The narrator of the latest Saints Row trailer is Latino. If you couldn't tell that from the accent, he helps you out by slipping a few Spanish words in every now and then. Well, more like every goddamn sentence. This has long been an issue with Latin portrayals in mass media in general, but it's a particular scourge on video games, which for all the medium has advanced at the highest level over the last decade, still has the weakest writing when taken at the median. Video games tend to go for the lowest common denominator and rarely trust their audience, constantly needing to sell to them and eternally relying on established tropes to cut corners. Forspoken's trailer recently underlined this, but there's more at play than just 'bad writing' here. It's yet another way gaming Others people of colour even as it tries to include them.
Bilingual people do occasionally flit between languages, it's true. Language is a complex beast and English is harder to tame than most, especially once you get into idioms. But when bilingual people lean on their native tongue, it is usually for foodstuffs or other cultural nouns, or certain phrases or concepts that don't have a one to one translation. That's not what happens in the Saints Row trailer. That's not what happens in The Last of Us. That's not what happens in Far Cry. That's not what happens in video games. Some games have done Latino characters justice (Miles Morales celebrates this Black-Latino heritage without resorting to stereotype or caricature), but with so much representation for Latin people in the video game space, it's staggering to realise how little of it is positive, and how much is tinged with tropes of crime, spiciness, and a penchant for Spanish curse words.
The Saints Row trailer fills up the Latinos In Video Games bingo card, throwing out words like 'pendejo', 'bastardo', 'minutos', and 'numero uno', which all hit our eardrums within the the first 40 seconds of the six minute trailer. These are words that English speakers already know. Like sacre bleu in French, it's part of how the English-speaking world understands foreigners, even if we have not absorbed the words for our own usage. What Saints Row is doing is the mamamiafication of Latinos.
The goal of these Spanish phrases is not authenticity, but characterisation. It is not to make the person feel like a true Latino, but is a quick and easy way to establish to the audience that the man is foreign. The more you consider it, the more insidious it seems. He is speaking Spanish specifically for the benefit of the English speakers. Latin culture is reduced to a sideshow, into a marketing gimmick. Don't be a pendejo, buy our video game!
For the majority of the trailer, when our narrator is transferring information rather than raw hype, these linguistic quirks are nowhere to be seen. His accent remains of course, but his dialogue is entirely in English – which is exactly how actual Latino people sound when they speak English. However, as the trailer wraps up, Saints Row just can't help themselves. Once we're back in hype city, we're told to prepare for some "grande sized life changes, efe." It underlines once more that the Spanish is a marketing tool.
A game like Saints Row is always over the top, but this isn't even creative. When the narrator says you're going to get a 'bullet taco' rather than a 'knuckle sandwich', at least that's something. But when he's just throwing out 'pendejos' and 'bastardos', the game's not even trying. Saints Row is one of my most anticipated games of the year, and I'm hopeful that this might just be an over-exuberant trailer, with the characters in the game itself speaking the way actual Latinos speak. The way the character speaks for the vast majority of the trailer is fine, and we expect a little goofiness from Saints Row. But for a game set in Santo Ileso, with a gang called Los Panteros, you'd have hoped it might have had a bit more respect for the culture it was mining for aesthetics.
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