This interview is an English translation of a conversation originally conducted, transcribed, and published in Rioplatense Spanish. The interview was conducted by Guillermo Eduardo Crespi, and translated into English by Pablo F. Quarta and David T. Marchand. The Spanish publication can be found in the "Interviews" section of ROMchip, Volume 2, No. 2.
Matajuegos began in 2014 as a conversation on Facebook between Santiago Franzani and David Marchand, indie video game designers who had met through several online forums and had recently crossed paths for the first time at an event organized by the Argentine video game community. The conversation lasted for more than two hours and spanned a few hundred messages, starting with comments condemning Gamergate (then at its peak) before continuing on to curation sites for alternative games, the necessity of creating similar sites in Latin America, and an agreement to work on a bilingual project, even going so far as to discuss organizational details such as possible web platforms.
Over the next several months the project progressed slowly, and the concept teetered between a blog of original texts and a book of Spanish translations of English-language articles. This went on for a year until David accepted Facebook’s suggestion to share the memory of the original conversation. This turned out to be the push that the project needed.
By then, different events around Argentine video games had brought Santiago and David together with other indie developers, like Pablo Quarta, who offered to do editing work on the project, and Florencia “Rumpel” Rodríguez, who quickly convinced the group to abandon any ambitions of recompiling a book and instead take advantage of the immediacy of the internet. And so, in March 2016, the site www.mata.juegos finally started to occupy a mostly vacant space in the world of Spanish-language critique and analysis of interactive art.
Since then, Santiago, David, Pablo, and Rumpel have formed a work collective which, in parallel to their own individual work as indie developers, continues to contribute to the discussion of video games as cultural and social expression through multiple formats, including articles, translations, recommendations, videos, and podcasts.
In this conversation I had with the four of them in October 2020, while we were all in quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we tried to cover the different aspects of Matajuegos’ work, their vision of the Argentine video game scene, and their plans for the future. The interview has been translated from Rioplatense Spanish and edited for clarity and brevity.
The home page of the blog with which Matajuegos began its activities. (Image courtesy of Matajuegos)
Guillermo Crespi: In the manifesto published on the Matajuegos blog, at least two points tie the group’s goals specifically to the Hispanophone world. One proposes “writing about video games in new ways for the Spanish-speaking world, even if it’s already been said a few times in English,” and another, “translating the most interesting pieces on interactive art into Spanish.” How do you see this lack of Spanish-language analysis today in relation to the absence that motivated the project nearly five years ago?
David Marchand: Back when we were writing that manifesto, I had a very strong feeling that the Spanish-speaking world was not only behind in the race in regard to what the Anglophone video game critics were doing, but that we were basically copying everything that happened in that sphere with a couple of years of delay. While I would open Twitter and read really interesting articles in English about certain topics, everything I could find in Spanish that resembled video game criticism from a more cultural point of view was about whether games were art or not. The idea was that, as a team, Matajuegos could offer an original perspective, but even if we didn’t, at least we could copy the avant-garde of video game criticism in English with more timeliness and without that delay. Currently, the rift between languages is a lot smaller, but I feel it’s not thanks to the advances we achieved, but rather to the stagnation of video game criticism in general, even in the Anglophone world. I get the sense that at a certain point, perhaps with the resurgence of the right in so many places, we all had to go back to basics in terms of art and cultural criticism.
Florencia “Rumpel” Rodríguez: I think what we were missing then were more things in Spanish written by people from Latin America. That most of the material in Spanish comes from Spain marks an agenda which doesn’t always make sense for Latin America. Right now there are a few more works of criticism and a more formal structure for it; there are even people publishing game studies journals, for example.1
Pablo Quarta: Some of the more traditional publications, like the enthusiastic press that review games and do a lot of marketing work, are now starting to incorporate a few more articles of critique. In general they’re still a little ways off from the aspirations we have at Matajuegos, but we see that there are more opportunities for that kind of writing and that kind of thinking, even in less independent spaces. That being said, what is or isn’t independent in a region like Latin America or Argentina … it’s a point of discussion.
GC: And what is the general repercussion of Matajuegos in terms of territory? Has most of the interaction been from Argentina, or has it been distributed generally among Latin American countries?
DM: I suspect it’s mainly from Argentina, also because during our first few years most of our traffic came from certain Facebook groups which, in spite of their aspirations, had a mainly Argentine audience.
PQ: We know we have readers in Peru, Mexico, and other countries, and we have been translated into Portuguese at least once by readers in Brazil who liked our work. Our largest audience has been in Argentina, but that’s changing a little with the videos: the ones that have to do with video games for Latin America have generated a lot more discussion in the region at large than just in Argentina.
DM: Which is curious, given that it’s the format where our Argentine accent is most noticeable.
GC: In the manifesto you also briefly mention the possibility of “continuing to be fascinated by games coming from the usual places.” Did Matajuegos at some point set out to include commercial games in any way? And if there wasn’t an opportunity for it, was it merely due to disinterest, or was it because you think there’s already decent analysis being done in that space … or at least, in greater quantities than in the indie world?
