James Badcock, The Telegraph, June 9, 2023
In a trailer for the forthcoming videogame “Ecumene Aztec”, a naked warrior stabs a Spanish conquistador through the back and withdraws his blade in a torrent of blood.
The scene, and others from the game scheduled for release in 2025, has enraged swathes of the Spanish gaming community, who object to the portrayal of the Conquistadors as genocidal invaders and the Aztecs as heroes.
Players take on the role of a brave Aztec fighting back against the 16th-century conquest, and can make their tattooed avatar kill the chain-mailed Spaniards in a variety of innovative ways, from clubs to garottes to poison darts and spiked traps.
The developers have said they have been sent death threats from gamers as part of the wider culture war raging over the Spanish forces’ seizure of Mexico more than five centuries ago, an event that opened the way for Spain’s control over large parts of the Americas in the following centuries.
The game was announced last week via a trailer in which the 1521 battle for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, the site of today’s Mexico City, is seen from the perspective of indigenous warriors.
Since the game’s announcement, the developer Giantscraft said it “has been under assault from hard-Right groups”.
A Right-wing group is suspected of creating a website in Giantscraft’s name which features a quotation from conquistador Hernán Cortés and the Cross of Burgundy, a symbol of Spain’s monarchy and associated with far-Right defenders of the Spanish Christian “crusade” in the Americas.
The website features an Instagram post that criticises the game’s portrayal of the battle for Tenochtitlan as one in which white European invaders slaughter innocent natives.
“Contrary to what history tells us, in this game the Spaniards are portrayed as ruthless murderers, looters, slavers and genociders, in accordance with the unreliable ‘black legend’,” one Instagram comment reads.
Giantscraft responded to the criticism by promising changes in the game’s final version that will allow players to choose to be conquistadors and “fight the caste of sacrifice-making priests”.
The statement also said that the game would be reworked to be more historically accurate and that players could seek allies among their own people and the other side, reflecting the complex web of alliances formed by the conquistadors with some indigenous peoples.
Starting from the Tabasco coast and assisted by some indigenous groups who threw in their lot with the invaders, Cortés led a few hundred Spanish soldiers eastwards to victory in Tenochtitlan in 1521.
The Aztec empire was destroyed and the indigenous populations were converted to Catholicism. Through the ravages of warfare, hunger and disease, historians have estimated that around 80 per cent of indigenous Mesoamericans were wiped out by the end of the 16th-century.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Left-wing Mexican president, has called on Spain to issue a formal apology for the conquistadors’ “massacres and oppression”.
But many in Spain refute the notion that the conquest of Mexico and other parts of America was an exercise in exploitative colonialism, noting that indigenous people became subjects of the Spanish Crown.
Spain’s King Felipe last year defended what he depicted as his country’s role in bringing “universities, schools, hospitals and printing presses” to the Americas, as well as the Spanish language and Christian creed.