I started this article during our September gaming month here at Sub Cultured. Since Hispanic Heritage Month also ran until mid-October, I had originally decided to compile a list of characters to showcase Hispanic representation in video games. I identify as Hispanic, having a mix of Spanish and Mexican blood in my genetic makeup (among others) and while my ties to my cultures aren’t very strong, I enjoyed the few times I’ve gotten to play as a Hispanic character. Upon writing this, I realized just how little I’d had the opportunity.
“From the press to the games they cover, the absence of black or Hispanic characters is limiting its fan base, its narrative potential, and its creative ideas.”
Where Are We?
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?
When I worked through the vast catalogue of video games I’ve ever played in my life, I found a solid argument could be made for Dead Rising’s siblings Carlito and Isabela Keyes as both were playable, fully fleshed out characters. However, it was disheartening to realize I’d come up with just two out of scores of main characters spanning dozens and dozens of popular franchises. We exist as NPC’s like Final Fantasy XII’s Al Cid Margrace and the A.I. Secundo from Beyond Good and Evil, but no matter where I looked, Hispanic and Latino main characters statistically don’t exist.
As I researched more characters, like Steve Cortez from Mass Effect or the handful of luchador based exaggerations, I noticed a trend. Mostcharacters consisted of stereotypes with similar accents no matter their ethnicity and language, or served a purpose little beyond forwarding the white male hero’s journey. Is this really how we’re seen? Settling for the bare minimum of representation is not what we deserve, and it’s something we should strive to change. Surprisingly, the fighting genre did far and above have the most inclusive characters, counting LGBTQIA individuals among their ranks like Guilty Gear’s Bridget and Kung Jin of Mortal Kombat, even though the genre is inherently catered to the male gaze.
It’s been some years since we have seen a “main character” introduced with a Hispanic background. What more do we have to do to get a game centered around us? Take a look around the next time you’re buying a video game. We ARE purchasing games, we ARE playing the shit out them, and we ARE an audience developers are not considering according to the most recent study. With the passing of one of the more influential Latino bloggers, Juan Carlos Alanis, in the past couple of years, no one has really stepped up and filled his place in the gaming community. There aren’t resources for us, so we are left to join the forums of places like the profit run IGN, or social media groups.
What Can We Do?
Can we make the gaming world aware of our existence?
Hell yes, we can.
Together we can be loud, and utilize the spaces and movements given to us. Brandish that #HeritageMonth hashtag between September 15th through October 15th. Reintroduce the gaming community to GameDev Latinos, a site highlighting developers from all over and where to buy their games. Create your own hashtags when you get to pick a Hispanic character. Overwatch, Blizzard’s immensely popular FPS, JUST added Sombra, the Mexican hacker. Use her, talk about her, and let’s raise awareness about how special she is to us.
We can create our own stories, and create our own games based on our rich backgrounds. Those of us with game development dreams, go for them! Let’s discuss how different a game’s story would play out because the main character is Brazilian, Dominican, Mexican ,etc (Spoilers: it wouldn’t be different). We don’t have to wait for a story starring us; we can create that story! CollegeScholarships.org has a decent list of resources to continue your education in those fields, both academic programs and scholarships, so take advantage of them! Indie blog Remezcla even recently highlighted up and coming developers after Kingdom Rush was created by Uruguay-based Ironhide Game Studios and grabbed the attention of the gaming industry a few years back.There are people making games actively right this second for you to work with.
Are you a convention goer? Request panels from Hispanic and Latino developers, or submit your own and start the conversation. I promise that if there’s one thing I’ve learned from talking too much about everything, it’s that you’re not alone in how you’re feeling. Sub Cultured will be attending PaxSouth in January, held in beautiful San Antonio, and my focus will be on seeking out games that represent us.
In the TV series Lost, we see a character named Desmond Hume residing in an underground facility, driven borderline insane by the monotony of his daily routine. Desmond is required to regularly enter a series of numbers on a computer every 108 minutes. While nothing as redundant occurs in The Bunker, the game’s tone, setting, and non-linear storytelling feel directly inspired by a show like Lost.
The Bunker, developed by Slendy Interactive in partnership with Wales Interactive, begins in a post-nuclear war era with the birth of our protagonist, John. He’s born in an underground shelter that houses less than 60 people. However, we quickly flash forward 30 years later to find John alone with his mother. Thus the central mystery reveals itself: what happened to everyone else?
An Alarm Sounds
What separates Slendy Interactive’s first outing from other titles is its aesthetics: everything is live-action. With a runtime of roughly 90 plus minutes, you essentially have yourself a movie. Now the industry hasn’t mastered manipulating a real human being completely. The Bunker is simply a point-and-click thriller, but is still impressive for a developer’s debut game. Unless you’re slow to select the next location and make John stand around looking clueless, the gaming experience itself doesn’t distract from the cinematic quality.
In the midst of John’s daily routine, an error message indicates a system failure somewhere in the facility. This is where the conflict and John’s unease begins. He hasn’t traversed from his floor with his mother much, if ever. Visiting other floors to resolve a mechanical problem sets his nerves off. Actor Adam Brown‘s performance, especially his facial expressions, effectively communicate John’s dread with his predicament.
As you take John along on his mission to repair the electrical and air filter systems, Brown moves timidly along each darkened hallway. With each floor you explore, a seemingly repressed memory rears its ugly head. We begin to see what unfolds with the shelter’s previous occupants via flashback, culminated in the game’s final moments. It’s as disturbing as it is gratifying.
