Latinos, Tech, and Gaming: Oh My!

(This article was picked up by Pocho.com and can be found here)

Under a shadowy veil with months of leaks, a global ARG, and hush-hush secrets from headquarters, the new hero for Blizzard’s hit game Overwatch has finally been revealed: a Mexican Latina named Sombra. However, how does this impact the culture of Orange County? The culture of video game development? The very essence of Mexican and Mexican-American culture? I, as a first generation Mexican-American, think Sombra represents an important and much-needed shift in thought to get Latino people into careers that we are consistently underrepresented in. She represents a new tech-forward identity that uses its own skills to take matters into its own hands. But, most importantly, she’s really freakin’ cool.

For a reader who may not be up-to-date with the games industry, Overwatch is a much-celebrated new addition to Blizzard’s flagship products; it is a First Person Shooter, or shooting game from a first-person perspective. However, in a genre almost defined by the Caucasian de facto standard, Overwatch is extremely unique. The global and international nature of the game, from its storylines, settings, and characters, is at the forefront. In a genre dominated by depictions of our culturally accepted identity of a White American soldier, Overwatch turns this preconceived notion on its head. In Overwatch we fight for our very future and our core beliefs in a Six versus Six war using a colorful cast of characters from all over the world.

From D.Va, a female professional gamer who hails from Korea, to Tobjorn, a Swedish weapons designer, to Lucio, a black Brazilian D.J., to say the game is merely “diverse” would be an understatement. In a genre so dominated by our images and media of war movies, Overwatch is one of the most refreshing games to be on the market. The Overwatch cast is one of the most diverse on the spectrums of age, race, nationality, and sex in any video game, let alone a first person shooter.

How fitting, then, for the next character on the roster to finally be a Latina. Sombra, a Latina hacker who grew up in a fictionalized version of Mexico, was the victim of a war she had no say or power in, and grew up an orphan. After stumbling upon a mass global conspiracy that threatened her own safety having discovered it, she rid herself of her old identity and was rebirthed as Sombra: a chaotic hacker who has no true allegiances outside of herself. In my eyes she represents a new wave of ideas that the Latino culture and identity needs. We need to be tech forward, we need to “infiltrate” STEM careers, and we need to secure our own place in the rapidly developing world of science and technology.

It’s no secret that the video game industry and game development is a very male industry. Even Overwatch has come under fire as a reaction to this, with character designs and animations for female characters being criticized as sexist (see the scandal on Tracer’s butt-pose). Sombra can be viewed as a new counterexample to this identity, and better yet a role model for women looking to study and “break into” the fields of computer science, electrical engineering, and many other tech-forward areas of study and career paths. However, it is just as pressing and urgent to stress her background as a Latina.

As a first generation Mexican-American Latino growing up in the middle of Anaheim, not but 30-40 minutes on the 5 from Blizzard headquarters in Irvine, I didn’t have the resources to know what I know now having finished college and seen things from a perspective no one in my family had seen before. I was never encouraged to go down these career paths because no one in my family had any experience with tech careers. I was mystified by the things I learned in university, and left dumbfounded by how ill prepared I was by my high school education to tackle the tech-world. Had I not been fascinated by computers as a child, I quickly realized how these opportunities would have passed me over. No where in my Latino-majority high school were people talking about developing games in Unity, using C# and .NET to create Windows software, or the latest processor offerings by Intel.

For a fictional character, I think Sombra represents a new possibility for Latinos to tap into new careers and new offerings that were previously untapped by our people. With so many young Latino people hard wired into the Internet, and almost glued to their Facebook and Twitter, the potential we have to take the tech world by storm has never been greater. Our access to technology has never been stronger, and to let this chance slip by us would be the largest of tragedies.

All this from a simple character… Though it may be doubtable that Blizzard had these intentions in mind when designing and developing Sombra, the character has truly engaged me and affected me strongly. As a young Latino trying to find a career in the video game industry, to me Sombra represents the ability for Latino people to also be seen as tech-capable and on the forefront of computer technology. She represents and strengthens my ability to stare down these white-boys-club careers straight in the eyes and remind myself que “Si se puede!”

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