Cultural Code

Cultural Code

Video Games and Latin America

By Phillip Penix-Tadsen

How culture uses games and how games use culture: an examination of Latin America's gaming practices and the representation of the region's cultures in games.





How culture uses games and how games use culture: an examination of Latin America's gaming practices and the representation of the region's cultures in games.

Video games are becoming an ever more ubiquitous element of daily life, played by millions on devices that range from smart phones to desktop computers. An examination of this phenomenon reveals that video games are increasingly being converted into cultural currency. For video game designers, culture is a resource that can be incorporated into games; for players, local gaming practices and specific social contexts can affect their playing experiences. In Cultural Code, Phillip Penix-Tadsen shows how culture uses games and how games use culture, looking at examples related to Latin America. Both static code and subjective play have been shown to contribute to the meaning of games; Penix-Tadsen introduces culture as a third level of creating meaning.

Penix-Tadsen focuses first on how culture uses games, looking at the diverse practices of play in Latin America, the ideological and intellectual uses of games, and the creative and economic possibilities opened up by video games in Latin America—the evolution of regional game design and development. Examining how games use culture, Penix-Tadsen discusses in-game cultural representations of Latin America in a range of popular titles (pointing out, for example, appearances of Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue in games from Call of Duty to the tourism-promoting Brasil Quest). He analyzes this through semiotics, the signifying systems of video games and the specific signifiers of Latin American culture; space, how culture is incorporated into different types of game environments; and simulation, the ways that cultural meaning is conveyed procedurally and algorithmically through gameplay mechanics.


$55.00 X ISBN: 9780262034050 344 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 88 b&w illus., 1 table


  • Cultural Code is a revelation: who would have guessed video games could shed so much light on culture, history, politics, and current affairs? The reader is in for a treat: Penix-Tadsen's highly readable yet theoretically sophisticated book includes sections on drug traffickers and the gamers who love them; border tensions and their on-screen representation; and cartel leaders turned into game heroes. Theoretical discussions on the representation of violence and the violence of representation make this study a must-read in the age of global terrorism. Cultural Code is a groundbreaking contribution to two fields: game studies and Latin American studies.

    Rubén Gallo

    Professor, Princeton University; author of Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution

  • Fascinating, thorough, and well-researched. This is not only the book on Latin America and video games but also a remarkable game studies text on cultural ludology. In a world dominated by North American, European, and Asian video games, Latin America has always been under the radar. Phillip Penix-Tadsen puts it on the cultural map, analyzing how it's been perceived but also showcasing its achievements and potential. As if it were an open world video game, Penix-Tadsen has unlocked a huge part of the map that had been grayed out for decades, located its treasures, and shared them with us. That is a true achievement.

    Gonzalo Frasca

    Chief Design Officer, WeWantToKnow; Chair of Videogames, Universidad ORT Uruguay

  • Penix-Tadsen has created a delightfully wide-ranging yet nuanced exploration of the games and game cultures of Latin America. Cultural Code is astute in its arguments, articulate in its language, and a real treat for both expert and novice alike.

    Judd Ethan Ruggill

    Associate Professor of Communication, Arizona State University