Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality

On Legitimacy, Love And Exploitation

Hello everyone! Ben here. I'm sorry updates have been so sparse! We've been grinding and grinding and everyday Aztez becomes a better and better experience. I'll write up a more concise update write-up real soon, but I had to talk about something really important first. We recently received some coverage at PAX East, and I saw this comment on YouTube:

This Again

It's an unfortunate reaction, but I get it. At a glance, Aztez appears to be an exploitative brawler about the Aztecs. Having a yet-revealed strategy game that simulates the military and political machinery of the actual Aztec empire doesn't help. But I wish deeply to set the record straight, and can utilize (with gracious permission) an email conversation I had with someone at PAX Prime in September of 2013.

Just as a note for some important context, this individual's original tweets at us included an accusation of "cultural rape", and it is referenced once or twice in this exchange.

Matthew & Ben,

Hello there! My name is ****** and I was one of many PAX attendee's who played your game at the Indie Megabooth. I guess I'll just get straight to the point: A brief play through of your game made a little uncomfortable. Though at the time I didn't know why, I think I've had enough time to reflect on the experience and I believe I can pinpoint the reason behind my discomfort. But before I do that, I will tell you a little bit about me so that you can have an idea of where I am coming from.

I was born and raised in Mexico and immigrated to the US roughly halfway through grade school. I don't consider myself Mexican -or- American. I am Mexican; I am American. I embrace both nationalities equally in their full capacity. I'll spare you the soapbox and will let you know that games have been very important to me. Despite being Mexican and a proud gamer,  I've given up on the idea that maybe one day I can have a game with a protagonist that represents me.

Then I saw your game. A game that features the Aztec culture! Finally, at last!  Then I played it. I slayed a few fellow Mexicans before I started to lose interest. I couldn't shake a few words off my mind  "Meso-American Battle Royale...our temples make nice window dressing too." I put the controller down and I left.

Part of me feels like I should've gathered the courage to stay and talk to you guys. I don't know what I would have said then. I think I was a bit surprised. I enjoyed the combat system of your game, it is very fluid. I think that the enjoyment of your combat system was at conflict with my belief (back then) that you were only exploiting my culture for your personal benefit. My opinion about your game is now more reserved. However I do want to know: for a game that is called Aztez, what aspects of Aztec culture are represented in game other than temples and an abundance of feathered headdress?  Replace those two elements and what do you have?

What I said on twitter is still there and I mean it. Twitter also lead me to the website of your game. It is there where I found out about your game's "Conquest" mode. It appears that you are going for a more historical approach to game progression? Pseudo-historical? I would really like to know more about this mode. Actually I really would like to know more about your game overall. Once again, thanks for being open to dialogue.


P.S.  I don't feel like any character of any media that represents Mexican culture needs to represent or appeal to me personally, but I do feel like it needs to be true to its roots.


Hi ******! This is Ben Ruiz. I'm the artist and the combat designer on Aztez. While Aztez is most certainly the product of both mine and Matthew's brains, the artistic direction and concept is primarily mine so I'm gonna speak here.

First of all, I really appreciate you voicing your concerns, and articulating them to us further. I don't like that you leveled "rape" at us; I find that extreme and unfair, but you've already admitted you had a strong reaction so I won't hover on that. Regardless, I'm still glad you said anything at all.

All you need to know about me is that my father is Mexican, and I was born and raised in Phoenix around Mexican Americans. I'm not going to say much more here because I don't feel like I should have to justify my ethnicity to anyone in order to legitimize my art. But since I understand where you're coming from, I'm just making sure you understand that it's also my culture and heritage. Now, one could argue that the Mesoamerican lineage is more a Mexican's and less a Mexican-American's, but 500 years after the fall of the Aztec empire I don't feel like that's fair, so I hope that isn't a part of your thought process here because we will never end up seeing eye to eye.

The big problem here is that a lot of games and movies utilize the Mesoamerican cultures in the way you are concerned about. And that sucks! It removes a lot of beauty and meaning when creators who obviously don't really care grab the Aztecs and Mayans from out of the prop closet instead of out of their hearts. So honestly, I don't blame you for being weary. But I assure you, that's not what Aztez is.

Aztez is a celebration of the Aztec's power and beauty. Take away the art and you've got a very technical action game / board game about entropy. But games need art and when I decided what I wanted the game to look and sound like I choose the Aztec civilization because I'm in love with it! I thought it would be amazing to look at and be exciting to work on. Not because I thought it would sell the game or make it more appealing. It is 100% a decision of very sincere love. If I made that decision based on callously selling the game, I would have made a game full of tedious anime characters or bald space marines.

