There's A Latinx Void At The Heart Of Video Games

A still from Life Is Strange 2 (Image: Square Enix)

I have been in mourning. Loss has followed me for weeks now, and I have not been able to give it a name.

It’s been almost two weeks since the twin shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

The former, in particular, has troubled me, as its formless tragedy has taken on the shape of reported news: How the suspected shooter had both reportedly written a manifesto and confessed to the police that he was specifically targeting Mexicans, echoing white nationalist rhetoric.

How he killed 22 people, including Jordan and Andre Anchondo, who died protecting their infant son. How that son was then used for a brazen photo opportunity with a smiling president.

I’m Latin-American, alive during a moment in American history where hostility towards people of my ethnic background is being stoked, encouraged, permitted. Where men seek to gun down people like me, and the government rounds us up, indifferent to the point that they regularly apprehend citizens.

In the wake of a staggering hate crime against Latinx people, it’s hard not to go numb. Just shut down, you know?

I try to keep moving, to not let that numbness take over. Art helps. It may seem foolish to talk about entertainment during a moment of crisis, but one of art’s many functions is to help process real human pain and tragedy, to help individuals sort themselves out as they find a way to move forward.

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 isn’t that there aren’t spaces, people working towards making video games a more distinctly diverse place. There’s the Game Developers of Color Expo, the Indie Game Developers Association’s Latinx In Gaming special interest group; there are podcasts and fan communities for people involved in this medium to find each other. 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.

On its biggest stages, the games industry still hasn’t quite figured out what it means by words such as “inclusion” or “diversity”. Executives tout initiatives built around the idea that “video games are for everyone”, but it’s a marketer’s idea of “everyone”: Amorphous, anodyne and cold, akin to visiting EPCOT and calling it a world tour.

Image: Disney

In the games industry’s endless quest to appeal to everyone, to not turn away a single customer — hateful ones included — it hasn’t really welcomed anyone. Called them by name and made them feel at home.

If Disney, an entertainment company that is nothing if not ruthless in pursuing universal hits, can produce Coco, Black Panther and Bao — each an authentic expression of specific cultures filtered through the lens of fiction — it’s baffling that big-budget games have barely tried.

Playing a video game often means I have to leave my identity at the door, or give up on the part of me that cares about hearing Spanish on the train, about knowing where to get an empanadilla or recognising Bad Bunny booming out someone’s window. Instead, I must become something neutral: Guardian, Warden, Champion, Soldier. Of what? Damned if I know.

It’s true that mainstream, big budget video games have improved by leaps and bounds in the kinds of people they depict. Their sci-fi futures are diverse; Anthem, Destiny and Warframe are full of brown faces, with art styles that heavily reference cultures from around the world.

Call of Duty games have quietly depicted some of the most diverse casts in blockbuster games, sometimes allowing players to choose between a male or female protagonist and including characters from all kinds of backgrounds.

Play a big release such as Days Gone and, although the protagonist is white, you’ll find a world populated by people of colour, such as Manny the mechanic, nurse Addison Walker, or your former partner Rikki Patil.

These are good things, but being present is not the same as being seen. This is what people mean when they say diverse games are nice, but diverse studios are better. It’s more important to have games made by people from different backgrounds who are empowered to make decisions that are felt in finished games.

Image: Electronic Arts

This is usually the part of an essay such as this where the writer calls for an industry to “do better”, but I am not convinced that anything better will be done.

I’ve written about this before, but to be Latinx in America is to be ignored. You are perpetually a talking point in someone else’s argument: Right-wing hysteria over migrants. Left-wing lust for votes. White opinions about the authenticity of a restaurant. Semi-regular debates over the service industry. Video games are not immune to this deep-seated ignorance.

It can mess you up. Make you want to check out. Why care about a video game industry that doesn’t care about me? Or support other people like me?

I feel for the bold independent developers from marginalised communities, the queer, brown, neuroatypical creators labouring in the shadow of video games as a corporate monolith, working to prove that the medium is not limited by its biggest and loudest voices.

