“...diverse games are nice, but diverse studios are better.”
August 27, 2019 7:14 AM   Subscribe

There's A Latinx Void At The Heart Of Video Games [Kotaku] “Latinx art abounds: I found music I could listen to, books I could read, movies I could watch as I put myself back together to face the world and do my part. Here’s what messes me up: I didn’t know where to look for that in video games. It’s not that there aren’t spaces, people working towards making video games a more distinctly diverse place. [...] Latinx folks are out there. Yet the video games that have broken into the wider public consciousness—in the biggest games and the biggest studios—do not seem to care all that much.”

• Hispanic Representation in Video Games [Sub-Cultured]
“For a lot of us, discovering Hispanic characters in our gaming choices means seeing ourselves on the screen and allowing us a place in the stories we played. Unfortunately, characters with darker skin tend to be strictly reserved for tertiary roles or worse, cameo appearances which end in death before we get a chance to experience any sort of character development. Honestly, I had trouble thinking of others aside from Street Fighter’s Vega and Resident Evil’s Carlos Oliveira. Vega is a gorgeous Spanish assassin whose modus operandi is killing women he deems ugly and is one of many choices on Street Fighter’s roster. Carlos is a South American ex-militia sort of guy with a good heart, and he even gets to save the day in Resident Evil 3. In addition to them, there are other, smaller roles prevalent in games, like the cholos in Grand Theft Auto installments, Bane in Injustice: Gods Among us, and while we are sprinkled throughout independent titles like Guacamelee, but where are the protagonists?”
• I Made Guacamelee to Create a Mexican Hero [Escapist Magazine]
“Mexicans are no heroes. Imagine the filter through which the world sees you is crafted by someone who wants you to vanish. By someone who is afraid you’ll take what’s theirs, someone who doesn’t send aid in hard times, someone who sees you as less than they are. When those people hear Latin American, they think of invaders, criminals, and helpless Western movie extras. When I hear Latinoamericano, I conjure images of rich lands, kind smiles, and endless folklore. I am reminded of my father teaching me how to be a man of integrity. I remember my mother leading me to be a kind person. I think of home. Latin America is a place for family, industry, and contrasts. Why are these images so dissonant? When did this happen? Why do I think of my grandmother’s mango tree while many others think of calamities?”
• Super Mario Odyssey: Mario’s Mexican Outfit Is a Tired Stereotype [Nerd Much]
“I don’t turn to Mario games expecting a groundbreaking story or social progressive ideologies. This is a franchise starring an Italian plumber with a noticeable accent. In Super Mario 64, when Mario falls asleep he mutters about pasta and ravioli. Meanwhile, Princess Peach is the epitome of a damsel in distress; someone who is portrayed as dumb and helpless in most mainline games. I’ve accepted Mario as a basic, and at times, problematic story. But that doesn’t make these things any less unsettling. Nor does it mean you can’t enjoy the game(s). I fully intend to play Super Mario Odyssey all day long on October 27th. But I also know that I don’t want to visit the town of Tostarena, The Sand Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey, and put on a poncho and sombrero.”
• Targeted in El Paso, vilified by Trump. Why the Latino culture vacuum is dangerous [Los Angeles Times]
“Latinos represent almost one in every five Americans, yet remain vastly underrepresented in elected office and in journalism (a point that NPR’s Lourdes Navarro made to blazing effect in an essay about how the media has failed Latinos in the wake of El Paso). Latinos also remain wildly elusive in the popular culture, the one area that could perhaps most effectively battle the stereotypes through the broadcast of a more accurate, nuanced or humane picture of Latino life to the American public. Or at least dot U.S. highways with billboards of a cape-wearing Latino saving humanity. “People who don’t know Latinos, they go by what they see on screen or on television or the words of the president of the United States,” says Alex Nogales, president and chief executive of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “If we are absent from mass media, the people believe the others — which, of course, is the president of the United States lamenting an ‘invasion.’”
• Latino gamers are winning and why the industry should care [Al Dia]
“Latinos are 32 percent more likely than non-Latinos to consider video games their main source of entertainment. In addition, Latinos are 54 percent more likely to buy a video game the day it’s released than non-Latino gamers. In 2012, according to Microsoft XBOX sales, Latino gamers contributed to 23 percent growth while non-Latino gamers grew a mere 10 percent. That same year video games were the number one game/toy purchased by Latinos – 7.8 million bought video games. “The video game industry should pay more attention to the Latino market but most companies just don’t do it. Many of them have specific teams that take care of Latin American market but forget about the Latinos in the U.S., which have much more buying power than other countries in Latin America,” said Juan Carlos Alanis, founder of TECHnotas.com and LatinoGamers.com.”
posted by Fizz (15 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Yay fizz!
posted by lazaruslong at 7:27 AM on August 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thanks fizz - this is a great post. The Guacamelee games are so, so good, the kind of games where I got bummed when I realized that things were starting to wrap up.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:45 AM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Weird that the Sub-Cultured article mentions Steve Cortez from Mass Effect, but not James Vega, who is VAed by Freddie Prinze, Jr.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:53 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