Actress Sarah Greene plays John’s mother and she covers every range of human emotion fathomable by the game’s end. However, I’m intent on avoiding spoilers, so I’ll reference these specifics no further. If you ever throw up your hands during The Bunker‘s story, which can take a stretch to get into, be assured there’s absolutely a pay-off.
Outside of our two leads, the minor characters deliver their lines in a most uncomfortably wooden fashion. Then at certain points where John is simply standing in a hallway, the musical score swells as if hinting at a big reveal or jump scare, but nothing comes.
Mechanically speaking, the game is ultimately not intended to be any sort of challenge. It’s rather unfortunate though, as glimmers of a Quick Time Event (QTE) appear all-too briefly. However, the average gamer will pass these QTEs with flying colors and then some.
Despite any criticisms I levy against The Bunker, the story and high production value compel you to forgive them. This feels like a full-fledged Hollywood production but occasionally the actors arbitrarily stop and wait for a button click. They even filmed this in a real decommissioned bunker. This pays off as it makes your environment feel legitimately previously occupied.
It might be too early for declarations, but I’m predicting this title could see the same success as last year’s live-action mystery game Her Story.
I readily admit my American ignorance when it comes to international history. More specifically, my familiarity with the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was minimal. Then you encounter a developer like iNK Studios with a brave director like Navid Khonsari to provide you that much-needed history lesson with 1979 Revolution: Black Friday.
As a video game, 1979 Revolution is a lesser Telltale Games experience, mechanically-speaking. This is expected when a developer doesn’t possess as many resources as a juggernaut like Telltale. However, the story has all of the gravitas and emotion as any Telltale title. Instead of a full-fledged review, I felt it more necessary to discuss the game’s importance in storytelling.
Before we dive too deep, historical background is essential for this discussion. For those that might need the information, the Iranian Revolution stems from the civilian population’s frustration with the sitting regime’s corrupt and oppressive actions. The end result of the revolution isn’t the focus of the game, but be assured the Shah and his aforementioned regime was subsequently replaced.
Instead, 1979 Revolution centers on the experiences of an aspiring photojournalist, Reza Shirazi. Reza returns home to Iran to find his home country on the brink of a civil war. Reza’s friends and family already chose sides, which forces Reza into compromising moral dilemmas. Thus we have the basis of the entire gaming experience Revolution offers.
Hopelessness is a recurring motif of Revolution. When a tyrannical government is this powerful, you start sensing your choices matter less and less as the outcome is inevitable. “They” have armies, other countries, and even a few groups of citizens backing them. “You” have your ideals and the ability to organize protests. In the context of the game alone, the conclusion seems predestined based on the lop-sided battlefield.
Although, this absence of hope isn’t just a numbers game, but a moral struggle. A prime example involves when Reza returns home for a family dinner with his parents and his brother (who works for the current regime in law enforcement). Reza’s Dad sympathizes with the protesters’ cause, while Reza’s mother questions why things should ever change. Considering his occupation, Reza’s brother is of course pro-Shah.
Needless to say, none of your dialogue selections in this awkward scene feel right. For Reza, this is his family who he loves unconditionally, yet people are dying on the streets for merely speaking freely. This dinner scene along with the ending scene (which I won’t spoil) are the best illustrations of helpless despair during this tumultuous period in Iranian history.
The Risks Involved
Outside of the gameplay, the developers and lead director at iNK Studios took a gamble in even telling this story. Director Navid Khonsari lived in Iran during the revolution as a child but left shortly after its ending. He used what he saw with his own eyes as a template for many sequences in 1979 Revolution. The team also interviewed about 40 Iranians who resided in Tehran during this era, and gathered as many images and sounds as possible from related documentaries, speeches, and press clippings.
Regardless of this hard work, a conservative movement in Iran still exists that condemned this title. After Khonsari was accused of espionage, he deemed it too risky to even return to his home country. Other members of the development team also either fled Iran for their safety or now use aliases. When 1979 Revolution approached release this year, Iran’s National Foundation for Computer Games banned the game’s distribution and sale, declaring the content a poison on the minds of today’s youth.
Even in reality, this recurring motif of hopelessness is mirrored. Fortunately, we gamers in other countries have the privilege to play this title and to educate ourselves in the process, which I highly recommend you do at your earliest convenience.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday is now available on PC, Android, and iOS devices.
Ah gaming. It’s one of the rare pleasures of life. Video games are an addiction, an obsession, a forgotten remembrance for those of us who are forced to adult. In honor of Gaming Month on Sub-Cultured, I have written a short lament for all the gamers like myself who are missing out on all the latest and greatest happenings this Fall. I present to you, an ode:
“For those too busy to play
who are caught in their jobs and their pay
time with the family, exercise, keeping sanity
the Xbox sits idle all day
We long for that place
flying through time and space
where the land is acclaimed No Man’s Sky
Sounds of Doom filled the room
as we blasted and leveled
Running through ancient dungeons and tombs all disheveled
Nothing could stop us with Legions and boss hunts
instances we transitioned and lead inquisitions
while our armies protected our grunts.
We try to recapture our fun and our laughter
but we keep on displaying low prioritizes for playing
Time we can’t seem to catch, pokeballs we dispatch
and still always end up with disaster”