DM: I don’t know about decent, but abundant to be sure. What I can tell you is that in the initial Facebook conversation with Santiago, part of the original project had nothing to do with the blog’s current format: it was a blog of quick and simple recommendations similar to what freeindiegam.es or Warp Door used to be, and we’ve maintained a lot of that spirit.
FR: Yes, in general there are two things we do at Matajuegos: one is criticism and analysis of the state of the industry, and the other is telling people, “Hey, look, this game is nice! Play it! It’s interesting for this or that reason.”
PQ: An idea we had at the beginning was that of trying to reach a more general audience, an audience that maybe didn’t know about video games, in order to convey to them that there were other, different video games beyond commercial games: smaller games, games more focused on the cultural and the artistic. We wanted to show them that there were personal games made by marginalized voices. That objective changed over time as we realized that most of our readers were developers and people who already played games, and that reaching that general audience was very difficult. I think we purposefully left the door open to commercial games and we talk about them in several articles, criticizing for example the use of clichés or harmful tropes in games like …
FR: The Last of Us, for example.
GC: Yes, Rumpel, you mentioned The Last of Us and Life Is Strange in an article.
PQ: I think that as a group we are generally much more interested in independent games and small games than in commercial ones, at least when it comes to writing and thinking about them.
DM: One of the features that lives on to this day from our initial attempt to reach a general audience is that we maintain a pretty extensive glossary on the site, where we try to explain general terms that people who are already into video games probably already know. It’s slightly related to one of Santiago’s original ideas: that our translations and articles would form a corpus for university curriculums for people who had to learn about the subject and didn’t already have a handle on it. I also suspect that if I wrote that part of the manifesto, I was likely trying to say, “Hey, caring about more personal games doesn’t prevent us from continuing to like the more commercial ones.”
Santiago Franzani: Right. It’s part of the issue of having to clarify that we’re not closing ourselves off with an elitist critique that says, “if it’s commercial it’s bad.” Rather, we’re saying that in general terms, commercial products may always favor the status quo, but there will always be works that don’t. So it’s good not to close oneself off.
GC: How did the name Matajuegos come about, and how many times have people used it against you? [laughter] [Translator’s Note: “Matajuegos” translates to “games killer.” However, the name is a play on the Spanish word, “matafuegos,” which means “fire killer”—that is, a fire extinguisher.]
DM: I don’t feel people have used it as a critique all that much …
FR: We expected more critiques, but truth be told, none of the ones we got were particularly clever. The name Matajuegos didn’t come up until we got together and started iterating on puns like “Fideojuegos.”2
DM: Right. We made a virtual list on Trello, and later Pablo, who is very producer-minded and tries to get people together, insisted we meet up at the coffee shop by his house. He started writing down the names that we’d already proposed, and we ended up talking about Matajuegos for so long—which to my memory was the first name on the list—that we didn’t even get to the others, and it stuck.
PQ: We thought it was the smartest name out of the ones we had. It had to do with the idea of offering critique, but by associating ourselves with a fire extinguisher we were also implying that it’d be helpful critique.
FR: I have never been able to say “matafuegos” again in my life.
The founding members of Matajuegos (left to right: Santiago J. Franzani, David T. Marchand, Pablo F. Quarta, Florencia “Rumpel” Rodriguez) as drawn by Santiago. (Image courtesy of Santiago Franzani)
GC: What do each one of you believe you contribute to the group?
PQ: From the beginning what I wanted to contribute was editing and help with the translations, since the idea that the blog would be bilingual was there from early on, and I didn’t feel confident at all in my capacity to write in Spanish. I had just come back to Argentina, spoke Spanish roughly, and my writing was even worse. Later on, I gradually came into a coordination and production role, be it internally by establishing publishing dates and helping the group reach a consensus on decisions, or externally by broadening our contacts and promoting the blog among folks who share our values.
SF: I haven’t participated in a long time, it’s terrible … it’s been two years, ever since I moved to Capilla del Monte at least.3
PQ: Santiago is something of a mythical founding figure to me, the original soul that gave life to the project.
SF: What I contributed in the beginning were principally some articles related to criticism and the bibliography I had from studying film. I look for new ways to do criticism that open up the spectrum of how it’s been done so far in the medium of video games, which is very endogamic. The other thing I contribute, in general terms, is the graphic side of things.
DM: Santiago is an impressive artist, and he’s the one behind how beautiful all of Matajuegos’ designs look and what they represent visually.
PQ: He gave life to our mascot, Alcatrofa, the fish with legs. I think that’s another reason why people haven’t found Matajuegos to be all that aggressive, because the title of the site is accompanied by a very likable fish.
FR: My contribution is getting into fights with people and annoying them to death. [laughter]
PQ: She’s the brawler of the party.
GC: Nothing more? You’re the one who’s written the most articles!
