Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality

On Pride And Heritage

As it turns out, I am 50% Mexican and 50%...random European smattering. I don't feel at all connected to my European ancestry and you will never hear me talking about it. In general, I find everything European pretty boring and thinking about that half of my genetic code is just not exciting. Sorry, Mom! I do feel a strange connection to the Mexican side of me, though. It's strange because the Ruiz family (very large extended family of Mexican American Catholics) don't exactly carry around their Mexican ancestry on their sleeve. Despite being fluent Spanish speakers, I never even hear the previous generation speak Spanish unless talking with THEIR elders, and apart from the culinary and holiday traditions, the Ruiz family I am familiar with doesn't really have their heritage on display. 

And there's certainly nothing wrong with this! They are second/third/fourth generation Americans and whatever culture they choose to identify with and express themselves in is great. That's the beauty of America. But my point is that I myself have not really had the chance to rub up against authentic Mexican culture (outside of the food and holiday traditions), despite growing up as a half Mexican American with many other half /full Mexican Americans. I wasn't taught much of it, it certainly wasn't forced on me, and I rarely ever saw it with my own eyes outside of contact with elder members of the family. And it doesn't help that Mexicans as a whole have a very deeply rooted pride issue that makes the possession and passing on of pride very difficult, but I'll get to that later. In any case, ancestral pride was not installed in me.

Then I discovered the world of ancient Mesoamerica.

Seeing a Toltec pyramid for the first time changed me. I knew who built what I was looking at, and suddenly I felt a sense of pride. "Are you telling me that MY ancestors built hundreds and hundreds of these amazing structures?!" A light went on. I felt something. Looking into it, I discovered how vast and powerful and complex and beautiful my ancestors were, and I really liked the feeling. It wasn't very strong at first, but as I got older and older it became more and more a part of me. Now I look upon the Toltecs, Aztecs, and Mayans with great pride. And this is the same with most Mexicans, especially in regards to the Aztecs. But therein lies a very complex sadness.

The Aztecs were this incredible civilization that built an empire spanning thousands of miles. They started off as a despised and discarded tribe of warriors (the Mexica*) and built themselves into the most stunning cultural and military force that North American had ever seen. Everything about them was powerful and beautiful! And they knew who they were, and the glory they felt in themselves permeated everything they did and built. Then a foreign force appears and all but eradicates them at their absolute height, and then proceeds to kill their gods, destroy their art, burn their cities to the ground, and enslave what's left of them. Since these moments, Mexico has essentially been exploited by foreigners and made to eat shit while outsiders take advantage of everything she has to offer as a large and historically rich piece of land. These last moments of greatness were 500 years ago. Imagine the effects on a culture of people that have been dealing with that defeat for 500 fucking years. By the time Mexico had regained its independence from the Spanish in 1821, 300 years of oppression had taken its toll on the well-being of an entire ethnic culture, and this is where the pride issues have their roots. It's difficult to have pride when you were kicked off the height of an incredible empire into centuries of slavery and squalor.

There isn't much I can do about this; I can't change history, I can't heal Mexico (not that it asked), and I can't undo any of the damage that has been done to an entire people and their land. What I CAN do though, is celebrate this integral component of the Mexican identity. I can magnify and illuminate the greatness of the Aztecs, and make others feel the way I felt the first time I saw the pyramids at Teotihuacan. There is an unbelievable force in the heart of every Mexican and Mexican-American, and its our genetic connection to a civilization that was so magnificent it made foreigners think they were dreaming when they gazed upon its very face. If this game I'm building instills even the tiniest glimmer of pride in my fellow Mexicans, or the tiniest bit of awe in my fellow non-Mexicans, I will feel like I've done my job as a human that is legitimately proud of where they came from.

*The Mexica is one of seven large tribal ethnic groups that would becomes what we know as the Aztecs; however, all of these 7 tribes were incredible groups of people. They are all our ancestors.

Filed under: Personal Leave a comment
  • From what I’ve seen of the game so far and from what I’ve read on this blog you already have a legitimate reason to be proud man.

  • E Hocking

    I have zero Native blood in me, but as you know I’m fascinated with Aztec, Mayan, Olmec culture. Some of my favorite novels dramatize these all but forgotten realms of history. Truly to see a game finally highlighting this is far over due. For every one Mesoamerican game there are thousands of Roman games. This extends into every facet of entertainment from books to movies. In my mind there’s this gold mine of entertainment just sitting there, unused, almost ignored. I see no reason the rich vibrant history of the Aztec should not be in the same league as the Romans. I want more and this game is a huge step in the right direction. You should be very proud.

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  • Dominic C.

    I also come from a mixed heritage of European (my mother) and Hispanic (my father). My mother’s family came from Ireland in the 18th century but my father emigrated from El Salvador as a young boy and I grew up with little regard to my heritage until I entered high school a couple years ago. The whole idea that my ancestors being an artistic and genius civilization really hit me when I actually started researching my past. For me it’s more the Mayans than anyone else but really all of Mesoamerica fascinates me and I always want to see more depictions of those cultures at their height in media, rather than the collapsing version I usually see. I’m really looking forward to what Aztez will turn out like!

  • Pierre

    As much I admire your work and the mesoamerican civilizations (feels weird to name both in the same sentence), the very notion of being “proud” of a genetic code somehow linking you to exploits you had nothing to do with, sounds problematic to me. I hope this doesn’t offend you, it’s just my thoughts. The game is looking amazing!

    • I’m not offended at all; I actually find that very interesting! But since I’m pretty sure I know what you’re getting at, let me say it this way:

      When your family members do something great, you’re proud of them, right? For me, I still care enough about them that knowing they’ve done something amazing still feels good, even though you don’t have any ownership over their actions. I suppose it’s the same thing. I’m certainly not declaring any authorial credit for what my ancestors did, it’s just a similarly positive sensation (despite being slightly irrational), albeit many more steps removed than feeling the same thing for your family members. Hopefully that makes sense.

      And thanks for the kind words!

      • Pierre

        What you said absolutely makes sense. I guess we all feel something along those lines at some point and one just has to try to view at as abstractly as possible.
        Thanks for clarifying what you meant!

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  • Brandon Cornejo

    This post is absolutely beautiful, I feel like you were speaking
    directly from my own heart. I think it was a secret blessing I am only
    just hearing about your team and this game now, or I’d have suffered
    through waiting the last few years.

    As both a fellow developer
    and Mexican-American, I say your doing fantastic work and am excited to
    experience the game you’ve focused so much of your time on.

    Mexica tiahui