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Matari: Politicizing The Atari

<p>Peruvian artist Rolando Sánchez&#8217;s new game Matari 69200 highlights devastating guerrilla conflicts in Peru&#8217;s history.</p>

Natasha Felizi

Peruvian artist Rolando Sánchez’s new game Matari 69200 channels the intensity and combat mindset of classic shooter games but adds a sociopolitical twist. Everything is set up just like a vintage Atari game, with very limited commands and narratives condensed onto a single screen. The difference is that when staring at the TV and trying to blow up your opponents, the player is re-enacting historical, bloody episodes of Peru’s armed guerrillas, which have officially killed 69,200 people, mostly Quechuas, since the 1980s.

Sánchez sought to publicize the largely unknown internal conflict that terrorized Peru’s citizenry for more than a decade throughout the ’80s and early ’90s. By bringing together the narrative of brutality with the most popular video game console of that time period, Sánchez recreates the experience of those who, like him, would have had a dubious relationship with the TV screen, which was used simultaneously as both a source of information about the war and a means of distraction and entertainment.

The games are based on reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the narrative chronicles actual events such as terrorist attacks that caused severe energy blackouts, the confinement and shooting of civilian groups, and various other episodes of abuse. In the game, the disputes occur between the green ghosts of Pac-Man (coincidentally, the uniform color of Peruvian soldiers) and the Red Monster, who represents the ideologies of the Maoist group Sendero Luminoso.

The game provides an interesting and important historical record and draws attention to the atrocities of the insurgent conflict. While it’s easy to get caught up in the enjoyment of the game itself and congratulate yourself on your high scores, the hope is that sooner or later the gravity of the game’s content, and the fact that it’s based on real-life events, will sink in, ultimately making us more aware of the things happening outside the pacifying glow of our TV and computer screens.

The work is part of the exhibition Restraint, on display at the SESC Pinheiros (São Paulo) until January 16, 2011.