These Latino gamers are paving the way for the next generation of game designers

LOS ANGELES — Growing up in Mexico City, Fernando Reyes Medina was involved in video games “every step of the way.”

As a teenager, Medina — now an award-winning game designer at 343 Industries, the Microsoft studio that makes Halo games — and his friends rented an Xbox for 50 cents an hour at internet cafes to play Halo 2 split-screen. After logging onto Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online multiplayer gaming service, he saw how the game served as a tool to connect people around the world. As a result, his passion for Halo and the game became a career ambition.

But with few visible Latino gaming personalities to draw inspiration from and gaming-related pipelines limited to Mexico, Medina’s dream of working for the Halo franchise seemed increasingly out of reach.

“I didn’t understand how difficult the path was going to be,” he told NBC News. “I was just like, this is the thing I want to do and I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

Medina, one of two Latino gaming pioneers NBC News recently spoke to, draws on his experiences and helps increase Latino representation in the global industry by providing mentorship opportunities and access to resources. , events, and a centralized hub for Latino gamers.

Fernando Reyes Medina is a multi-award winning game designer currently working at 343 Industries, the Microsoft studio that makes the Halo games.Courtesy of Fernando Reyes

“I felt like I was the only person there”

Danny Peña, better known as “Godfree”, is the founder and co-host of award-winning video game podcast show Gamertag Radio and the first Latino to be inducted into the Podcast Hall of Fame.

He was introduced to gaming when his grandmother bought him an Atari 2600. He later started his first gaming business as a teenager, charging people per controller to play video games on his Super Nintendo consoles. and Sega Genesis in the city of San Francisco de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.

Shortly after the release of SEGA’s Dreamcast, he began experimenting with internet radio and eventually decided to pursue a career in gaming and podcasting after playing Fuzion Frenzy with Bill Gates at a pre-show event. Xbox launch in New York.

“He’s not a great player, but it was fun to play with him,” Peña joked. “That moment was when I realized, you know what, I really want to do this and take this seriously.”

After launching Gamertag Radio in 2005, Peña began attending more events and handing out media kits and CDs of his shows. At events outside of New York, he noticed that he was often one of the few people of color in attendance.

“I felt discouraged because I felt like I was the only person there — it was different from everyone else,” he told NBC News. “I felt like I had to work 100 times harder than anyone else.”

Hosted by Peña, Peter Toledo and Parris Lilly, Gamertag Radio is now in its 17th season with over 1,000 episodes aired and has gained millions of listeners since its inception.

Peña thanks companies like Microsoft for giving him a chance. Now he wants to do the same for the next generation of creators through mentorship and speaking out at schools and colleges.

“I learned everything on my own. There was no one there to tell me what to do at the time,” he said. “Right now everyone is trying to be that #1 creator – I think the best thing to do is to be yourself but, at the same time, stand out.”

“The Golden Age of Video Games”

With no signs of slowing down, the gaming industry has become a market of more than 180 billion dollars mobile games revenue accounting for 52% of the global market.

While diversity remains a barrier, 72% of American Hispanics ages 13 and older identify as gamers, with 40% saying they’ve used multiple devices to game, according to a Nielsen report.

“The technology has gotten a lot cheaper, the tools to make video games have gotten a lot more accessible,” Jose Zagal, a professor in the entertainment, arts and engineering program at the University of London, told NBC News. Utah, which offers training and research on video games.

“I think we’re living in kind of a golden age of video games, in terms of how many video games are available and how much access you can have to free video games,” he said.

Members of the gaming community compete at the four-day Insomnia Gaming festival in Birmingham, England on April 17, 2022.
The members compete at the four-day Insomnia Gaming festival in Birmingham, England on April 17.Oli Scharff/AFP via Getty Images File

Game design tools like Unity or Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, once licensed for thousands of dollars, are now free, opening doors for up-and-coming game developers in Latin America.

In the United States, Hispanics or Latinos made up 8.1% of video game developers. Comparatively, their white counterparts accounted for more than 70%.

Paths to gaming-related careers have always been haphazard where people “fall into gaming” through technology, friends or cheesy hobbies in the 1980s and 90s, Zagal said.

“If you are not connected to any of these networks, it will be very difficult for you to access them,” Zagal added. “That additionally applies to Latin America where it’s not Silicon Valley.”

Although he was unable to formally study game design, Medina’s upbringing at the Monterrey Institute of Technology gave him an edge as he was still able to learn programming and get a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Technology and Engineering.

After several summer internships at Xbox, he was able to become a full-time Xbox platform engineer and eventually landed his dream job helping shape the multiplayer experiences on the latest Halo game, Halo Infinite.

“I was very lucky that my family supported me in this decision – it’s not as common, especially in Latin culture,” Medina said. “It was such a dramatic dream that there was no way of knowing if it was a good thing or a bad thing, whether you would make a lot of money or not.”

Like Peña, Medina noticed the lack of Latin American representation and visibility in the industry. He helped co-found Latinx in Gaming, an organization dedicated to helping other Latinos break into the industry and access educational, competitive, and networking opportunities through career fairs. with recruiters and friendly social events.

“The door shouldn’t exist, but as long as it does, we’ll teach you how to open it,” said Medina, the organization’s director for Latin America. “It’s just about trying to offer all the resources that we wanted to have at the start of our career and that would have made it easier for us to succeed and be where we are today.”

For those interested in a gaming-related career, Medina recommends finding a part-time job or internship earlier in college to increase the chances of finding a full-time position after college.

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