Latino Representation in Jumanji: Why 'The Next Level' is the bonus track we need
Dominican-American actress Dania Ramírez plays an avatar guide in the newest edition of the successful franchise. Can video games help us win games in life?
Do you remember Alan Parrish, the boy who disappeared while playing a board game called Jumanji and reappeared 26 years later as an adult?
In the franchise's newest movie, Jumanji: The Next Level –adapted to the new gamified times we live in– the powerful Jumanji becomes a video game that "sips" a group of teenagers and gives them each an avatar. Their battle no longer takes place in the physical plane, but within the game itself.
It's an example that the virtual and the real are more related than ever, and they can mutually benefit.
That's at least true for the Dominican-American actress Dania Ramirez, who gives life to a Latina avatar in the film.
"I grew up in an apartment full of people with my family living in one bedroom, and a second family living in another bedroom and for a Dominican girl who played video games for the first time in the United States, and now she's acting in a great movie about a video game, this is my American dream," she told NBC.
For Ramirez, who moved with her family from the Dominican Republic to New York when she was 10, video games can have a powerful effect on people, help them achieve their dreams and even explore their identity. How? Through the freedom granted to the virtual avatars they create.
According to the researchers, the players improve their avatars, producing a sort of compensatory effect of their shortcomings in real life.
"When my kids play video games, they are sometimes thrilled to discover how they can make their avatars look more like them and, as a Latina, representation in video games and the media is important because they need to represent the diversity in which we live. And the avatars are helping players explore who they are," she sums up.
This gamer passion of the actress, which could go through a promotional argument, is scientifically proven. Researchers call it the "Prometheus effect."
In other words, by choosing the physical characteristics of a video game's avatar, we not only tend to make it look more like us but at the same time, the player adopts certain attitudes and behaviors of his character within the game.
Would you like to be taller or more muscular? Perhaps a strong Latina heroine who uses her powers to save humanity? According to researchers in the field of video games, players are not like gods, make men in their image and likeness but improve them. The process produces a kind of compensatory effect on their shortcomings in real life.
This, which may seem frustrating, shapes our own behaviors not only within the game but in life, because of the impact our own self-perception has on our psyche. The best example is of a person who had a mediocre experience at a party. The next day, they look at the photos on Facebook and see themselves smiling while in attendance. The perception of the party changes from it being "mediocre" to "big" or "fun" based on the photos they saw.
Characters like Isabela Keyes, from Dead Rising, show the video game industry's efforts to be inclusive.
In the case of video games, it's our avatar who gives us that feeling. So, the more inclusive the characters one chooses and the more comfortable they with them, the better effect it will have on one's emotional state and the better the player is able to fuse with the character. It's a symbiosis that is already being implemented in therapy with video games, in which patients with stage fright or social phobias are exposed to situations that terrify them in a controlled way for them to learn. When they see how their avatar overcomes the pitfalls, they can as well..
Still, 80% of the protagonists in video games are white males, but the industry is working to make the avatars increasingly real, or diverse.
Latinas, as in the case of Jumanji's Dania Ramírez, are still few, but growing. Some other examples in video games include:
Isabela Keyes, the character of the franchise 'Dead Rising', who began as an antagonist and then became an ally in the fight against a zombie virus, and at any price! Or Mila, from the 'Dead or Alive' series, a Spanish MMA fighter who aspires to be world champion and is free of any traces of "stereotype", neither because she is a woman nor because she is Hispanic.