KILL SCREEN 018: Enrique Sagarnaga of THE SILVER is a Top Competitor for Your Friends List

Photo by Gene Smirnov

Who is your go-to player two? This isn’t a trick question. Though the world is certainly not lacking in immersive single-player experiences, we’ve likely all spent at least some time bonding via a controller with a friend, a sibling, a family member or a complete stranger. Fighting games, battle royales, sports games, rhythm games, party games—all have the ability to be played alone but can be greatly enhanced with the presence of a companion. Even Kill Screen is a multiplayer endeavor formed from a desire from the Decibel staff’s two biggest nerds to share their love of an underrepresented topic with likeminded individuals. Play is a natural and essential part of the childhood experience that helps us develop our emotional, logical and—to the point—social skills. Less discussed are the benefits of adult playfulness: it reduces stress, stimulates creativity, promotes optimism and can even strengthen our relationships. With digital connectivity at all-time highs (for better or worse) and many of the industry’s top titles focused on a multiplayer model, gaming with friends has become an increasingly normal part of adult socialization.

Full disclosure: Today’s player character Enrique Sagarnaga—publicist for Relapse Records and drummer for several Decibel favorites including doom lords Crypt Sermon, black thrash maniacs Daeva and romantic black metal experimentalists The Silver—is a long-time friend of co-author Michael Wohlberg. Having first met over a decade ago and both quickly sussing out the other as a fellow gamer, the two have shared in a number of digital accomplishments over the years with some detailed in the following interview. “It’s funny,” recounts the lifelong digital devotee. “Every era of my upbringing into my adulthood really is defined by a series of video games.” Sagarnaga’s current games of choice—battle royales, FromSoft’s Soulsborne series and fighting games—all have a strong social aspect to them and he is eager to share in those adventures. Many, many compatriots have been made along the way, including The Silver’s label boss and former Kill Screen interviewee Adam Bartlett of Gilead Media. As friendly and good-natured as Sagarnaga certainly is, his competitive streak is revealed as his continuous desire to improve and his many victories over thousands of hours of Call of Duty is plainly revealed. With their latest single “The Vagrant Soul” now available via The Decibel Flexi Series and a new LP in the works, Sagarnaga was happy to ready up for this interview. Maybe after you’re done reading it, you’ll take the time to reconnect with your player two.

What was your first video game experience?
I have a couple of memories that come to mind. Super Mario World, the first Super Nintendo one, would probably be the earliest, but there’s also memories of Street Fighter II, the very first version of it, pre-Turbo. I remember having [an issue] of Nintendo Power Magazine or something adjacent to that. I saw this photo of a game. I actually think it was an old wrestling game. It was just two brawny dudes fighting, and I really wanted to find that game. I was a little kid walking around La Paz with my parents, going to these different kiosks. We didn’t grow up with video game stores or Blockbusters or anything like that. There were just people selling stuff out of kiosks, so you went to the area of the city that sold electronics. I was old enough to be like, “Do you have the fighting game?” That’s what I knew to say. Some guy sold us a Street Fighter II cartridge. There was also The Ninja Warriors, that side-scrolling beat-’em-up. It was all kinds of fighting games.

A pretty defining moment for me was when my mom started going out with this guy and I started bonding with him. He is now my dad. Not my biological father, but my dad. He introduced me to Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy VI, that’s a game that I actually bonded with my dad over pretty seriously. The biggest shame in all of that is that for as much time as we put into that game together—we would both grind it out at different points—we could never beat the final boss. Our characters were just not stat’ed enough to do it. To this day, it is my plan to one day run through the whole game with my dad at some point again. We both loved video games coming up.