And then I also feel for the Latinx folks who play games and have to figure out every day how to navigate a world where dipshits might yell at them for speaking Spanish.

I feel for the Latinx people who, in the wake of the biggest hate crime to specifically target us, had to watch as the national media erased us from the story, turning it into another in a long list of scuffles the US President has had with the public.

There aren’t many places to look if you want some semblance of hope. Even fewer if you look to video games.

Like I said, I have been mourning.

Do not misunderstand. I do not need video games to merely adopt the trappings of my world. To go no further than providing a perfunctory reminder of who I am. To add a character my shade of brown to Overwatch, or to infuse soundtracks with Latin trap.

What I ask is something simpler: Just tell me why I shouldn’t leave.


Comments

    An easy response to 'Why not?' is because when attempts are made, the cries of 'Cultural Appropriation' ring out.

    Complaints about stereotypes, ignoring the fact that stereotypes exist because they're true and recognizable in the world.

    When characters are included that don't push to stereotypes, grievances about whitewashing and not reflecting actual culture. (See point about Cultural Appropriation)

    The desire to push in the cultural politics of the oppressed when creating games involving the other ethnic groups, as helpfully pointed out by the header image of Life is Strange 2, which oddly enough isn't reflected in the article. Of course, that then commits the sins of stereotypes about the so called 'mainstream' ethnic groups to push the narrative of how they are universally terrible people. Which is a nice answer to the article complaining about politics in games, and why companies shouldn't when they fail completely at nuance. Notably they backpedaled a lot in Episode 2 but the damage was done for a lot of people. I've not had the urge to play Episode 3 yet.

      "ignoring the fact that stereotypes exist because they're true and recognizable in the world."

      Horse****. Explain LGBT stereotypes then, which are pretty much all total crap. Particularly when it comes to gay men. The vast majority are just normal guys, and you would never know that they're gay, far from being 'loud' or 'feminine' or 'recognisable'. Because, and I can't believe so many don't realise this, sexuality has nothing at all to do with personality, they are two separate things.

      The stereotype that gay men are promiscuous also, nope, once again, the vast majority are just normal guys, who want the same things as any other average guy, genuine relationships, families, companionship etc. It's human nature. Although I will admit that it's much more difficult for a gay man to find a suitable long-term partner as there are far less to choose from. On the macro scale, whether gay or straight, there's no difference between the percentage of men who are actually slutty/sociopathic. It makes me sick to still see it being perpetuated by supposed 'representation' of gay men in media even today.

        Is the stereotype of flaming gay true? Absolutely. I may not flame on often, but that depends on the company I'm in. Over my forty one years of life have I met many flaming types, that fully embrace the stereotype? Absolutely. And I've also met socially ones that wouldn't set off ones gaydar, which has led to some fun conversations. Just because it might not apply to you personally, doesn't mean there isn't a visible sector of the community that it does apply to.

        If you want to blame anything for the stereotype perpetuating, you can blame the community and particularly Mardi Gras for it. I can't think of anything the straight community does that rubs your face in every potentially negative stereotype as it, to the point where some of the younger members of the gay community aren't comfortable around it. I've always found it discomforting and distance myself from it.