FR: Yes, but it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. I think in general I’m the person in the group with the most antagonistic relationship with the Argentine video game industry, partly because I’m a woman and there are many sexist men out there, and partly because there are many situations in that community where it’s expected that you’ll work for free … and I don’t like working for free. The rest of the group gets along a little better with other people that I don’t get along with. [laughter] In the beginning, I insisted a lot on trying to do things that were manageable, in the sense that, “If we release articles and translations bit by bit, it’s going to be easier than if we say we’re going to release a book,” which was the idea that David and Santiago had originally. I said, “Don’t publish a book; let’s publish a blog first and then we’ll see about the book.” We never did release a book.
DM: On paper, I’m the author with the second-most number of original articles in the blog, after Rumpel. I imagine I’m the principal translator, although translations are heavily edited afterward. I’m also the originator and principal editor of the podcast, as well as the producer of video content and of the few interactive pieces we’ve made. I believe that what I contribute to the blog is an important dose of imperfectionism: I like working a lot and quickly. I’d rather publish everything and push for things to come out in volume and not worry too much about perfectionism, whose principal advocate I think is Pablo. A big part of Matajuegos’ dynamic is me trying to publish things as fast as possible and Pablo trying to refine them.
FR: And me saying, “Stop, please, let’s leave this alone.”
GC: When Matajuegos started up publicly in March 2016, among other things you released a translation of an article by Liz Ryerson. In essence, it points out that we continue to approach the medium as if we were children, afraid that anything that might question its entertainment value might stop it from being fun. Somewhere in that article, Liz asks a key question: “Why are ‘gamers’ so damn angry?”4 Being that Matajuegos has experienced that anger for themselves, partly for aiming to understand games on a cultural level, would you like to venture a theory that would answer that question?
PQ: My question is, why are developers so angry? Because gamers don’t tend to read us as much as developers do.
FR: But many developers are gamers as well. I think there’s an intersection where they share the same system of values, and therefore they get angry.
DM: I would venture that one origin must be the force of the market, or of marketing, which for whatever extraordinary reason allowed capital, stakeholders, and companies that make games to establish a certain type of fanbase and appeal to them from a certain angle. I think that maybe the difference with other disciplines (if there is any) must exist in part because of that, because of that construction of “nerds” that game studios managed to build at a certain point in time, and that was useful to them economically. It was a construct that they nourished to the point of building this identity of a person who feels entirely identified by the products they consume, a person who doesn’t want external invasions, who feels there is a kind of canon that must be defended at all costs, who sides with one company or another … and so on with other fights and passions.
SF: Criticism in an endogamic discipline ends up being subversive because it goes against people’s status quo. When that breaks, it also changes their material conditions, and it starts to open up the game for other people to be developers. And if those other people start to gain a part of that market as well, it ends up threatening the economic, and therefore cultural, monopoly.
PQ: Yes, obviously I think the construction of the gamer as an identity and marketing project by large companies gave us that very endogamic and overprotective culture. It’s also in part because the gamer was built as an identity that from its foundations has supposedly been oppressed by the status quo of its time. The definition of “nerds” always identifies them as a group in danger of being harassed and bullied … which turns out not to be all that true, because historically they were groups of white men who in turn fomented a great deal of toxic behaviors. You have to remember that Matajuegos starts out in a post-Gamergate world, where there’d been a systematic organization of reactionary gamers by part of the alt-right, which was then beginning to play with radicalizing hate groups online, and which later used those same tactics on social media with larger groups of people. So part of the impetus and urgency that drove us was in offering a voice in opposition to that. Shortly after Matajuegos started, Trump was elected, and a big part of his base were those same Gamergate groups, organized by outlets like Breitbart that worked to radicalize voters through social media. So beyond the toxic origin of the marketing identity that is “the gamer,” later on that identity ends up being manipulated on the internet for those particular political ends.
GC: Rumpel, for the simple fact that you’re a woman, you’ve had to face delirious anger on a daily basis, much more so than everyone else. You’ve written an enormous number of original articles, some of them about having to work in this sexist environment, including situations of harassment that you had to live through. Has any of that changed in these past few years … or are we in the same situation?
FR: My personal experience has changed significantly … but I can never be sure if it’s because things got better, or because I complained so much about the things that bothered me that certain people stopped doing them around me. There are a lot more solidarity networks now among people marginalized by the video game industry than there were when I started out. There is also more awareness, for example, that a video game event should have a code of conduct … that you can no longer take pictures of a girl’s ass and post them using the event’s hashtag. So it got a little better, maybe, but not as much as I would’ve liked. It’s very important that people inside the industry who aren’t marginalized do the boring everyday work, the work of telling someone that’s making unacceptable comments, “No, don’t say that.” Because one thing that’s starting to happen is … when there are women at an event, men behave a certain way, but when they think they’re alone they behave differently. We have to put an end to that “solidarity” because for change to work it also has to happen when nobody’s looking.
GC: Has the time that you’ve been living in Germany, distanced from the Argentine video game industry, been useful for seeing if our local virulence is of a particular strain, or is it more or less the same the whole world over?
FR: In Germany I’ve found that there is greater awareness that sexist attitudes are wrong … but it’s not that they’ve stopped doing those things; rather, they’ve decided to look for ways to dissimulate and keep doing them. There’s also a lot of “corporate activism,” meaning companies doing events for diversity … not because they care but because they want to look presentable. I think that’s going to start happening in Argentina.