You were born in the U.S., but you grew up in Bolivia. After moving back to the States, have you noticed a difference between the gaming culture in Bolivia versus North America?
Kind of. Back home, when I was a kid, I only had a few close friends. We would go to each other’s houses and play on our consoles, whether that be a Super Nintendo or a PlayStation. PlayStation was huge back home because you could modify the console. People who would sell you games at kiosks would run a service for you. We called it “putting a chip in it.” I forget how much it was for, but it was not that expensive. It let you read pirated copies of games. That brought the price of a new PlayStation game from whatever it was at the time to two whole dollars, or even cheaper. Sometimes you could get games for 3 pesos [approximately $0.43 USD]. Our game libraries were absolutely huge. We had any game we wanted, and if we didn’t like it, we just threw it away. The caveat of that was that sometimes you wouldn’t get what you paid for because you couldn’t test it. Sometimes a game wouldn’t work or it was in Japanese and you didn’t know how to read or get through it. The majority of my game library back home was the only version of it that we could buy. It’s not even like there was a place where we could buy original copies, because why would they import that when they could just get these bootlegs?

During sophomore year into senior year of high school, we all actually got way into PC gaming. We would go to this PC cafe. My five or six best friends and I would go almost every day religiously. It’s not what you think of when you think of a PC cafe or a gaming cafe now, where everything’s neon and everyone has an NZXT computer. It was just HPs that could handle the games at the time. People were there for other reasons; to work, write a term paper or maybe print something out for their job. But there we were going, “He’s one shot! He’s around the fucking corner! Get him!” We got into Counter-Strike. That’s where I really grew a love for first-person shooters. It cost you, like, 20 pesos per hour [approximately $2.89 USD]. It was almost nothing. Our one friend famously racked up a tab. He owed an obscene amount of money, but he left the country, so that was it. We were there so often, we kind of just ended up running that place. That place was open until we wanted to leave, essentially.

We didn’t have pro leagues for anything. We had a few competitive tournaments for things here and there. I remember my friend and I were very, very deep into Tekken. We were really competitive with that game. Shout out to Diego, he was my duo in that. One day, we got offered to go to some tournament at some supermarket for Tekken. We had Tekken Tag [Tournament] on the PlayStation 2. We’re grinding it out; 200 matches, 250 matches, best of 300. Just crazy. And then we get there and it’s fucking Tekken 3 on an arcade machine. So we got rolled. Not only did we get rolled, we were interviewed after the fact. We’re both on T.V. It’s public television, so no one’s gonna watch this. I just start thanking people that don’t exist because I have nothing else to say. I’m just like, “Shout out to Timmy and Jimmy and Nino from work.” I don’t even know what to say, I’m so embarrassed. I remember the kid who won got a bootleg copy of Shadow of the Colossus. I was like, No aspect of this was worth the grind, the headache and the embarrassment.

Do you have a preference between PC and console?
No, I think it’s kind of game-based. The Playstation 5 in terms of its hardware, I find it very competitive with $4,000 gaming PCs. It’s kind of astonishing what PlayStation has been able to do. Their graphics processing unit, I feel like it’s close to whatever a 3080 G-Force Nvidia card is, or a 3090. Kids can buy a high-quality piece of equipment that will play them the newest games at really high frame rates with all of the peripherals that PC gamers would want. The DualSense Edge controller competes with SCUF controllers, which all the pros use for FPS games. They have crazy headphones now. They have the cheapest and probably best VR headset in the market that isn’t something that Valve is doing for [thousands of] dollars. This stuff is far more affordable and it’s competitive.

That said, in terms of my preference, most games I play on a PC just because they’re first-person shooters and I like using my mouse. But there are games that I will specifically relegate to the PlayStation and it’s kind of out of a nostalgic feeling. If I’m going to play a fighting game or a Resident Evil game, it just feels right to play it on a PlayStation with a controller on a big T.V., as opposed to worrying about, Am I getting 180 frames to snap this guy with a sniper in Call of Duty? I have Elden Ring on [PC and console]. I ended up beating it on my PlayStation just because I played Dark Souls on PlayStation.