A pretty damn old, but seemingly still relevant, exploration of the market.
obviously, this is somewhat dated by its cheerful stance of taking neoliberalism for granted, tho I don't think that attitude has really changed in the industry)
posted by es_de_bah at 7:53 AM on August 27, 2019

The Mario Odyssey article is interesting - the entire point of that game is being a tourist in a wide and colorful world. It's a good entry point into the question of the boundaries between tourists and locals - e.g. the denizens of Tostarena sell you the costume in question - should the fact that you are being sold a problematic costume by a native absolve you from engaging with issues of appropriation critically? Is it okay to wear the costume as long as you don't jump on stage and play with the band, as if donning a costume is all it takes to construct an identity?

Would these same questions arise if the culture in the game (such as the Luncheon Kingdom, say) had no real-world analogue?

I don't really have any solid answers, but I suspect I'll be turning over the questions this article raises for a while. Which is to say, thanks for sharing, Fizz!
posted by bookwo3107 at 8:00 AM on August 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

should the fact that you are being sold a problematic costume by a native absolve you from engaging with issues of appropriation critically?
Nope. Because the "native" is invented by a Japanese game designer who was invoking stereotypes and their "decision" to sell you the costume isn't a decision made by an actual person living in that place, but by a Japanese game designer who put those words into that character's mouth. And who decided to dress all the characters in that desert level in racist caricatures of Mexican people doubtless gleaned from a vague familiarity with some older American media (Speedy Gonzalez for example) rather than any actual study of the region.

Now there are valid questions about power and stereotyping. Mario can also acquire a ten gallon hat and cowboy outfit which is equally a caricature of white western American historic cultures but I don't think anyone will object because not only is it a caricature still embraced by many people in that region (I live in Texas, the number of "cowboy" themed places is amazing) but also because white people are unquestionably the dominant class so any offense is a matter of punching up.

I'd argue that the main cause is that the Japanese game designers really have little feel for race issues outside Japan and blunder through without really thinking much about it because it just isn't real to them in any significant way.
posted by sotonohito at 8:15 AM on August 27, 2019 [10 favorites]

I'd argue that the main cause is that the Japanese game designers really have little feel for race issues outside Japan and blunder through without really thinking much about it because it just isn't real to them in any significant way.

Hmm, check out this article: Welcome to the Wild World of Tokyo's Underground Lowrider Culture [Jalopnik]
“Lowriders aren’t exactly what you’d expect to be a perfect fit for Japan. Huge, classic American cars are relative rarity here, and it’s hard at first to imagine how lowriders themselves—a product of the car cultures of mostly Latinx and black gearheads on America’s West Coast after World War II—could gain a foothold here. That’s what I thought, at least. But apparently I’ve been missing out because it seems there’s a big and strong following for lowriders in Japan. The people who’ve embraced the hilariously large (for this country) lowriders have also taken in the whole culture that goes with them. From the clothes, the accessories, and of course the meetups, the Japanese lowrider people would make their American counterparts proud.”
It appears to be more of an embracing of this sub-culture and a love for cars, a kind of tribute, but I could see how people might find this problematic and/or appropriative.