          Hell fucking yeah man. I'm bi (so at times shat on from both sides of the fence) and I'm sorry but that tired old”fabulous” trope has done more to distance us from some parts of the community. I've found people are a lot more accepting of my sexuality if I just politely inform someone in a natural ly progressing conversation than if I made a big song and dance about it. Hell, I had a beer last night with a very old school, conservative neighbour and this scenario is exactly what happened after he made a joke about ”Dont stare at my big ol arse, I dunno if yer swing that way or not!” I coulda had some melodramatic tanty over it, but I would have done either of us a favour. Instead he learned his boofhead, roadie neighbour of 5 years ”likes a bit of sausage instead of fish at times” (his words. Pretty funny tho) and all was fine. As for race, well I'm a bit of a mongrel mix and I don't think I'll ever find a character I'm a game that'll represent my mix, lol. Tho I'm fairly white (or at least white adjacent!) and my kin aren't being scapegoated so I guess the author understandably feels a bit squeezed. But seriously, I have never needed a game char to be my specific race or sexuality to feel comfortable about it. More like I'm piggybacking on the avatar and experiencing thier world (like a Smeg shapped tapeworm up the heroes' bum or something!). Maybe some need this connection or familiarity to thier avatar, but I sure don't. And asking game devs to be masters of nuance and subtlety is just fucking rediculous sorry. But if I was a ”latinx” (the fuck is the ”X” anyway?) in Trumpland, then I'd probably be wanting as much to support my kin as possible too.
          TL;DR- Crotchety old fish/sausage muncher of mysterious origins doesn't se what the fuss is about. Probably cuz he stoopid.

            Soz, my autocorrect is quite a bit shitnand don't have time/patience to fix.

              be thankful your on Kotaku.com.au

              Probably cuz he stoopid.

              just this part where your language changed would be enough to get you banned on Resetera maybe even the US Kotaku. *shudder*

                Nobody's going to get banned for calling themselves stupid.

                  read the fucking text and keep reading till your tiny brain grasps the meaning of what i said, hint pay special attention to the words language and changed.

                  @nobully Sorry, you'll have to explain what you mean. The language is English and never changed. If you mean the affected southern accent, why would someone get banned for that?

                  i cant reply to the other post so this is probably going to look really silly.

                  you already got it the change you say to southern accent i interpreted it to be more like a switch to a poorly educated drawl, looking at it again now i'm not sure i got that right.

                  the point was that abrupt switch and if you saw it the way i did as a switch to an uneducated type of text in a response to this article given it's context and the person authoring it, would almost certainly get you banned on resetera because they will take any excuse they can get. I got banned from there for saying it's wrong to ruin someones life just because they offended you victim blaming apparently.... that place is such a trashcan. Any excuse that can be twisted out of a dissenting opinion can and will be used to silence your ass.

                  maybe we can agree for once, this subject is insignificant and why don't we just stop now?
                  If you want to respond to me i did make another post near the bottom of this page i'm convinced you will find it bigoted and horrible so we can argue about that instead, or i'm just paranoid and think you just disagree with me based on some personal disdain for me.

                  @nobully I don't have personal disdain for you, but I admit you make it hard to find mutual respect when you throw insults like bitch and sperg at me or assume stuff about my ideology that's pretty wrong without even asking me. More generally I'm not a fan of mockery or sarcasm directed at the site or individual authors (or commenters, for that matter) either, I'd rather just disagree with what they write than have the mood dragged down into the dirt, if that makes sense.

                  A lot of the heat I find coming up in conversations that I'm part of here seems to happen when I push back against people with a 'one thing is wrong, therefore it's all wrong' mindset. A fictional example might be someone saying 'here's a story of a person who lied about being a victim, this is why we shouldn't believe any victims without concrete proof', and I push back on that because that makes about as much sense to me as saying 'here's a story of one person who killed a dozen people after playing video games, this is why video games encourage violence'. Exceptions don't define the norm, and I'd rather not see us throw out all human decency because an exception wasn't worthy of it. I'd rather help a liar than ignore someone who really needed help because I assumed they were lying.

                  Anyway, small rant aside, don't get me wrong: you're not obliged to like everyone who talks to you and I'm no exception. I don't mind if you disagree with me, and I'm sure you don't mind if I disagree with you either. I just like to converse and agree or disagree at a nicer level. Disagreeing doesn't make anyone a bad person, and polite disagreement is really healthy for learning about new things and developing a refined world view.

                  that's lovely...

                  you basically just called me an asshole in a long post that also happens to make you sound like a saint...you do use sarcasm and just because you don't use the taboo words i do doesn't make you better. i might call you a sperg but that is a lot less offensive than calling someone a racist which you have done in the past in the same manner your using here. This is why you drive me fucking nuts you think your nice and you don't mock or deride people your absolutely fooling yourself. Using the word racist is the same as using 40 words to let that person and anyone else who wanders by know you think they are a racist.