You brought up Dark Souls and Elden Ring. How many times have you beaten these games?
I’ve beaten Dark Souls III about 8 to 10 times on the same run through with one character. I read somewhere before I really got into the game that you can get unique items up to New Game +7. The more I played it, I felt this awesome sense of fulfillment just because of how inherently difficult the FromSoft games are. With Elden Ring, I actually only reached an ending once and then instead of starting up New Game +, I just went back to the beginning of the map and ran through the whole map over and over and over again. I probably did that about four to five times now. That’s only because I don’t want to finish it before the DLC comes out. I think once the DLC comes out, I can access it immediately, then beat that, then I’ll start New Game +. That game’s so much bigger that I would hate to have to restart it and then have the damn DLC come out a month later and then I’m nowhere near close to being able to do that.

What is it that these titles do so well in comparison to a lot of the imitators?
It’s the feeling of achieving a goal through an incredible amount of stress and strife. I like that those games teach you how to play them through lessons you go through by failing rather than outright telling you to press the damn X button to jump. That game shows you and doesn’t tell you. I also love that those games absolutely have very intricate, very interwoven plots. They’re there for you to pick up on them if you want to and you can put in the time to understand them through either reading item descriptions or engaging with the community outside of the actual game. You can also kind of create your own narrative. You don’t get any less enjoyment out of the game from not fully understanding the story. You can enjoy it by knowing that you succeeded in this very difficult task. Games like Final Fantasy, they all have really cool plots but—especially if you’re in our age group, where you’re in your mid- to late-30s or whatever—maybe you don’t have time to pick up a game for 5 hours and watch 2 hours worth of cutscenes. Maybe you just want to pick up a game try and figure things out as you go. You can defeat bosses and conquer those games in very different ways. You can do all sorts of character builds. You can make it very hard for yourself. You don’t have to kill every boss in the game to win. There’s a lot you can do. I’m sure there’s a million other games that are like that—and I know there are. Those are just the ones that are for me.

Do you see a parallel in people seeking out extreme metal and the effort of getting into a difficult game like Dark Souls?
I think there’s a correlation there. Both sides of these spectrums have communities. Whether you’re a guy who’s a pro gamer streaming on Twitch, or you’re just a fan of the game and you want to know more about it, it’s the same as being a musician in a band or just being a fan of the music. What you’re saying is true: There’s an element of “seeking out.” If I like this, then I should find more stuff like it. You hear a band that you really like and then you gotta sift through 300 other bands that supposedly sound like it, but maybe they’re not that great. Same with Dark Souls, man. How many “Soulsborne” games are out there right now? And most of them are not that good. But you keep looking because you want to find the next one or the one that brings you closest to that feeling of playing it. Maybe people who go to Metal & Beer Fest only know two or three of the bands, but they’re excited to check everything else out and engage with people.

What else have you been playing lately?
I’m just trying a lot of new things out. I got Street Fighter 6. I’m trying to wrap my head around how that game works. I bought Resident Evil 4, the remake, but I don’t want to touch it until the VR adaptation comes out. I already beat that game a million times. I think that’s the game I beat the most before I beat Dark Souls [III] a bunch. I play Call of Duty to an unhealthy degree. I like wrestling games; I like pro wrestling a lot. There’s an AEW game that just came out [AEW: Fight Forever] that I’m learning how to play. I just gotta find time for all these things, you know?

You mentioned VR a couple of times. Do you have a VR set?
Yeah. My dad actually gifted me my VR set. I don’t play it too much because I don’t really have friendships that have one, so I can’t really engage with them. For me, gaming is very much a social thing. I want to keep it to just the PlayStation VR because that’s easy to set up. I also feel like I avoid a very weird corner of the Internet if I keep it just to the PlayStation VR. [Laughs] It comes with a Horizon: Zero Dawn game and I tried Resident Evil: Village on it. It’s also funny to watch other people play it. Matt [Knox] from The Silver and Horrendous came over. I had him try out Village. There’s a jump scare in the game that I saw the man literally leap backwards.

The PlayStation VR comes with earbuds. You can use it interchangeably with other headsets, but it’s got that 3D kind of sound. You can turn your head and it affects what you’re listening to and how loud things are. It’s really cool. I have, I want to say, four or five different headsets I use at any given time and the PlayStation ones are just as good as some of the PC ones I have. I think they’re onto something with it. Part of me thinks it’s what the future’s gonna bring for a lot of games. We’ll see what happens with it.

