Games

“Violence Escalated Quickly:” ‘Long Gone Days’ Developer on the Impact of Protests in Chile

In a December 2019 Steam update, Long Gone Days creator Camila Gormaz wrote that development of the game was progressing slower than expected. The reason? Political protests in Chile, her home country.

“The main reason why we’ve taken longer than usual has to do with the crisis that Chile is experiencing these days (today marks 65 days since it started), and considering that we are writing a game that involves many of the things that we are experiencing today in our own flesh, it has affected us a bit.”

Indeed, Long Gone Days encapsulates many of the struggles Chile is currently facing as a nation. It’s about the horrors of war, the division of people by language, escaping a military dictatorship, and fighting for a cause you believe in. That’s something Camila Gormaz and the people of Chile are all too familiar with.

What is the crisis in Chile that’s caused such an impact on the game, and Gormaz herself? To answer that, we must first go back in time.

Long Gone Days Screenshot

How It Began

Chile had known relative peace and stability for decades following the return of constitutional rule in 1932 after a military dictatorship. That changed on September 11, 1973, when General Augusto Pinochet (backed by the United States) launched a military coup. It succeeded, resulting in the death of then-President Salvador Allende and the installation of Pinochet as ruler. Thus began a decades-long brutal dictatorship rife with human rights violations and economic disparity.

Things came to a head, when, on October 6, 2019, a fare raise went into effect in the Chilean capital Santiago. A 4% increase raised prices 10 extra Chilean Pesos for bus rides, and 30 for the metro. On paper, it’s a small increase, yet according to Long Gone Days creator and lead developer Camila Gormaz, “the average monthly cost spent on public transport is about 13.8% of the minimum wage already.” This fare increase kicked off protests throughout the country, still raging today, that have so far resulted in 36 deaths and over 11,000 injuries.

The Spark That Lit the Flame

“At first, they only made a few arrests,” Gormaz says, “but violence escalated quickly and soon many students would be injured and even shot at by the police.”

A day after the fare raise, October 7, 2019, students in Santiago began an organized fare-dodging protest of the metro system. The police soon took control of station entrances and exits, which soon resulted in violent clashes. By the end of the month, cities all over the country were experiencing protests on a massive scale. As of February 2020, it’s estimated the number of protesters is more than 3.7 million, with 36 deaths, 11,556 injuries, and over 28,000 arrests.

Long Gone Days Screenshot

“Demonstrations usually went like this,” Gormaz describes, “Thousands of people would gather at a major landmark in their city, with signs and banners, singing anthems, dancing, etc. These anti-government demonstrations were obviously not authorized, so it was expected that the police would come and disperse them. This is why all the people who were on the outside (nicknamed ‘front line’) made sure that the police could not get near them, setting up barricades and throwing stones.”

Gormaz herself took an active role. “Ourselves and most people in our circles attended several of those demonstrations; some were directly involved in organising them, others were part of the civilian front lines, and others campaigned through their art, raising awareness abroad, etc.”

Protesting with a Video Game

As another form of protest, Gormaz made a video game. In Nanopesos, a budget simulation game “inspired by the low salaries and high living costs in Chile,” the goal is simple. You have to pay bills based on a limited salary, working a terrible job that doesn’t pay well enough to allow you to afford your small, cramped apartment.

The game was part of Gormaz’s efforts to protest the injustices she sees in Chile. Despite violence in the streets, she says neither herself nor anyone she knows has faced any reprisals or attacks.

Long Gone Days Screenshot
Nanopesos sees you take on the role of an overworked, underpaid worker in Chile.

What This Means for Long Gone Days

Long Gone Days is a game with a lot to say. A hybrid visual novel/RPG, the idea started when Gormaz was a teenager. Before she got too far in development, she felt she wasn’t yet able to deliver the game she wanted. “During that time I made some unfinished attempts in RPG Maker, but I realized I needed to learn a lot of things first.”

It took years, experience making other games, and reading about history and other cultures to give her the confidence to start work on the game in 2015. As she put a team together, the idea behind the game evolved as well. Initially inspired by the history of Chile, the story behind the game grew.

“Many events in the game have been inspired by historical events from around the world, including documentaries and interviews of civilians who experienced those events, and people who were involved in organising protests.” But the initial inspirations remain, as Gormaz and her team were influenced by talking to their families about life during Pinochet’s bloody reign and how life has changed since then.

Long Gone Days takes place in a fictional, underground nation called The Core. It’s a militaristic dictatorship in which kids are assigned their career at a young age and are trained specifically for that job throughout childhood. The player takes the role of Rouke, a young sniper in the military who, after his first mission takes a turn for the worse, decides to escape The Core.

Long Gone Days Screenshot

A key mechanic of Long Gone Days is the language system. You’ll meet multiple people in the game who don’t speak English, and if you’re unable to recruit or find an interpreter to join you, you won’t be able to understand them. Gormaz herself is fluent in both Spanish and English.

Politics in Video Games

Long Gone Days seems like the perfect anathema to anyone who dislikes the idea of “politics in video games.” This is a game about war, dictatorships, human rights violations, and fighting for what you believe is right; Long Gone Days isn’t hiding what it’s about.

One striking thing Gormaz brought up in our interview was how the game has changed since the protests in Chile kicked off. “Without going into too many details, there are parts we had to rewrite because we realized things wouldn’t work that way, and things that we discarded because we thought they were too dystopian to be believable ended up happening in real life.”

Early Access

Adding further intrigue is the fact that Long Gone Days is in early access. Its progress and changes can be tracked in real-time by anyone who’s played the game or watched YouTube videos of it.

Long Gone Days Screenshot

“Launching the game in Early Access wasn’t an easy decision to make,” Gormaz says. “We compared other options, but we didn’t want to work with investors. We also considered selling the game in chapters, but we didn’t want to make people pay every single time we released a new chapter.”

Gormaz says that while the unrest in Chile hasn’t directly slowed them down, it’s had an effect on her and her team, “since the story also touches a handful of topics we have come to experience first-hand now.”

What’s Next for Chile, and Long Gone Days?

In November 2019, the Chilean National Congress called for a referendum to be held in April 2020. The vote was to be on whether Chile would get a new constitution. But with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that vote was pushed back to October 2020.

“We were feeling optimistic about the support to change it,” Gormaz says, “but our government and the mass media have been campaigning against it, flat out lying about the consequences it would bring to change it, even though they were the ones who approved the plebiscite, and the ones who have been in power for years, yet have done nothing to improve our laws.”

She says ever since the pandemic started, her team and her friends “knew it would be used as an excuse to postpone or cancel the referendum.”

Long Gone Days Screenshot

For Long Gone Days, things are looking brighter. There’s no announced release date yet, but Gormaz says she and her team are working on the game every day. Despite the protests, and now a global pandemic on top of them, the game’s timeline hasn’t changed. “Regarding the protests and the pandemic, I can only speak for myself, but thankfully our job can be done remotely, our games are sold digitally and most of our players live abroad.”

For Chile, things are less clear, but Camila Gormaz isn’t letting that get her down too much.

“I’m optimistic for the future, and I believe things will eventually change for the better, where people will have accessible education and healthcare, better pensions and a livable wage. But I’m not optimistic about that happening in the next few months, as it takes months to call for a referendum and for it to get approved and put into action. In any case, no matter how many years it takes, it will be worth it.”

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