GC: Why aren’t you writing more articles?
FR: Because I no longer live in Argentina, and I don’t see the day to day, so I can’t just start giving out my opinion on the Argentine video game industry when I’m no longer there. Also, I moved, and I had to start using a big chunk of the time I was dedicating to Matajuegos to doing things like learning German, or going through bureaucracy. I’m slowly getting back in the rhythm of saying, “OK, I’ll play something,” so that I can recommend games and have something to say, but … moving to another country is complicated. If you can avoid doing it, don’t move. [laughter]
David, Rumpel, and Pablo taking part in the Feria del Libro Independiente, 2016. (Image courtesy of Giselle “Yiyo” Lochi)
GC: In April 2016, Santiago and Pablo participated in a panel during the event, Meet the Devs, in Buenos Aires. A conversation came up during the panel that Santiago, and later Rumpel, ended up writing about. Most of the panelists were of the opinion that the Argentine video game industry included not only game companies, but also indie devs, educational institutes, the press, critics, and so forth. In Rumpel’s article, you had to end up closing the comments because of the level of hostility, mostly from a portion of angry developers, as Pablo pointed out earlier. Do you think there is a video game industry in Argentina? If so, what state is it currently in?
SF: In some of the talks I’ve given, even at FADU [the Faculty of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism of the University of Buenos Aires], the question that’s come up from the audience has been, “When are we going to make AAA games?” That is, when are we going to “get” there, as if it were a linear gradient, where we start out being indies with small games and then we grow increasingly larger, until we manage to make “the game that is supposed to be.” Being indie is interpreted as a matter of project scope, while I think it’s more of an issue of expression, a social issue, of how developers position themselves when making games. In that same sense, we have the problem of calling everything “industry.” It may very well be that there are industrial methods in Argentina that attempt to reach the scope of AAA games, but I struggle to believe that we’ll have an industry that looks the way the public imagines it. I often show videos of Argentina’s biggest games, and people’s faces go, “Oh … that’s what we achieved ...?” Never mind when I show independent games—the faces are worse! I remember Okhlos5 … when La Nación6 published a review of the game, the comments were terrible. Someone wrote, “They look like ColecoVision graphics.” It’s that contradiction, where people expect industry but you’re giving them something different. I prefer to problematize that contradiction between the industry and the independent so that people understand that it touches on something else; I think that’s important for getting people to understand why a game that doesn’t look polished may actually be really good.
PQ: The video game industry that effectively exists in Argentina is mostly dedicated to providing services for foreign video game companies, and another big sector is oriented toward the development of mobile games. Traditionally, the Argentine industry doesn’t stand out for developing large-scale games with high production values, and the attempts that have been made in that field range from mediocre to disastrous … I say that as someone who’s participated in one of those attempts. What does stand out from the Argentine community are its independent projects, many of which have won awards and been recognized internationally, like Okhlos or Ethereal.7
DM: There are two phrases that are always on my mind. I don’t remember who said the first one, it might have been me, “The Argentine video game industry is actually three companies on top of each other in a trench coat.” [laughter] The other one is yours, Crespi—“Only two things in the world are ‘incipient’: hair loss and the Argentine video game industry.”
SF: Wait, there’s a third one that you said once, David, “The Argentine video game industry … are your parents.”8 [laughter]
GC: The thing is, the word industry here is generally used as a synonym for the entire landscape of Argentine video games, right?
GC: And since a lot of what is produced here is indie, leaving it out of the picture would shine a light on the lack of AAA production, which scares a lot of people since they equate it with not having an industry. So if we want to avoid that … quick, let’s call everything “industry”!
DM: I don’t think we can say that there is a well-established industry, nor can we say that there is no industry. It’s true that there is a grave problem of considering the industry and the discipline synonymous, or the industry and the community, so that when you try to project into the future, to think of how you’re going to contribute to this artistic community, you can only think about it from the angle of how you’re going to contribute economically. Regardless, I don’t want to fail to mention that the extent to which the industry exists is also the extent to which we need to unionize and stand up for workers’ rights. Simply saying, “The industry doesn’t exist,” might contribute to the project of not unionizing, of not defending workers’ rights.
PQ: You have to keep in mind that Matajuegos was born in a period of time of cultural events where particular attention was paid to the independent, or at least “creative,” video game development that existed in Argentina. Back in 2015 and 2016 there was almost one event a month during certain parts of the year, and many of them weren’t particularly oriented to the commercial side of things, or to the idea of professionalization, but rather to showing off and drawing attention to small projects and having their developers meet and start a dialogue. David, Santiago, Rumpel, and I met at those events, and we participated in many of them. My personal impression is that after the 2015 elections and the change of government in Argentina, there started to be less money devoted to cultural programs for creating and maintaining those events, and part of that community was lost.