What other games are you looking forward to this year?
If it comes out this year, the Elden Ring DLC will be great. I’m actually curious about Armored Core [VI], but I’m not one of those people that was a huge Armored Core fan all of a sudden. I think Mortal Kombat 1 should come out. I’m terrible at the newer Mortal Kombat games, but I love the first three with a burning passion. I just revisited 2 and beat it on my home arcade system. It felt like a huge accomplishment and a love letter to my third grade self. I was never able to beat that game because it’s so cheesy. The A.I. is so hard to beat that I wanted to finally seek justice for my younger self and I did it. I’m excited for the Resident Evil 4 VR. Better graphics aside, I think it’s a cool way to experience 4 in a way that’s kind of alien to me.

I [Michael] know from personal experience that you play Call of Duty a lot and you’re very good at it. What is it about Call of Duty that you feel makes it so addictive in comparison to other battle royale and extraction-style games?
I’ll preface this by saying I do not give a fuck about Call of Duty’s plots. I do not care about the military setting. I don’t actually support or like the concepts of what the game is about; essentially going to other places to kill people. I’m not a violent person. But I will say, in terms of the game’s pacing, the way the guns work—when they work, because the game is very buggy—it’s a pretty phenomenal game. It’s very fast-paced. Compared to some of the competing games like Apex Legends and Battlefield, it feels a little bit more grounded. In terms of satisfaction from beating an enemy, the way the gunplay works, the way the maps work, the way rotations work in a battle royale game, to me, that’s the best one. Battle royale games in general are right now the most addictive thing. It’s you or your team of friends up against 80 or 150 other people. And these are real humans. The sense of accomplishment from winning that or getting to top five, or really just getting a good game where you killed half of the map but then you lost anyway, it’s still fun. You can go on from one great round to the next or just put it down for the night, and that’s it. The next day, you can try again.

I’ve put a lot of time into other battle royale games like PUBG or Apex. For as much time as I’ve put into those games, I never feel like I improved. I always try to understand the gameplay a little better. For some reason, I just couldn’t. With Call of Duty, I’ve been able to level up and advance my playing, learn from my mistakes and connect with people who are absolute killers in the game, people I don’t know and have no idea who they are in real life. Whether you’re connecting with some wild British players that you start playing with often on Euro servers or just some guy who you squaded up with randomly who happens to live in Atlantic City or something and you know you’re never gonna meet him, but he’s a great teammate. That’s nice.

That said, too, those games have some downsides, man. There’s a very toxic community there. I often tell people, “Call of Duty really brings in a lot of people together so that they can all call you a racial slur in various different languages.” It’s this awful thing. But at the same time, you do meet some good people. Some of my closest friends—Mike included—have played Call of Duty with me. I guess it also just depends on how seriously you take the game. You can let it really bother you or you can just have a nice time with it and enjoy it.

Toxicity in the video game space aside—like there’s toxicity in any other space about anything—I love that video games are a great unifier. I think a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds, as long as they have access to the technology to play the games, can be just as good as anyone else. I’ve seen some of the innovative controllers that Xbox made for people with all sorts of different disabilities. There’s these ingenious ways that people can access this stuff now and be just as competitive. There was a woman on Twitch who figured out how to connect a sensor to her head so that she could control Elden Ring with her mind. She proved that she’s not holding a controller or using a foot controller or something like that. She’s just looking at things and tilting her head and it made the game work. And she no-hit it. There’s another girl who figured out how to no-hit Elden Ring using a dance pad. It’s cool to me that there’s so many ways to experience this stuff. I hope with VR, too, there will be a whole other group of people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t access video games before that they can now. There’s been such a progressive swing on representation in video games in themes and subjects. It’s cool to see women at the forefront of gaming, whether it be as characters or as developers. That’s awesome. People from all sorts of different backgrounds and identities, they’re all being represented in all sorts of games. I’m curious to see where all this goes.