                  Your post reads like "hey man i know i'm like really great and everything yet you still say mean things to me and that's just not cool you also say mean things about the people who write for this website when they make articles about shit that annoys you, but me well i'm so great because when that happens to me i just disagree and continue to float through life on clouds made out of all the good things i do"

                  back in reality you make comments directed at me that are just really long winded ways of saying 'your a bigot' then when i get pissed of because you just called me a racist or similar you act like i'm bullying you, well at least i have the decency to come right out and say what i think instead of hiding it in subtext.

                  i used to think you were good to talk to a measured and calm voice from a perspective where resides nothing but shrill lunatics, now i'm not so sure.

                  @nobully I did say what I think, I've been honest with you here. I don't have a problem with you, but I do have a problem with some of the things you say. I value conversation when it's polite. I don't know if you're a bigot but if you say something bigoted I'll call that out.

                  If you get "I'm so great" out of that, that's your choice. I tried.

            I've found people are a lot more accepting of my sexuality if I just politely inform someone in a natural ly progressing conversation than if I made a big song and dance about it.

            All of this. This is why a lot of people have such an issue with Mardi Gras and Pride marches, they do nothing but focus purely on the in your face overt sexuality tropes. I specifically remember going to either a Mardi Gras style parade or something similar in Melbourne about 25yrs ago (I was 7 at the time) and one of the floats, I will never forget. Scantily dressed men riding atop a giant erect penis. Because somehow this is an important thing...

            And then the vision coming from the large Pride Marches and Mardi Gras events coming from the US is absolutely abhorrent. Half the stuff that those people wear would get a straight person thrown in jail for indecent exposure in front of minors.

            Contrary to popular belief (the left mainly) people (like 99%) don't care what your sexual orientation is. If you want to normalise such things, then act normal about it. It's a very simple concept.

            Kudos to you on how you handled that encounter. And kudos to your neighbour.

              i think this post allowed me to discover a new mental disorder.

              Kudos to you on how you handled that encounter. And kudos to your neighbour.

              i totally read this as Kodo's, i have classic derangement syndrome send help.

        Stereotypes don't just come out of nowhere.

        They come from a point of reference. Stereotypes stick because they occur.

        If no one fits the stereotype then it disappears.

        Calm down. Nothing wrong with being a flamboyant gay dude. I know one and he is one of the nicest people i know and i love chatting with the dude.

          In the 80s, D&D was stereotyped as gateway devil worship and encouraging 'heretical thought'. There were no examples of either of these actually happening in the news, the stereotype was entirely fabricated based on the mere fact that the game contained devils...which were evil and were enemies. It was so bad, TSR even removed references to devils and demons for years, referring to them instead as tanar'ri and baatezu. That stereotype continued into the mid/late 90s.

          That's just an example, but I don't think it's fair to say all stereotypes occur, or all come from some truth. They can also come from misinformation and unjustified moral panic spiralling pebbles into avalanches. And sadly they can stick around for years or decades despite having no basis in fact because even fictional, they can be a useful tool for people who want to demonise their target (no pun intended) but lack something rational to justify it.

            I don't think that's a stereotype, rather more of a fabricated moral panic or scapegoat. The stereotype would be DnD players being nerdy kids or sweaty nerdy adults with poor hygiene in their mothers' basements.

              Basement dwellers and virgins are other D&D stereotypes, for sure, but devil worshipper fits the definition as well - a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. It's not something you see much any more except in the deepest recesses of the US bible belt, but I have vivid memories of being on the receiving end of it here in Australia in the early 90s from devout Catholic family, friends and teachers.

