South American regions are made up of over 400 million people and encompass a variety of cultures and contrasting scenery. Yet, their depiction in videogames is often monolithic. Flores, the latest operator to join the Rainbow Six Siege roster, was born and lived most of his life in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which also happens to be my hometown. But if I hadn’t read his bio, I couldn’t tell he’s from my country at all.
My first impression of Flores was sour. Nothing about his appearance felt familiar, with a fashion sense closer to a spy from a Spanish flick than a local of my home. Some details of Flores’ background indicate a glimmer of research, such as accurate location names, but his voice is all wrong. His accent couldn't be further from your average Argentinian. This sets a poor foundation for Siege's first crack at Argentinian representation.
Argentina is rarely chosen as a videogame location, but there have been some examples in the past. A mission in Call of Duty: Ghosts takes place in Santa Cruz, but we see very little of the locale and the few foreign characters that speak have Mexican accents. Games like Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Fifa Street, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown acknowledge the country’s existence, but none do much to express the country's character as a setting.
One of the rare spotlights on Argentina in games came earlier this year, though. Agent 47 flew all the way to Mendoza's wine country in Hitman 3. I found it to be the best example of a big studio recreating a local province so far, despite the fact that, according to IO Interactive, budget constraints along with the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the hiring of Argentinian voice actors for the dozens of NPCs in Mendoza. Curiously enough, there is an NPC with the right accent in Hitman 2, making for the rare occasion of genuine Argentinian voice acting in a game, even if the nationality of this random NPC wasn't a focus.
In fact, this is so rare that I can’t pinpoint any other example of hearing my accent in a videogame before. I always hold some cautious optimism when I hear about a game that portrays Argentina in any capacity, and that’s exactly how I approached Flores at first. I even ignored his mismatched appearance and waited patiently for the moment I could hear him speak. His voice, portrayed by Cuban-American actor Jason Canela, was not what I was expecting. It left me feeling as if Argentina was just arbitrarily chosen from a list of South American countries, and that it didn’t matter which accent Flores had as long as it resembled broad-strokes Spanish. It's kind of like if an operator from Texas spoke with an Australian accent for seemingly no reason.
This operator is the first character to kick-off Year 6 of Rainbow Six Siege, an organization founded on the pursuit of multiculturalism and unified global military, joining 58 others as the game continues on its mission to someday reach 100 operators. Some of them look more generic than others, but the push for diverse characters is something the community has largely welcomed with open arms. Ubisoft has embraced this with a team that is solely dedicated to crafting these characters’ backstories, which is surprising for a military shooter.
Siege's gameplay doesn't provide many opportunities to express its characters' personalities, but Ubisoft’s recent animated story trailers have been filling that gap. In the trailer for Operation Neon Dawn, Rainbow leader Harry Pandey says that “one of Rainbow’s strengths is our diversity.” While I can’t say how well the other nationalities are portrayed, that is certainly true of a roster that, today, represents 26 countries from all over the globe.
However, I wish Flores would have seen better treatment all around. According to his biography, he operated in the “Flores district of Buenos Aires,” where his notoriety as a Robin Hood of sorts grew along the years, stealing from the rich and the “most ruthless crime lords” of the city. Over time, he came to be known as the “Man from Flores,” which is funny since it’s not exactly a famous neighborhood by any means, but it certainly makes for a catchy name.
The story revolves around retaliation from the people Flores stole from, who targeted his mother, until he was recruited by Rainbow's Ash with an offer for asylum in Los Angeles. We see the story unfold in Flores' animated trailer, including the food truck he operates in Los Angeles that doubles as a base of operations for his evening heists.
The sequence with the food truck gave me a bit of cultural whiplash. On one hand, Flores is wearing the Mexican flag colors in his attire, and the signpost next to the truck shows tacos as the primary food being served there. LA is known for its culturally diverse cuisine, but a taco isn’t exactly the first dish that comes to mind from an Argentinian food truck. Yet, Siege character Goyo seems to be enjoying an empanada, which is in fact a popular and cultural dish here. Then, while it’s not directly clear in the trailer, the name of his business seems to be “Matambre” (alluding to Argentina's thin-cut beef dish of the same name) along with a cheeky “Argentinian Comfort” slogan. All the while tango subtly plays in the background, despite the fact that its popularity has diminished significantly in recent years. It’s usually not the first thing you’d hear on the radio, but at least it’s culturally accurate? As a native, the whole scene feels a bit awkward.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Siege’s new character comes down to his scholarship, as the bio specifically mentions the military school in El Palomar. This checks out, but the mention comes with a heavy backstory. Argentina underwent multiple coups and military dictatorships during the late 1900s, with the latest (from 1976 to 1983) causing a state terrorism that led to the persecution, torture, and disappearance of thousands of citizens. It was a dark period in my country's history that can still be felt to this day.
This stands out as a missed opportunity. Flores’ personal history with the military could have explored Argentina's complicated relationship with its government, especially considering his Robin Hood code of ethics, but it’s all summed up that he was “unimpressed” with military school, leading to his life as a burglar. (His signature 'Ratero' explosive drone seems to allude to a word for petty thief, but ratero isn't a part of Argentinian slang at all.)
I'm always excited to see developers make concerted efforts to represent peoples and places that rarely get a spotlight in entertainment, but that comes with the hefty responsibility to actually do it right. As it stands, Flores is a mesh of stereotypes—the suggestion of Mexican culture as a monolith when portraying South America, a vaguely Latin American accent that certainly isn't Argentinian.
Flores marks two firsts for Rainbow Six Siege—he’s the first LGBTQIA+ character in the game's history, and the first Argentinian operator on the roster. Flores embodies Siege's potential to represent a wide range of cultures, backgrounds, and identities, but he's also an example of representation in name only.
Flores is compelling on paper, and him hailing from my hometown should be my best reason yet to give Siege a shot. After years of witnessing big-budget games put so much care into crafting compelling characters and stories, it’s discouraging to see companies with enough resources to make a difference treat specific cultures with broad, imprecise strokes. I would like to be hopeful of the future, but if Flores is an indication of what future Argentinian characters will sound like in videogames, I would rather not take the time to listen.