After so many hours of play, what level of serious to fun do you find yourself at?
I’m having a ton of fun with it, but I usually find myself having a lot of fun with it when I’m playing with people who take it seriously enough that they have a little competitive edge to it. I don’t mind losing all the time. I don’t rage quit, I don’t shout at my monitor. It’s not like that. I like playing with people who have that same level of calmness about it but want to try and win and play at a high skill level. The one thing I always find plaguing games like that is that there’s so many people who exploit the game, whether it be through cheats or hacks or whatever. Sometimes you queue up with people who understand how that works; sometimes they don’t. I think a very frustrating thing is when you group up with players who start losing a lot. Instead of learning from their mistakes or wanting to figure out what they could have done better, they just resort to accusing the enemy player of cheating. Sometimes you find it complementary, too. If I’m just rolling through a lobby with my friends, you can hear people’s voice comms as they lose and they go, like, “Oh, there’s a fucking hacker!” And I’m like, “Yeah, buddy.” [Laughs] It’s funny. It’s a weird, little compliment.

It’s so unfortunate with Call of Duty and PUBG [PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds] in particular. I love both those games. PUBG is really how I got to meet Adam Bartlett from Gilead Media and his wife Cari on Discord. By the time we really stopped playing that game, PUBG was just absolutely riddled with hackers. Like, blatant hackers: Dudes flying across the map or killing you from one end of the map to the other with a single gunshot because they had aimbot. It just kills a game, kills a community and you have to find something else to play. The same thing happened with other Call of Duty titles that came out before the latest one. It sucks when people fall out of playing a game that they love because sometimes they won’t all reconvene for the next game. Even in the Discord that Mike and I have, we’ll all get on a voice call to just hang out in chat and talk about our days or talk about what we’re playing, but sometimes it’s not the same thing. Half the time, I’m doing my own thing on Call of Duty while Mike is playing Overwatch. But we get to talk and sometimes we hear each other’s unintended call outs for our other teammates and sometimes we hear Adam break his keyboard because he got really mad at an Overwatch play or something. True story. Multiple times.

I [Michael] was gonna say earlier, it’s bold of you to lie and say that you like to play with people who are calm like you and then you go and play with Adam all the time. [Laughs]
I think it’s different when I don’t them know in real life. I have a really nice group of people that I’ve met through this community that I know nothing about, but they’ve been great teammates. When I really want to get into something competitive, I have those people. But if I also just want to have a night of gaming with my friends—which is more often than not what I really want to do—then I’ll play with anybody. When you play with your friends, they have different ways of thinking about this game rather than people you gravitate to because of that. The way you communicate with people and what you expect of them changes. I think that’s actually a really cool thing, that there’s games out there that allow that.

One of my favorite memories of games ever is running through Dark Souls III with Mike and our mutual friend Brad. At that point, I had beaten the game, like, six times and I knew the map in and out. I had kept my level 200-something character in the game and I could teleport anywhere. I could meet Brad and Mike anywhere on the map as they were going through their journey and essentially guide them through the game. It defined this very specific moment in time in our friendships. We made it a point to each help out each other beat the final boss in succession when we all got to the end. We took a group screenshot with all of us raising our swords. It was a very weird, touching moment between people who had been friends for years prior, but this felt like a little something else.

Absolutely. It’s the difference between friends that you interact with in very specific, rigid boundaries versus going on tour or on a long trip with them and really having to live within that space with another person for an extended amount of time. It’s not a physical journey—you’re not literally climbing a mountain in real life—but some of those boss fights are kind of climbing a proverbial mountain.
[Let’s say] you meet up with your friends after work and maybe you’re getting a drink together and you’re talking about how great or shit your day was. You have a beer, and that’s kind of the end of it. With experiences like these, it’s cool that you can do the same thing, but then there’s this thing you can do together after the fact that is very much like conquering a mountain. Maybe that will help someone if they had a crummy day. In a way, it amplifies friendships.