FR: Tim Schafer once came to an event and talked about how he started making games. He said, “I wanted to be a writer and I could program,” and I went, “Oh … so I can make video games, too, because that’s exactly where I’m at!” It was really useful for me to go to those events because they made creating video games feel like something that was possible. Besides, that event was called VJ and it took place in Tecnópolis and was free, so everybody went.9
PQ: I believe VJ stopped happening exactly because of that lack of funding. It was one of the events that brought a great deal of people from outside of Argentina to talk and meet with the community. Surely behind all of that there was also a commercial and professional side to things, to which we didn’t have access, but its consequence was raising the visibility of people making games in Argentina … and suggesting that it was a possibility, not just a commercial or professional necessity. When last year we had GAIA10 in Buenos Aires, a conference about video game curatorship, attendees who came from other countries met local collectives, like those in the indie and alt-arcade scene, and they were fascinated. Those are things that don’t exist in other contexts with the same degree of concentration and enthusiasm that exists in Argentina. There is a cultural level around video games, outside of the commercial and industrial spaces, that is important and recognized even by experts within their branches of curatorship. I was surprised by how many people from the local industry don’t know, or aren’t interested, in the cultural collectives that do amazing things like the Argentine arcades.
GC: Maybe it’s because those possibilities that Rumpel was talking about, of making different and personal video games, effectively work against the necessity of some people to legitimize everything through the lens of a AAA industry. So anything that falls outside of that doesn’t count for a lot of people and may even be a source of a little shame, as Santiago said.
FR: Yes. The other problem I see with so many events disappearing all of a sudden is that EVA11 is the only one that remains, and there are a ton of things that don’t fit in that context.
PQ: Right, EVA represents the totality of the dialogue, and many other conversations have been left out.
DM: When in 2017 we published our interview with Paolo Pedercini,12 he told us that in 2006 he had been asked about the Italian video game industry in an interview. He answered that there was no such thing … and the twelve people who made games in Italy wanted to kill him. [laughter] It’s an interesting problem that surely emerges in a bunch of places around the world.
FR: Folks in Spain, in particular, have the same kinds of stories we have in Argentina, of vanishing companies in the style of, “All of a sudden a guy showed up with a bunch of money—we have no idea where he got it from, he tried to make a huge game, and then one day he stopped paying people, disappeared, and the game never came out.”
DM: That’s practically the hero's journey in the video game industry. [laughter]
PQ: One of the most interesting ideas that came out of the GAIA talks was that something positive that peripheral regions can do is to stop talking to the center and vying for its attention, and instead talk to each other. They have a lot more in common and have more interesting and unfamiliar things to share with one another.
David, Santiago, and the rest of the team (out of frame) interview Paolo Pedercini (left). (Image courtesy of Giselle “Yiyo” Lochi)
GC: During the blog’s first eight months, you released one article a week. Then you announced that you were going to start publishing every two weeks, partly because you had already achieved a strong kickoff with abundant material, but also because you were “surprised that the Argentine game dev community took you seriously,” inviting Matajuegos to participate in activities besides the creation and translation of articles. Would you tell us a little about what those activities have been in these past few years?
DM: Besides being critics, it was never lost on us that we are all video game developers as well. We create games and help others create games within our capacity as a group. For example, one of our first experiences outside of the blog was developing a small workshop for creating interactive stories out of paper and cardboard at the Feria del Libro Independiente [Festival of Independent Books].
FR: David and I were also mentors for the sex ed game jam hosted by Fundación Huésped.13 We also once gave a talk presenting Matajuegos at an event called Media Party, where we met Paolo Pedercini. Individually, we’ve talked on many panels, although not always in representation of the group.
PQ: Rumpel, you gave a talk at A MAZE14 that was partly related to Matajuegos.
FR: Oh, right! I was invited to talk about Doom Fetito and Onda verde on a panel with another developer who made a game about reproductive rights in Poland. We talked about why we had decided to make those games. I made Doom Fetito15 for myself and for my friends, and I didn’t have any expectation that it would have the reach it did. After going viral it reached anti-rights people on Twitter, and I was forced to create a bot in order to block a whole region of the internet I’d never heard of. The messages that I got on Facebook telling me to kill myself ended up in the folder for filtered messages … it was a week or two where living on the internet sucked. There were also a few groups that were very particular: there’s a blog somewhere that accused me of being a lizard person in cahoots with Rockefeller. When they interviewed me for Kotaku, a bunch of people started republishing the article and changing the details, over and over and over again. At some point they said I was a lawyer who had made a Doom mod called Destiny Fetito. [laughter] The funny thing is, when Onda verde16 came out, none of that happened to us. Nobody told David to kill himself, thankfully.
PQ: They did try to convince David that he should be against abortion, and that he would never be able to commercialize and make money off of the game. Or, inversely, that he was surely making tons of money because “los K”17 were paying him to make the game!
DM: Insofar as games, we also made Matajuegos hace Twines, which is a compilation of text games we showcased at Expo Lúdica in La Plata. Rumpel and I did a live reading of our Twine games asking the audience to make choices. We also organized events like Charlefante, which was a small experiment in video game conversations based around mental health.
