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War-torn Developers: Creating Games from the Front Lines
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War-torn Developers: Creating Games from the Front Lines

July 25, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Brutality in El Salvador

On the other side of the world, El Salvador is another country where violence on the streets has become common, and hundreds are killed every month.

While most of the casualties are the by-products of turf wars between rival gangs, instead of the military or sectarian conflicts devastating the Middle East, the results, seen in the busy morgues, are the same.

The small Latin American country has one of the highest murder rates in the world, but it's the savagery of those killings that has shocked many: victims tortured and raped before they're executed, corpses found mutilated and sometimes beheaded.

Not too long ago, one gang intercepted a pair of city buses, setting fire to one and killing around a dozen trapped inside, just to send a message to authorities cracking down on crime.

It's a drastically different environment compared to North America or Europe, says Sergio Rosa, creative director for The Domaginarium and one of the few game developers in El Salvador.

He points out that there's no game development culture, either in El Salvador or its neighboring, equally violent countries Honduras and Guatemala (the three make up what some call a "triangle of death" in the region).

Screenshot from an early build of The Domaginarium's Enola

There are few opportunities for indie developers to find local support and develop their craft as a result. It's not like, say, Sweden, with its rich demoscene history and budding game industry -- it's improbable that El Salvador will produce anything like Minecraft anytime soon.

And even if it did, someone like Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson would presumably not want to stay in the country for long. Kidnappings have been on the decline in El Salvador in recent years, but the Swedish game maker would still be an obvious abduction target and would likely be held for a large ransom.

"He's very open about [Minecraft's sales]," notes Rosa. "Here you have to keep a low profile. You can't let everyone know you are one of the richest people in the country, unless you have a lot of security guards." He advises against talking to the media about any big successes that could attract the attention of local criminals.

Rosa also doesn't think creating a game about the gang violence that's become so prevalent in El Salvador would be wise, either. "I wouldn't want to mess with that. The gangs can be very sensitive," he says. Indeed, it was just three years ago when photojournalist and filmmaker Christian Poveda was gunned down after releasing La Vida Loca, a documentary about the country's gangs.

Trailer for La Vida Loca (NSFW: graphic video, partial nudity, language)

However, Rosa is making a game that's definitely born from the violence he's seen in El Salvador, a horror/adventure title that's more about reprehending the barbarism that people are capable of, instead of glorifying or rewarding it. His studio's game, Enola, has players tracking a serial killer that tortures his victims.

"[With some of the violence here], everyone in this country goes, 'It takes a really sick person to do that,'" comments the developer. "When people are found inside plastic bags without their heads or limbs, everyone says, 'It takes a really sick person because it wasn't enough to kill someone. The killer wanted to show us how brutal he was.'

"So I came up with this idea of having brutal games, but not in the sense of you are the tough guy beating up everyone, rather you are the innocent guy seeing other guys doing all this bad stuff. From that change of perspective gameplay-wise, the way you react to the world will hopefully be different."

Rosa adds that having a human serve as the antagonist in the game, rather than undead creatures or aliens, is crucial for creating the terrifying experience he has in mind. "People can do very bad things, and you can see that in many places, including El Salvador," he says. "That's more scary, at least to me, than having a 10-foot monster chasing you."

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