You see sides of people you didn’t know. I remember playing PUBG for the first couple of games I ever played with Adam and Cari. By that point, they had played the game plenty. I had played the game enough to know how to play it, but I wasn’t very good at it and then I started really getting into it. There was a couple of nights where Adam and I, our friendship started clicking. There was one game we played, it was just him and me. We were just eating shit the whole game. We were hiding in a bush for, like, 20 minutes having a conversation going, like, “Did you hear that guy over there? Alright, don’t look at him!” It got so intense and it was really fucking funny. The game ended and I looked at my clock on the wall and it was, like, 3:30 in the morning. I was like, Oh, shit. I hadn’t played a game this late at night in a very long time. The next day came and the day after that came and we just kept doing it and doing it and doing it. That’s when communication between two people who are clearly starting to become friends starts to become more and more apparent. You’re more relaxed about how you say things, what you joke about, how to really let your personality come out in a way where I could really start to hear Adam rage. [Laughs] That’s kind of a wonderful thing to see. I don’t think I’d ever see a guy like that rage in real life in any other scenario that was at least an enjoyable one. Even Mike, man. I hear Mike get a little mad sometimes and it’s in ways that I would not really hear him get in “real life” otherwise. It’s kind of funny how your personality comes out like that. I think most people that know me, I don’t think that they get a sense of how competitive I can be until they start seeing me play games.

Do you ever see yourself venturing into those competitive gaming waters?
No. I don’t think I have the time for it. I think I aged out, to be honest with you. I also think from a streaming on Twitch perspective or something like that, I’m frankly not entertaining enough. And that’s fine. You can enjoy watching basketball and not want to be a basketball player. I think it’s really cool that kids can want to be professional gamers now and it’s a viable career choice for them if they have the talent for it in the way that kids who want to do track or football have avenues. On the other side of that, I do think it’s a little dangerous. If I was young and I saw that those were viable avenues for me, I wonder often if I would have really tried for that and what my life might have looked like in a different world. I’m sure there’s people who really set their hearts on it and just don’t have what it takes. There’s a cool documentary about that on Netflix about this kid who’s very young and he’s a pro [Not A Game, 2020]. It’s about his life, his upbringing, how his parents feel about it. For some people, that’s very exciting. For some people, it’s like, “Are you sure you want to do that, Timmy?” I could never step into that space at 34. There’s just no way.

You’re also incredibly involved with the metal community between all of your bands and the PR work that you do. Is gaming a regular topic that you bring up with other people within the community?
I think our community—the metal community at large—people are not afraid to tell you who they are and what they’re about. I think you can pick up on that kind of stuff right away. We’re all these little nerds just trying to hide and lurk in the shadows until it’s appropriate to bring up what we’re [in a cartoonishly-nerdy voice] super excited about. Most people do want to talk about that stuff if you have something to say about it. But I try not to bring it out because it’s just such a one-and-done question. It’s like, “Are you into games? No? OK, awesome. Uh… d-do you like beer?” [Laughs]

To me, just like metal, just like pro wrestling, if you’re not into this and you look at it from this third-person perspective outside your personal bubble… it’s kind of silly. My own girlfriend isn’t into this stuff at all. If I’m on voice comm with Mike and I’m being a little too loud, she’ll text me a little emoji of the nerdy glasses face and I’m just like, Ahh, god dammit. [Laughs] To be clear, that’s true about anything. All that stuff is totally relative.

At the end of the day, it’s a pastime. Even when you look at the make-up of the people that Mike, Adam, Cari and I engage with online all the time, they’re very different people. They come from very different backgrounds. Some of them come from our musical background, but a lot don’t and we don’t talk about that kind of stuff, like, at all. Often we’ll play games and you’ll see a guy who has the screen name “HellLord666” or something and you’re just like, Aw, dude. You don’t even riff, bro. I think who I am in gaming is not who I am in The Silver, for example. Those are very different things. They’re different sides of my personality and I get very different things out of it.

Stream the new single “The Vagrant Soul” from the Silver via the Decibel Flexi Series here.
Get your own physical copy of The Silver’s Decibel Flexi Series single here.
Follow The Silver on Instagram and Facebook.

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