What you saw on the show floor at PAX was a 5 minute combat demo built to get a lot of people (with a lot to look at) excited. What you didn't see was:

  • Dozens of environment based on actual 15th century cities in the Valley Of Mexico at the time of the empire.
  • A faithfully recreated Valley of Mexico map that is politically and geographically accurate.
  • An enemy structure based fully on the Mexica military warrior societies.
  • Email threads with military and cultural historians ensuring my own accuracy in these recreations.
  • A strategy metagame that very faithfully represents the way the Aztecs actually built and expanded their empire.
  • And thousands and thousands of hours of concept art, texture work, animation, research, object creation, and environment construction.

I understand you feel like we've made an exploitative bar fighting game starring indigenous people, but lets not kid ourselves into thinking the Mexica were not incredibly warlike! It's why there was an empire. But it doesn't mean they weren't brilliant, and beautiful, and magnificent, and glorious, and worth every shred of historical respect the world can muster. But I promise you if I was making a game about cunning marketplace policies, or merchant spies, or water agriculture, I'd probably use the Aztecs as the theme for those too! But those simply aren't games I want to make. I want to make a game that let's you wrap your own hands around their distinct political and military power.

For your own information; in the meta game, you will expand the borders of the empire from Tenochtitlan and attempt to survive for x turns. There are still details to work out, but the goal of the game is to have a large enough empire and accumulate enough skill to survive the Spanish invasion. I personally like the idea of experiencing a change in history. I find it cathartic given what happened to the Mexica and the rest of the tribes, and this is also an expression of love. I fantasize about a world in which the Aztecs survived the Spanish and what that would mean for Mexico and our lineage and culture.

Anyway, I didn't mean to go off for this long, but I'm very sincerely passionate about all of this and I hate the idea that anyone thinks my intentions aren't pure, or that I'm not operating from a position of utmost respect. I hope this all makes sense, and this dialogue can remain open as long as you'd like it to.

Thanks again for speaking up.

-Ben Ruiz


Hi Ben,

Thanks the speedy reply! I hope that you don't mind me opening this email with an apology to you and to Matt. First, regarding the "rape," tweet. You are right. What I said was wrong, especially with the amount of knowledge that I had back then. I cannot take back what I said at that point in time. But I do realize I was wrong. I'm very sorry about that.

Second, I only brought up my heritage as a way to illustrate why I feel so strongly about your game. I am in no way, shape or form some sort of heritage police. As a creator, you are free to create whatever you want- and you are right, you don't have to justify your ethnicity to legitimize your art. My issue stemmed from being true to the source of inspiration, which is Aztec culture. So my focus was being genuine to/about my heritage, regardless of who is being inspired by it. If I implied that there is some sort of "heritage gate/check" you must cross in order to utilize any aspect of Aztec culture,  -I am sorry-  That is not what I meant and that was certainly not my intention.

It is refreshing to see that you are so passionate about Aztez. I am blown away byy the amount of detail embedded into the design of the game itself. I'll try to keep this email brief and will say that I really wish I would have found out about these game elements during PAX. Had I know about the depth of your game, I probably would have written to you but out of praise, not concern. Anyway, needless to say all of my doubts/concerns have been resolved. Thank you for being so genuine and open to communication. I'm sure your time is limited when you have a game to ship so I truly appreciate you taking some time to respond to my email.

Best of luck,



There you have it. For those of you who feel uncomfortable about Aztez, I hope this makes you feel more at ease. As always, I'm completely open to any conversation, and you are free to discuss this in the comments of the post or to email me directly for privacy reasons.

And just for good measure, here is an earlier post I wrote about pride and heritage and their use in the production of Aztez.

Filed under: Personal Leave a comment
  • Rekk

    This makes me so happy on so many levels

  • McKay voz Machina

    I know I already said this on fb but your devotion to this idea warrants another comment. The stacks of books and years of research and correspondence with historians proves your heart’s in this. And we have every reason to trust you completely with the Aztec theme. This game looks fun as hell, Ben. Can’t wait! And thanks for sharing this exchange with us. :)

  • locotx

    No Mexican crabs here. Listen, I have concerns too, but I would take the Robert Rodriguez approach and just “chingonize” everything. When El Mariachi/Desperado came out, people bitched about “the mexicans in the movies are always eating peppers or drinking tequila” well hell, that’s part of the culture too. I remember when there was a big bitching session because Selena was going to be played by Jennifer Lopez but J-Lo was Puerto Rican and Selena was Mexican and that was a big deal. People bitched when Lou Diamond Philips played Ritchie Valens. There are soo many instances where there is a “concern” about how my culture is going to be represented. I think I know why. It’s because when there is an opportunity to display your culture usually it’s only ONE CHANCE and therefore you have to present it in a manner that ALL parties are happy with. But I see it differently, I say the more presentations (good or bad) leads to more exposure and more exposure between different presentations/interpretations/representations leads to conversation and discussions. And DISCUSSIONS (Social media) is a good thing for exposure and enlightenment and dare I say education about said culture. Now that we have an “Aztec” game, with a mexican on the team to guide it development we complain. But imagine if it was an all white game company from Germany who did the game, we would still complain. This is the very essence of the Mexican crab joke. Good luck my friend and can’t wait, it’ll be a big hit in the Latino community if you market it right.

