Minority Report

Minority Report
Gangbangers, Victims, and Whores

Christina González | 13 Jan 2009 12:00
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The good news is there are some characters that are portrayed positively, or at the very least, with more realism and nuance. The Longest Journey was one of my favorite PC games last decade. Zoë Castillo of Dreamfall, its sequel, is an average young woman. A university dropout unsure of what to do with herself, Zoë feels adrift but learns what she's capable of when thrown into a quest involving corruption and two parallel worlds.

Carmelita Fox of the Sly Cooper series is a tough, determined Interpol detective. Her clothes are a bit too revealing for an inspector, but in general she's a respectable, passionate character. True Crime: Streets of LA features Rosie Velasco, a cop who admittedly used to run with local gangs. She is a strong character who is shot early on and assigned to desk duty most of the game. She helps progress the storyline, but it's slightly disappointing she lacked a more active role. Isabela Keyes worked in a lab, and she is both intelligent and strong. While a victimized character, Maria Santiago is portrayed briefly in flashbacks as a typical wife and mother.

Sure, there are actually Latinas out there who are prostitutes, but there are also those who are spies, scientists, soldiers and cops. If games are aiming for more realistic characters and reasonably plausible scenarios, then why not feature some varied depictions of Hispanic women? I'm curious to see if this will change in the next decade or two, since the Hispanic population is set to grow even further. It isn't game designers' jobs to accurately reflect changes in demographics, but it would be nice to see a bit more diversity.

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So what might help shift portrayals of Latinas? And why should we care? The IGDA estimates that three percent of developers are Hispanic. More minorities in game design might help, but as Behm-Morawitz notes, "Game producers need to recognize that people will buy games with character portrayals that are more diverse and less stereotypical." Increased diversity among developers is only one step. She also brings up the fact that "research shows that exposure to media stereotypes can have a negative influence on how we think about ourselves and others." That is one of the more important reasons why this kind of examination is so important.

I've been a gamer my whole life, yet I never really noticed how games depict Latinas until a few months ago. I was curious whether I was alone. When I asked Raquel Bujans for her impression of Latina characters, she admitted she hadn't really noticed them either. Fantasy and escapism is a large part of designing games, but there is a degree of responsibility shared among all media to represent people of different backgrounds fairly - especially when the effects of stereotyping persist long after the final credits.

Christina González is a writer in New York City. Her website is www.christinagonzalez.net.

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