PQ: I helped a little with GAIA, and folks from GDC have been interested in us giving talks there in the past. For one reason or the other, it never ended up happening, this year because of COVID. We’ve also promoted game jams that have interests and ideologies close to our own, like the Antifa Game Jam and recently the Arde El Delta Jam about the burning of wetlands in Argentina.
DM: We go where the wind and our interests take us. Where we find a cultural proposal that catches our eye, we get involved. Sometimes it’s a little ambiguous if we’re participating individually or as representatives of Matajuegos.
GC: Santiago, you were part of the original kickoff that launched Matajuegos. You started out writing several articles, and then you took a break of more than a year, until one showed up that seemed to me like it was coming from someone who was fed up of always hearing the same opinions. It was a humorous article, in the style of a guide for “making games for the industry,” instead of wasting time with personal and sentimental games that only had “a couple of pixels.” Behind that parody I thought there was some anger and fatigue … and it turned out to be the last article you published in Matajuegos. What happened?
SF: No, I wasn’t fed up … Actually, all throughout that period I’d written a few other, more serious articles, but I felt I was repeating myself on the same issues, maybe even having the same impact on the same people. And sometimes I have the need to reach the appropriate people and not close myself off so much. So I started to experiment with working in a more captivating, more provocative way, writing for people who might take that bait. People who didn’t know Matajuegos but would see the headline and think, “Oh yeah, I want to know how to make games for the industry.” And yes, many people fell for it. At the time it was the article with the most views, alongside another one by Rumpel. They really bought it and said they agreed, even though the article is filled with clues and internal links to Matajuegos that go directly against the text.
GC: Without looking much further, all the images in that article are of projects by Matajuegos that stand in exact opposition to what the article lays out …
SF: Yes, it’s almost a biographical article for Matajuegos, but it’s written in a tone that fools the unprepared. I think that conflict, in part, is what drives change, and I’m okay with being provocative … I even like to go and argue with readers directly. [laughter] I know it takes up a lot of time, and at some point I stopped and said enough … because at the end of the day you’re facing off against a mass of people and you don’t accomplish any visible change. But, on the other hand, you realize that you generate a kind of community that agrees with you on certain things, so it’s good to go and annoy the mass a little, and then go back to working on several different layers. But no, I don’t usually get fed up, I just enjoy generating conflict. So, more than anything, that article was there to generate a conceptual conflict, without being aggressive; prodding in a more sarcastic manner. I learned some of that from David.
DM: [laughter] It’s been an honor.
GC: Are you going to write articles again?
SF: There are times when I want to, but I think I should be making games alongside writing in order to slowly get more involved. Right now I see the Argentine video game “industry” from very far away. I’m trying to find the time because the local community here in Capilla del Monte is very different from what life is like in a big city; it demands a lot more time, in political and social terms.
GC: Pablo and David, during GDC 2018 in San Francisco, you attended what ended up being the birth of Game Workers Unite, and a year later you announced the creation of the Argentine branch. Being that the group shares similar opinions regarding the issues of exploitation and the need for organization, I wanted to ask you what that process was like.
PQ: So, before the conference, GDC announced there’d be a round table to discuss whether unionization was a good thing for the industry. It was organized by the IGDA, which at the time seemed to have an antiunion attitude. It became controversial on the internet and industry workers began organizing to attend the round table, the idea being to counterbalance any antiunion narratives and to raise awareness of some of the big issues with exploitation in the video game industry. That is, the deliberate scheduling of crunch, the cases of harassment and sexism hidden by corporate structures, forced mediation in labor conflicts … those kinds of problems. David and I participated in that conversation and that round table at GDC, and we started talking to a lot of people who were very interested in discussing the advantages and possibilities of unionization within the industry. After that, around April 2019, David asked me if we wanted to build something here in Argentina with that. To which I, being busy with a thousand different projects and just then starting to freelance, something I wasn’t so sure about … I said, “Yes, obviously.” [laughter] After all it was something simple, easy …
GC: … that you could work on in your free time, to relax a bit.
PQ: Exactly. But that’s what we committed to, and more than anything this last year and a half has been a lot of exploratory work finding out what unionization means in Argentina, what does it mean to talk to video game workers about unionization, what are the problems that they really want to solve urgently, and what do people who are against unions think. It was also a big lesson on what the internal bureaucracy of an international project like GWU looks like, since it started out mostly as a communication project for raising awareness about problems, for starting to visualize what the solutions that a union offers can look like. The issue is that transforming that communication and awareness project into something practical ... they’re two structures that belong to completely different branches of knowledge and experience. So at this moment GWU Argentina is in an internal process of restructuring to be able to better face that second, more practical project, centering itself on tangible aid.
The podcast that Matajuegos has produced since 2019, with a little bit of truth and a little bit of fiction … (Image courtesy of Guillermo Crespi; and see https://open.spotify.com/show/4xLXIF99AcvxX84VwvDfYq )
GC: Two and a half years after the start of the blog, you took a break. The regularity of the posts ceased and you announced that you were going to take advantage of that pause to experiment a little with the format. In the middle of that, Rumpel moved to Germany. Four months later Matajuegos was back. Translations reappeared, but the original material switched from articles to short videos, and you incorporated a podcast called En busca de Porko. [Translator’s note: In Search of Porko] David, you are, at the very least, the voice of the videos, and even though the podcast flourished thanks to everyone’s contributions, I’m sure that on some level you were the one who gave the initial push to start off the project. So, what’s it been like working on videos? And how does the podcast fit within the structure of Matajuegos, considering the show has a fairly peculiar format which has a lot to do with its humor?
