For game designer Elaine Gomez, the goal of her nonprofit Latinx in Gaming is more than just “raising awareness.”
“It’s super important to see characters that look like you in games because that inspires people at another level,” Gomez tells UPROXX. “But [we’re here] to really change people’s lives, not just speak about needing more Latinos in games.”
There’s often a trickle-down relationship between representation and systemic change, but it can be frustratingly slow, especially for people like Gomez and fellow Latinx in Gaming co-founder and game designer Fernando Reyes. Both have faced roadblocks in their own careers and they want to prevent the next generation from encountering those same issues.
“Getting into the game industry is hard for anyone, but even harder for us,” Reyes, who’s originally from Mexico, says. “There were so many immigration problems that I faced: getting a work visa into the US, adapting to a new culture, learning a different language [so I could] explain my ideas. It was ridiculous, the amount of challenges that I had to face compared to others. If there’s anything that I could do to prevent other people from going through the same challenges, or, even if they have to go through them, to not go alone. I think that’s a success for me and for what the organization stands for.”
The group was initially founded at the Game Developers Conference a few years ago. Its president, Cristina Amaya, was looking for a way to revive the Latinx chapter of the International Games Developers Association. Gomez was part of the initial group she recruited, and Reyes joined soon after, having spent time working with the pair while organizing community events for Microsoft. The initial goal of the group hasn’t changed much over the years – though everything else about it has. They’ve got more money, more reach, and a more secure status as a nonprofit, but the founding principle of creating a space for Latinx gamers to connect, share their experiences, and help each other to succeed is still the same.
“Of course, now that we have bigger budgets and more resources to create projects, we can start giving to this community that we built,” Reyes says. “But primarily it’s all about connecting people.”
They do that by mostly listening to the needs of their community and meeting them when and where they can. The group has held panels at game conferences, inviting people to share the issues they’re facing – whether they’re game creators or just perspective gamers.
“It’s really interesting to hear the challenges that Latin American game developers face versus one’s overseas,” Gomez shares. “The issues are astronomically different. Everybody wants to know, ‘How do I get a visa to work at a big company like Ubisoft or Electronic Arts?’ and we’re trying to figure out, ‘Well, how can we help?’”
As Gomez explains it, the answer often leads to “really difficult conversations” regarding how different governments work and the disparate access to legal counsel. It’s inspired the group to offer workshops and online resources for prospective developers as well as help purchase needed equipment and software for hopeful content creators looking to level up their Twitch streams or just get started in online gaming.
“We are trying to make an impact as consciously and intentionally as possible so that people can reach their dreams and make that a reality.”
Another challenge the organization faces is, perhaps, an unexpected one: diversity.
Here in the states, we have an unfortunately narrow view of Latinx culture but Reyes and Gomez both know that there can be big differences depending on which country you hail from, which customs you keep, which dialect you speak, etc. That’s why they’re reaching out to people in those countries to learn what their specific needs are and how best to meet them.
“It’s a challenge on its own trying to serve such a diverse community,” Reyes says. “But I think we have tried to find the common ground. We have [members] representing their countries on the Latin American side within Latinx in Gaming. Just being in contact with the community itself and asking, ‘What is it that you need?” had helped solve things.”
The nonprofit regularly spotlights Latinx content creators with its large database of Latinx game devs and industry contacts, but it also provides a professional networking space where gamers can get help with resumes and job interviews, or just connect about pop culture. It’s a wide net they’re casting, but Reyes thinks that’s why they’ve been successful – they offer the tools and let the community decide what it needs.
“We really believe in the impact at a single individual level and at a country level, which is very ambitious, but I think that’s the way to do it if you have a very big community.”
The group has partnered with companies like PlayStation, Nintendo, Microsoft, and more to host job fairs and online events over the past year to help Latinx gamers stay connected. They recently won the Global Gaming Citizen Award for their work in the community in 2020. And they have big dreams for the future. Gomez hopes to one day create an incubator fund where Latinx in Gaming can sponsor creators within the community, funding their projects while they focus solely on building them. For Reyes, he dreams of turning Latin American cities into the next gaming hub, with the industry doing for places like Bogota, Columbia what it did for Montreal – arguably the biggest city for gaming ventures right now.
But both recognize the work is just beginning. Though big developers are beginning to invest more in representation and inclusion, they need to partner with groups like Latinx in Gaming to do it right.
“It’s still very young and the intention is there,” Reyes explains. “It can be very easy to just pretend that you are actively helping the situation, investing the money in projects that actually don’t give you any results. We have been doing this for a while and we understand the situation and the challenges. If they put actual resources to help enable us to create meaningful impact, that’s the way to go.”
Again, it’s one rung of the ladder at a time.
“I think that we’re getting there,” Reyes says. “But this is the start of the journey rather than the end.”