I'm not looking to derail but it's just something to chew on.
posted by Fizz at 8:27 AM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, sotonohito, I totally agree that the particulars of the Tostarena outfit in Mario Odyssey makes the costume unpalatable. For what it's worth, I don't think a native selling their own culture would absolve someone of abusing it, but I've seen the argument raised, and I could see using the game as useful springboard for those conversations.
posted by bookwo3107 at 8:48 AM on August 27, 2019

Latinx representational conversations in America are far less common than they ought to be. I feel like, white panic aside, they are often treated as an invisible demographic. Perhaps this is because whites like to waver between racializing them, and treating them as notably separate. Either way, I did the math during the Oscars disputes a couple years ago, and looked at other forms of media representation. For nearly 20% of the population, their presence is hardly normalized going by how they are shown in media
posted by constantinescharity at 9:01 AM on August 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

For nearly 20% of the population, their presence is hardly normalized going by how they are shown in media

The other side of the conversation should also be centered on how this small representation is largely skewed and slanted towards reinforcing negative stereotypes. And a certain orange cheetoh in the oval office is not helping with that either. It's why I made this post, because it is something we should be forcing and pushing back on with creators, developers, producers. That they should do better but also allow people from these latinx communities a space to carve out their own stories/identities in the ways they see fit.
posted by Fizz at 9:14 AM on August 27, 2019

I'm trying to think of the games I've played with Latinx cultural elements.. The Viva Piñata games came to mind first. Not that there's much culture of any sort in the game, it's a simulation of gardens and animals. But the animals are actually Piñatas and the game exuberantly revels in the crazy designs and colors of piñatas in a way that makes for a great game. Unkindly it's all just appropriation, the game isn't saying anything more about Latinx life than "aren't piñatas cool?" OTOH that's all this kind of game could say.

The other example I can think of is the various Grand Theft Auto games. IIRC the protagonist is never Latino; all the games have you playing white guys or African American guys. But there's plenty of Latino NPCs and culture on display. I don't know enough to evaluate its effect, has anyone seen a good article talking about cultural representation in the GTA games? You have to start with the problem that it's all a caricature and most of it of bad, criminal behavior.

The Red Dead Redemption games are in the same vein as GTA. Both games have significant scenes in Mexico and various Latinx NPCs. Mostly working from stereotypes from American Western movies.

The inclusion of a still from Coco in the first linked article is so provocative. What a great movie, and a great example of how a major film can both be a Latinx cultural landmark and a massive mainstream success because of that cultural connection. I'd play the heck out of a Coco video game. (Turns out there kind of was one, but it's more of a VR demo than a game.)
posted by Nelson at 9:37 AM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't think I saw Grim Fandango mentioned in the original article?
posted by Baphomet's Prime at 9:58 AM on August 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

Rico Rodriguez of Just Cause is also worth mentioning. If I recall correctly, Just Cause 3 has Rico liberating his people and an island from a fascist dictator. It's been a while since I played and I never finished. Rico seems to have a fair amount of agency and his supporting cast of characters who help him through his journey are fairly realized and not just walking cliches.

Mind you, the way Rico helps his people take back the country is through a shit ton of violence/explosive ordnance.
posted by Fizz at 10:22 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Disconcertingly, I think games do better with Blacks than Latinxs. Saints Row has quite a few Black characters; they're present even in such fantasy worlds as Skyrim, Dishonored, and Conan. It's like developers only have room for one minority in their heads.

Not to push back against the lack of representation, but just to highlight what we have, I'd mention

Angel in Saints Row 3, Carlos in SR2
Zoë Castillo in Dreamfall
Lúcio, Sombra, and Reaper (Reyes) in Overwatch
Mordecai in Borderlands
El Presidente in Tropico
Chell in Portal (maybe— the model for her appearance is half Brazilian)
Jade in BG&E maybe? (she's nonwhite but it's not clear what she's supposed to be)

Also worth pointing out are the Latinx developers behind Zeno Clash and Kerbal Space Program.
posted by zompist at 10:45 AM on August 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, also WRT Mass Effect, I'd mention Reyes from Andromeda--not a PC or squadmate, but romanceable.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:55 PM on August 27, 2019

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