DM: During that hiatus we took in 2018, I came across a post on social media that offered “free alternatives to Adobe Premiere,” so I started learning a little DaVinci Resolve in order to edit videos. I wanted to produce a more agile format; I was interested in the idea of putting a bunch of little drawings together, narrating over them, and having the videos be very concise. In the same way that I originally tried to make excuses for myself with, “Maybe we’re just going to be repeating things that have already been said in Anglophone contexts,” I approached the videos from an angle of, “Maybe we’re going to be saying very basic things that we’ve already been saying, but now it’ll be in video format.” But the videos had a very big impact. They aren’t that hard to produce when it comes to “doodling quickly and publishing them,” but there’s an extra difficulty in making Spanish and English versions of them at the same time. The last one I made about Gamergate and the far right was particularly difficult because the editing process was very heavy, and obviously Pablo and Rumpel had a lot to say about how they wanted to approach the subject as Matajuegos. For both the videos and the podcast, Santiago remains a kind of founding figure, in a weirdly oblique way. For instance, the first video we published, years ago now, was made by Santiago. And it was Santiago who introduced Porko to our Matajuegos chat group. At some point he found a book about games in Latin America and there was a page dedicated to this Argentine developer from the early 2000s …
SF: No, it wasn’t a page, it was a fragment, where several people were mentioned, with a link to … I don’t remember …
FR: A Tripod page! I’ll never forget it.18
GC: What book was it? Video Games around the World?19
SF: Yes, that one.
DM: Santiago followed that link and saw that there was a site, preserved in amber almost, with Porko’s games. For many years the existence of Porko became a kind of meme in our internal Matajuegos chat group. Then at some point, when we wanted to come back and try different formats, one of those was a podcast. I like listening to fiction podcasts, and I had no interest in the Matajuegos podcast being us simply talking and being “interesting” for an hour.
PQ: So we did exactly that.
FR: I’m with Pablo on this one.
DM: I came up with a kind of semifictional format: interviewing developers and analyzing fictional games. In 2014 I had published an article in a blog called Electron Dance, “The Uncle, the Cat and the Mother,” which is a kind of parody of “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim” by Borges, where instead of talking about a fictional novel from the Arab world I review a fictional Argentine adventure game.20 I wanted to continue down that path. So I came up with this idea of taking Porko and inventing a new game of his for each episode. We’ve had a following that is … not massive, but a little bigger than I had anticipated. We’ve been stopped at conventions and had people tell us that they listen to the podcast and that they’re interested in it, always in that weird way where you’re not sure who bought the premise and who got the joke.
SF: I love that the reference to the real person is there.
DM: Yes, I even maintain a sparse correspondence with Porko. The guy was really into it: he listened to the first few episodes and he liked them a lot, so every once in a while we shoot each other an email.
PQ: The funny thing is that talking with developers about the podcast, some of them are really into the idea, and we’ve had international guests of a fairly high caliber on the show who were there bullshitting with us. In fact, I think the gratification of collaborating on this joke with friends and dev acquaintances is greater than the actual impact the podcast has on the public.
GC: How has the quarantine affected Matajuegos, and what are your plans for the future?
DM: During the quarantine we have clearly lowered our content production a lot. Personally, the lockdown hasn’t affected me much at all; in fact, earlier in the year when I had some free time, I started producing a lot of content. But the need for that content to be edited, and to be looked over by the four of us, meant that it didn’t immediately turn into publications.
SF: I was participating so little in Matajuegos that in regard to the quarantine it’s almost the same. In personal terms, I work from home and just a month ago we had our first COVID case here. It’s a pretty flexible quarantine; it’s all open spaces.
FR: With the quarantine my productivity fell in general, but I decided that that was all right, because being at home all the time it’s very difficult for me to come up with ideas and create things.
PQ: Quarantine, those first few months, affected me very strongly, and my productivity was very low in general. After that it started to pick back up, and I started doing too many things in order to compensate. I would like to dedicate a lot more time to Matajuegos, because for a while now, every time Rumpel, David, Santiago, and I get to talk, there is an immediate sense of nostalgia. I want to continue those conversations because they’re friendships that I miss, particularly in these times where we can’t see each other.
DM: Besides, the little time Pablo and I have for Matajuegos we’re dedicating to starting a co-op, which is work that the audience doesn’t see.
