By: Luis Flores, Assistant Graphic Designer @ Aspyr Media
As I got older, I started to play more PC games, thanks to my dad, who at the time was also into video games. I first played games such as the original SimCity, Civilization, and the LucasArt adventure games. Not only did I enjoy playing them, but they also helped me improve my English.
I went to a private school, so most of the classes were in English and some of my professors were American, but the English I learned was very basic. As I started to play games like Monkey Island, which are very heavy on dialogue, my vocabulary and overall understanding of the English language started to increase. For instance, there’s a part in Monkey Island where you engage in a sword fight, and to beat your enemy, you have to choose the best insult and comebacks for your opponent’s insults. So your enemy would say something like “Soon you’ll be wearing my sword like a shish kebab!”, and to win you would have to choose, “First you better stop waiving it like a feather-duster,” among other responses. These sentences were not practical or useful in daily life; however, I do think they were more complex than what I would normally have learned in a classroom, like “My ho-bees arr dra-ween and plei-ying wit my frends.”
More importantly, I started to understand American culture and its nuances better, something I’m very grateful for today, as it eased the cultural transition I experienced when I moved to the United States. For instance, in the adventure classic Day of the Tentacle, you travel back in time to colonial America, where you interact with historic characters like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. In one part you actually have to persuade George Washington into chopping down a cherry tree, something I didn’t understand at the time. Later, when taking an American History course at my university, I did know a little more about the topic than my other Latin American friends, and all these funny moments I remember from these games made much more sense.
For that reason, playing these games was encouraged by my parents, who looked at them as somewhat educational. In Northern Mexico, the economy is so tied to American companies that’s it’s elemental to have a good mastery of English to get a good job. Who would imagine that playing Rainbow Six would increase my competitiveness in the job market? And it’s not that there weren’t Spanish versions for those games, because there were. The problem was that most of the time they were poorly done, or not necessarily translated into Mexican Spanish but into Castilian, which was weird.
Talking about all this makes me feel like a “malinche,” a term applied to disloyal Mexicans. This word is derived from La Malinche or Malinztin, an Indian woman who fell in love with Hernan Cortes and helped him conquer the Aztecs to then establish the Kingdom of the New Spain, which later became Mexico. People from central Mexico call us Northern Mexicans “malinches” because they think we all want to become American.
Personally, I don’t think we’re consciously betraying our homeland for our Gringo Neighbors; we’re so closely tied to the U.S. in geographic and economic terms, that it’s almost impossible to avoid being influenced by it. Although we may become less Mexican in the process, we do become bi-cultural, something I would consider an asset in this globalized world.
Anybody that has tried to learn a foreign language knows that to understand a foreign movie, one needs more than simply the ability to speak the language. Slang, connotations and cultural references are necessary to fully understand foreign media, something that video games helped me acquire. This dynamic not only happens between the U.S. and Mexico, but between other nations and cultures as well. For example, Japanese cultural influences are evident when we play games like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear.