. Being a bigger industry than movies and music combined, and fortunately not as affected by our covid19 crisis, there is an urgency for fresh entertainment. While the world knows about the Aztecs, very few games have explored them, especially if comparing to WWII.

Benjixe, streamer from Norway, solving a codex puzzle live
Benjixe, streamer from Norway, solving a codex puzzle live (Click on image to enlarge)

I always say to my family, it’s a blessing being born Mexican; “nacemos proscritos” (we are born outlaws). Our current government of López Obrador has defunded historians, museums, science, and entrepreneurship, crippling them, far before covid19. This makes things simple, we only have one way forward: telling to the world the story of our ancestors proudly even without local support, communicating the findings of hard working professionals, to an audience excited about a mysterious civilization who once lived in the Valley of Mexico. The response has overwhelmed us with our players trying to solve codices still open to interpretation*; streamers covering our game for hundreds of live viewers and crying with our prototype’s story*; being invited to Comic Con*, the biggest entertainment event; as well as topping the charts in horror at*, the main store for independent games. In future entries we’d be happy to share how marvelous it is to collaborate with historians, and how game mechanics can help players to experience both findings and mysteries. If you’d like to receive free prototypes, art, and more, you can join our Explorer Letters newsletter.
*(Editor’s note: follow links below...)

Dream of Darkness
All images supplied by Javier Rayón; main photo - the team, L-R: Javier, Berenice, Erasmo.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Jan 26th 2021

‘players trying to solve codices still open to interpretation’
Twitch partner MegMage crying with our prototype’s story
‘invited to Comic Con’
Dream of Darkness
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