PQ: Yes, David and I have been dedicating our time to building a co-op to organize our future efforts, and to open ourselves to the possibility of something we haven’t had in these last four years, which is a bit of funding. Until now, everything we’ve done has been through our own efforts with whatever time and energy we could spare, and we’ve never wanted to commercialize it or to depend on ads. So the opportunities for funding that are left open to us depend on having legal personhood of some kind, and co-ops are the model closest to how we already operate. Everything’s always been horizontal inside the group since the beginning. We’ve had the luck of getting in touch with FACTTIC,21 a federation of tech co-ops that has been very friendly toward us and our inexperience. They’ve connected us with like-minded projects, from institutions that work on issues similar to ours.
DM: For a few years now I’ve been freelancing by making games with Mer, an artist from Rosario, and Fede, a musician, for clients like the Museo Histórico Nacional [the National Museum of History] or a community-led film production company from Moreno, Buenos Aires. And now that we’re building Matajuegos into a co-op we need a certain number of members, so we’re adding that team to the project alongside Leno, who has also worked on translating texts for the blog. The idea would be to create a small studio while we talk to clients who need games, especially if the games are about social and cultural issues.
PQ: We would also like to return to publishing articles, translation, and videos again. We have a lot of things prepared that simply require us to free up some time and get to work.
1. ^ Notable examples are the game studies journals published in 2019 and 2020 by Universidad de Palermo (University of Palermo) and the upcoming game studies journal that will be published by UNA Critica de Arte (the Interdepartmental Area of Art Criticism of the National University of Arts).
2. ^ Fideojuegos translates to “noodle games” and is a play on the Spanish word for video games, which is videojuegos. In this case, video is replaced with fideo, meaning “noodle” or “pasta.”
3. ^ City in the province of Córdoba, 725km from Buenos Aires, at the base of Cerro Uritorco, a small mountain.
4. ^ Liz Ryerson, “The Language of Videogames,” Ellaguro (blog), September 29, 2011. https://ellaguro.blogspot.com/2011/09/language-of-videogames.html
5. ^ Rogue-like computer game developed by the Argentine studio Coffee Powered Machine and published by Devolver Digital in 2016.
6. ^ La Nación is one of Argentina’s longest-running newspapers, founded by former president Bartolomé Mitre in 1870. Its editorial group nowadays represents various magazines, a cable channel, a stadium, and other holdings.
7. ^ Abstract puzzle computer game developed and published by the Argentine studio Nonsense Arts in 2019. Winner of the Audience Award at the Independent Game Festival 2019.
8. ^ In Argentine parlance, incipient is an adjective strongly associated with descriptions of hair loss and baldness. “ ... are/is your parents” is a common punchline and reference to the phrase, “Santa Claus doesn’t exist, he’s your parents”; it’s often used jokingly to express feelings of disappointment and disillusionment or to signify situations in which you’ve been lied to or tricked, often through someone’s good intentions.
9. ^ VJ was a series of talks for video game developers that ran from 2013 to 2016 and was hosted in Tecnópolis, Argentina’s largest fairground and exhibition center for science, technology, industry, and art that was inaugurated in 2011 in Buenos Aires.
10. ^ Game Arts International Assembly is an international conference and think tank of video game curators and producers of cultural game events. Its first occurrence was celebrated in Buenos Aires in 2019.
11. ^ EVA is the Exposición de Videojuegos Argentina (Argentine Video Games Exhibition) an industry-focused event organized by the Asociación de Desarrolladores de Videojuegos Argentinos (Association of Argentine Video Game Developers), which started in Buenos Aires in 2003 and has expanded to include several conferences in different cities throughout the country.
12. ^ Italian indie video game developer whose games focus on political and social issues and are released under the name Molleindustria.
13. ^ Argentine organization that works in the field of public health, focusing on HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual and reproductive health.
14. ^ International festival hosted in Berlin that focuses on art-house games.
15. ^ Made by Rumpel in 2018 for the Antifascist Game Jam; a satirical mod of Doom that parodies a demonstration by an anti–reproductive rights group on March 25, 2018, against the decriminalization of abortion and used a giant cardboard fetus as a symbol for its demands. Available at: https://rumpel.itch.io/doom-fetito.
16. ^ Web game created by David Marchand and released by Matajuegos in August 2018 to accompany and support the legislative project for the decriminalization of abortion and its corresponding march on August 8, 2018. The game represents a virtual march to the Argentine National Congress and includes animated protesters sent in by more than 150 participants. See: https://davidtmarchand.itch.io/onda-verde.
17. ^ In Argentina, “los K” is a reference—usually pejorative—to Kirchnerism, a political movement that has won four out of the last five presidential elections, starting with the election of 2003 and including the latest election in 2019.
18. ^ Tripod was a free web-hosting service that was popular during the 1990s and was frequently used by teenagers to create personal webpages. It was similar to Yahoo! GeoCities.
19. ^ Mark J. P. Wolf, ed., Video Games around the World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015).
20. ^ David Marchand, “The Uncle, the Cat and the Mother,” Electron Dance (blog), June 3, 2014, http://www.electrondance.com/the-uncle-the-cat-and-the-mother/.
21. ^ Federación Argentina de Cooperativas de Trabajo de Tecnología, Innovación y Conocimiento (Argentine Federation of Technology, Innovation and Knowledge Work Cooperatives) represents over twenty different technology co-ops in Argentina.