For Hispanic heritage month, Microsoft issued a prompt to be answered by the XBOX Ambassador’s community to be shared with fellow gamers: Being Hispanic, how has representation in video games impacted you? This has been an interesting question to approach; to think about what it means to be Hispanic, & to see how each individual publisher defines Hispanic characters through gameplay & story. With these defined parameters, are we (those who identify with that heritage marker) satisfied with our representation, & how does said representation make you feel?
Hispanics, in the U.S., are legally defined as ‘Americans who identify themselves as being of Spanish-speaking background and trace their origin or descent from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish-speaking countries (Spain included)’. This allows the term “Hispanic” to cover a large part of everything & anything south of the border of the US (except Portuguese speaking Brazil) & part of the Iberian Peninsula (minus Portugal, of course). This is different than the term Latino, Latina, or Latinx, which is anyone from Central, Latin, or South America. That is clearly a discussion for another time.
Looking over the brief, but intricate history of video games, Hispanics have not been represented heavily, favorably, or well. Outside of the side characters & enemies chasing after the heroes in their video games, ruining history & artifacts from countries like Panama, Columbia, Mexico & Peru (we’re looking at you, Nathan Drake & Lara Croft), there are few major characters that come to mind: King, from the Tekken series, Juan from Guacamelee, & Dominic Santiago, from Gears of War. There are others, such as Vega (Street Fighter), Isabella Keyes (Dead Rising), Carlos Oliveira (Resident Evil), Victor Rodriguez (Saints Row), Rico Rodriguez (Just Case, no relation to Victor), a random Ramirez, Rodriguez, Ruiz, Cortez, or any of the other cannon fodder that Sergeant Major Avery Johnson calls out during Halo firefights & cutscenes. The list is almost endless, if your considering only supporting characters. Yes, Rico Rodriguez is the main character in his game (Just Cause), but he looks as if he could be Nathan Drake’s long-lost twin with every new iteration in the series. Still, after listing these characters (as well as the few dozen extra that I have not mentioned), they can be set in a few stereotypical categories. We have fighters (consisting of Luchadores & Matadors), Loud Mouthed, Tough as Nails Military Personnel (or the occasional scared guy, but still military), & Gang members. Female Hispanics usually fall under the “bad-ass femme fatale” moniker that somehow are either taken very seriously, or not seriously at all & are forced to prove themselves through some act of bravado (as if all of these programmers have watched nothing but Robert Rodriguez films for research).
These characters are not nuanced in their presentations, often either settling into a comic relief position on a squad of heroes, attaching themselves to the story through one liners that are either meant to be hilarious or biting at a fellow supporting character, or they take a roll of being so heartbroken that they overlook anything else that makes them interesting, thus rendering any buildup of backstory all for naught, making the heartbreak the only arc in the characters story; the loving Hispanic man, torn apart by the idea that his love is lost, & how that will define him from this point onward.
This idea of limited representation in the game industry does not stop at the games themselves, but also at the industry in its entirety, with the lack of representation from the developers & the media also being quite apparent as well. One could even go so far as to extend the lack of representation to streamers, but that is a completely different discussion entirely; one that would have to take a hard look at a deep rooted social & familial stigma that most Hispanics have grown up with. There are a few news outlets that have put Hispanics on the forefront of news shows & podcasts, but those reporters are too few as to make a real shift in representation. Nonetheless, what they are doing is beneficial, putting a face to a large demographic of the gaming public that is underserved, & most of the time, unacknowledged.
So, what does it mean to me to be a Hispanic gamer during Hispanic heritage month? It really does not mean much at all, to be honest. I enjoy games, like I enjoy anything else. I get wrapped up in the lead characters & their stories, wanting to finish them to see how it turns out. There are a plethora of other forms of media that I can turn to when I’m not playing games; I can watch movies or read the large number of books coming out of the countries I mentioned above (there was a time in the not so distant past when Hispanics ruled the Oscars in the directing category). Or I can even go online to look at art that Hispanics have made throughout history (right now is not the time to go to museums, but soon enough, after the month is over, maybe). There are alternatives while we wait for more, fair, & equal representation in the medium.