  • Benjamin Sanchez Lengeling

    I think while if it done within a framework of respect for a culture, all is good.
    Here is a link, sort of a premier on the hard to see and blury line between cultural exchange and appropriation:

  • JonECat

    Haters are going to hate. Keep up the good work and way to represent AZ! Can’t wait to get this game, when will it be released?

  • Mickey O’Neil

    Pretty sure that the Germans are getting sick and tired of their Nazi appearance in WWII war games; but, that’s it, they are just games. People need to find the lighter side of this in that this game looks absolutely stunning. Great job, and I can’t wait to buy this!

    • Kris Henry

      +1 to you .. enough said… its a game, get over it

  • Bob

    This game isn’t as important as the developers think it is.

  • Beakman

    I’m mexican and sadly this is the story with most connationals. Around here there’s a lot of ressentiment because the Aztecs were conquered which is often disguised as “pride”. Most people don’t even know (or acknowledge) that aztecs were cannibals or paedophiles, since in Mexico there’s such a skewed, glorified view of the matter.

    They were also warriors, for fucks sake. It’s completely appropriate to have them kicking ass in a violent game. It’s as if the Greeks would be offended by Kratos in God of War.

    Please don’t be disheartened by these ignorant, ill informed, resentful Mexicans. There are some of us that are glad this subject matter is being explored in games, plus I love the style and how you pictured Tenochtitlan.

    Best of luck.

    • Matthew Wegner

      Huh? The notion that the Aztecs were cannibals were largely myths from the Spanish conquerers (and later western scholars).

      Marvin Harris famously claimed the Aztecs didn’t have enough protein sources available to them, and therefore *must* have been cannibals for sustenance:

      His view became accepted as true. Except, he was totally wrong. See–aquatic-component-of-aztec-subsistence-hunters-fishers?rgn=main;view=fulltext (among others)…

    • There’s an interesting divide in the culture (based largely on geographic location and ethnic background) about whether the fall of the Empire was a good or a bad thing. It makes sense that a person with a largely Spanish heritage would have pride in THEIR Spanish ancestors for having conquered the Aztecs, especially given the anti-Meso propaganda that began with the invasion and has been maintained to this day. This is magnified among conservative Catholics who traditionally viewed the Mesoamericans as pagan at best and satanic at worst.

      Alternatively, those with a more indigenous heritage are more likely to resent the appearance of the Spanish and the subjugation of the Mesoamericans.

      It’s even more complicated for modern Mexicans and Mexican Americans who most likely have a mixed indigenous and Spanish heritage. Personally, I am not capable of tracing myself back genealogically as my father doesn’t actually know who his father is (eesh), but given his minimally indigenous features, him and I are probably more Spanish.

      In any case, I have embraced what Mesoamerican lineage I contain, and have designed and produced what I have from a position of pride and love.

      I take Matthew’s position on the cannibalism notion, as there is plenty of evidence to support their aquatic agricultural tendencies, and little to no evidence supporting the idea that they had to eat other humans. But even if they did I don’t think I’d care since they were already incredibly violent and warlike, and their civilization being cannibalistic wouldn’t really alter my view.

      The pedophilia claims are not particularly relevant to me personally, as the Aztecs sexual habits are completely inconsequential in creating this game. But even if there was evidence to support this, my view on them depend what the evidence states. Marrying and procreating with young humans is worldwide tradition throughout ancient history. If evidence surfaced that stated they commonly engaged in the sexual traffic of children, that would be different and obviously my view would change in some way.

      But I know what you’re saying and I appreciate the support! For every Mexican up in arms about our depiction there are a thousand who are happy with it, and that’s all that matters. Thanks for speaking up!

  • anon

    I don’t have any ethnic relationship with the people of mesoamerica, but as somebody who has a very intense and passionate interest in precolumbian mesoamerican cultures, Aztez has blown me away.

    Factually speaking, warfare and conquest was a big part of Aztec culture. We know this for certain. So to have issue with the premise of Aztez for being a game about Aztec conquest and battle is quite silly IMO.

    I agree that in media/popular culture in general, the majority of precolumbian cultures in central and south america are portrayed as this amalgamation of various negative or just stereotypical traits (Human sacrifice, violent, etc), and it’s a shame that we have so few movies, games, or books that delve into the society of these people: Just in regards to the Aztecs and Mayans, they had pretty complex social structures and governments, had a very good understanding of many sciences, had agriculture and cities that rivaled or suppressed what was in Europe at the time, and so on.

    That said, the sheer amount of care and hard work being put into Aztez’s visual design is readily apparent to me, and it’s obvious that the devs are putting forth a lot of interest and effort into the game. I actually have a question for them, if possible: Have you guys consulted with any historians, and if so, with whom? What do you all use for research?

  • U

    I respectfully disagree, but you can always reach out to the Nican Tlaca community.