                Yeah I dunno, I think conflating a moral panic whipped up by Bible belters and sympathetic sensationalist media outlets sits outside stereotypes. I mean I don't know how many people really took that 'devil worship' stuff seriously versus media coverage of it. It doesn't really seem like an entrenched idea - it's laughable in fact, which is markedly different to the enduring cultural stereotypes.

    because in the USA there is a diversity problem. this problem isn't that people from all walks of life are accepted based on merit mind you. it's the problem of checklisting. are they black? are they gay? that sort of thing. It's been shown before there is a bias against asians there because changing things to benifit them benifits white people and that can't happen.

    the same thing is true of latin americans. they aren't 'diverse' enough to warrant inclusion.

    Last edited 18/08/19 1:29 pm

    I really wish the .com.au site had filters for the American political nonsense posts here.

      Strange, while it wasn't exactly an engaging article, I didn't see anything 'political'.

        I’m Latin-American, alive during a moment in American history where hostility towards people of my ethnic background is being stoked, encouraged, permitted. Where men seek to gun down people like me, and the government rounds us up, indifferent to the point that they regularly apprehend citizens.

        Riiight. Not political at all.

        Something tells me you find ICE very political.

      There is, it's called don't click on the articles. And if you do happen to miss-click, move on as soon as you get the message. No need to ruin things for the rest of us.

    LGBT have it worse. Not that saying that helps of course. Most RPG's you can use the character creator to create a 'latinx' (huh?) character, but I know that doesn't help either. Progress takes time, particularly with games which are a big and risky investment for developers and publishers.

      The X is a wildcard for latino/latina, so you can describe both without typing them both out.

      Why is everything a competition with you lot?

      Why are you seeking to diminish these persons experiences?

      Write your own article. Don't hijack this one to proselytize. You are no better than the MRA's that infect stories about women's issues.

        doesn't it depend on the issue, i mean if it's make believe i think it's fine for MRA's to "infect story" with some much needed perspective. Then again hearing some MRA pop off about rape in jail underneath an article about Bill Cosby is vomit inducing.

        I have seen both of these things at one time or another so i just like to gently push back on the blanket statement you made.

    When did "Latinx" become a thing?

      When Americans decided they didn't feel special enough. Apparently the term basically doesn't exist in actual Latin countries, it's used almost exclusively in America.

      It picked up broad use in 2016.

        I'd only seen it used in the last few months here, and that usually in relation to comics, so your explanation above was greatly appreciated since it came across as a 'comix' thing in the articles it was in.

          No problem. We don't have much of a latinx population here (in Australia less than 0.4% are from South America, Central America and the Caribbean combined) so it makes sense you wouldn't see it much. It's mainly used in the United States as distinct from Hispanic which is a language group reference and includes people from Spain too. There's a decent article on the words and their respective loading here.

        Thanks, I've literally never read (and certainly never heard) it before.

    i wouldn't have used Black Panther as an example of Disney getting diversity right. i know that it was heralded as some amazing leap forward because almost the entire cast was POC but i watched it and honestly i thought the KKK had written some of the scenes.

    the scene with martin freeman trying to talk and a bunch of black people howling like monkeys at him?? this is one of the most racist movies i have ever seen.

    What I ask is something simpler: Just tell me why I shouldn’t leave.

    my answer would be if you think that there is any kind of racist push to have you leave then you stay simply on the off chance you can aggravate a racist, i would go far out of my way just to aggravate a racist if you can do it just by sticking with gaming a hobby i assume makes you happy then i say do what makes you happy and enjoy the bonus that it might aggravate an asshole or two. =)

      IMO.

      District 9 did it a whole lot better than Black Panther.

      It was a perfect representation/ Allegory for South Africa

        It was a great allegory. Problem with really nuanced and not-on-your-face allegories is that they are, often, only picked by people "in the know". Sadly, the general message of movies like that is one that needs to be spoken clearly and maybe a bit loudly, to ensure most people will "get it" and that's what BP did.

    My scary takeaway from this article - maybe we've peaked as a species in terms of tolerance etc. Maybe it's all just worse from here on out. Doesn't seem implausible right? How sad.

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