Video games involving politicians have gone viral in Brazil
WFELIPE ROSA HEN, a soft-spoken 11 year old boy from São Paulo, got bored playing “Minecraft”, a video game, he downloaded a new game, “Kandidatos”, which went viral when it was released in 2020 . -hand fights between Brazilian politicians, including “Bolsonaryo”, who looks like Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing president, and “Lulo”, a carbon copy of ex-left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Rudimentary graphics and symphonic rock accompany their growls, punches and kicks. Mr. Rosa was delighted. “It’s the rudeness that makes him cool,” he says.
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Gabriel Nunes, the game’s creator, has been designing video games for over a decade but “didn’t earn a dime before ‘Kandidatos'”. It was downloaded 50,000 times the week it was launched (for $ 0.99 on Steam, an online store). It has now been purchased some 170,000 times. Hypnotized online, sometimes by famous gamers, he joins a growing number of meme-type games by indie developers in Brazil whose main purpose is to poke fun at politics. At least a dozen have hit the market in recent years.
This not only reflects the sometimes ridiculous nature of Brazilian politics, but also the history of video games in the country, which is home to the fifth largest gaming population in the world. Import bans in the 1980s and high taxes since then have shaped its gaming culture in strange and unique ways. In 1987, Sega, a Japanese console maker, partnered with TecToy, a Brazilian toy company. Together, they create a version of one of Sega’s consoles, the Master System, which in 2016 had sold 8 million units, millions more than any Sega console in the United States. Sega consoles are now obsolete in most countries around the world, but in Brazil they still sell.
Likewise, Mr. Rosa’s father, Luiz Paulo, remembers purchasing pirated game cartridges smuggled in from Paraguay and playing counterfeit or unofficial versions of games. “Bomba Patch”, an independent adaptation (or “mod”) of “Pro Evolution Soccer”, a Japanese blockbuster, features Brazilian teams and is updated every year. Indie games are currently enjoying a global comeback. In Brazil, they never left.
When, in the 2010s, a huge corruption scandal involved almost all political parties in Brazil, it provided the perfect opportunity for the world of games to clash with that of politics, explains Thiago Falcão of the University. Federal of Paraíba. And as more and more people got cell phones, the gamer population grew. Today, 96% of Brazilian gamers play all or part of the time on a mobile device. Phones, in turn, lend themselves to meme-type games that can go viral on messaging apps like WhatsApp, which is used by 120 million Brazilians (or 56% of the population).
Satirical political games have appeared in other countries, but these games are more numerous and more popular in Brazil than anywhere else. And lately, the opportunities for pranks have multiplied. In December, a former municipal councilor and mayor of an Amazon city decided to settle their differences by staging a real version of “Kandidatos”. They faced off in a boxing ring in front of hundreds of paying spectators. The mayor won, but is currently under investigation for alleged use of public resources for the event.
Mr. Nunes says he made “Kandidatos” to make fun of him, not to serve a political purpose. He usually gives a blank ballot in elections. But much of the satire in the gaming world is more generally biased. In one game, “Bolsomito 2K18”, released during the campaign that led to the election of Mr. Bolsonaro, the president is “an honest citizen who has had enough of the spread of corruption and immorality”. His avatar beats up black protesters and homosexuals. Prosecutors have opened an anti-discrimination investigation against its creators. No charges have been laid, but Steam has made the game harder to find.
Serious players tend to be males, whites, and young people. Many rejoice in immature and often quite offensive humor, in much the same way as Mr. Bolsonaro. Prior to running for president, he appeared on variety shows where his willingness to be the butt of jokes endeared him to ordinary people. Isabela Kalil, an anthropologist who surveyed more than 1,000 right-wing Brazilians in the run-up to the 2018 elections, notes that “nerds, gamers, hackers and haters” were among the first 16 right-wing categories to support him. . Once in office, he rewarded them by reducing taxes on video game consoles three times, from 50% in 2019 to 20% today.
Left-wing politicians are grabbing hold of it. In 2020, Guilherme Boulos, then candidate for mayor of São Paulo, followed the example of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, democratic member of the United States, and broadcast himself live while playing “Among Us”, a multiplayer video game taking place in space. . Almost half a million people have logged in. The creators of “Políticos Memes Kombat”, a game similar to “Kandidatos”, have decided to include Mr. Boulos as one of the four new characters in an update, which should be launched in time for the presidential election. This year. ■
This article appeared in the Americas section of the print edition under the title “Bolsonaryo v Lulo”