[IGDA Rio de Janeiro head Arthur Protasio writes about the current perception of games in the South American country, talking about cultural and economic challenges that keep games from being recognized as a vital medium in this developing economy.]
It is no mystery that games are a huge medium -- and are growing fast. Likewise, the debate between those who believe in games as a medium deserving respect and those who don't is also not new.
Regardless of which conclusion one comes to, the definition of "art" is independent of evaluations such as "good" and "bad" or "exquisite" and "distasteful". Simply put: art does not need to please one's tastes in order to be legally defined as "art".
However, if one thing has been proven beyond a doubt, it's that games do excel at creatively expressing thoughts and emotions, and are one of the most engaging and popular means of expression in society today. The issue at hand is that, sadly, this is not the perception that prevails among society as a whole.
Specifically in Brazil, the medium faces serious problems, in terms of both the views of society and the government. Therefore, understanding the Brazilian scenario becomes crucial, in order to learn more about developing game markets. Reverting this negative impression will help to impede the marginalization of the medium not only in Brazil, but to also set an example of the medium's recognition around the world.
Though games, generally speaking, have been around ever since the dawn of history, video games are the first iteration to come to the fore as a true economic force and creative medium. Unfortunately, as a medium, games still struggle to attain legitimacy outside the game community. Despite statistics clearly showing the average age of video game players to be above 30, the video game medium is still viewed as a toy or a plaything created solely to entertain children and teenagers.
However, when the media discusses the spectrum of games that are not exclusively for ages 13 and below, they tend to focus negatively on the stereotypical definition of the "gamer" and reinforce a negative perception of games. This makes it harder for the average person to admit their enjoyment of games and hampers the "normalization" of gaming. In Brazil, it is common to see news articles constantly preaching the negative effects of games or further emphasizing the idea that the games industry is actually a lucrative toy industry.
This prejudice, however, is not limited to a specific region, but rather is a global phenomenon. Germany has had problems regarding violent games, which even resulted in developer Crytek threatening to leave the country. Activision had to edit Modern Warfare 2 so it could be commercialized in Russia, and all "violent games" had to deal with the EMA vs. Schwarzenegger case which took place at the Supreme Court of the United States of America, even if the final verdict eventually favored the medium.
In Australia, which has very restrictive age ratings, games that would fit into its R18+ classification cannot be released -- it's non-existent for games. And these are but a few examples, the list could go on, but the point's been made: games are the target of political restriction and censorship in otherwise liberty loving countries around the globe.
Here in Brazil, it is no different. The country faces similar issues in relation to government regulations that aim to prohibit both distribution and development of "violent" games. In addition to that, when it comes to Brazil -- other than the stereotypical references to soccer and carnival -- people in the game industry tend to think of piracy.
Though piracy takes place here, it is but one of the barriers that directly affect the access to games in the country. Among these barriers are high prices, which are caused, amidst other reasons, by excessive taxation, but also distribution and licensing issues, along with the unwillingness of companies to officially take place in the market.
The concrete result? A game that costs around $50 in the U.S. is sold for around 200 Brazilian Reais, which is the equivalent to about $110 to $150.
However, when advocating in favor of the video game medium -- even on economic issues such as taxes -- we, as an industry, run into the negative view that the Brazilian society as a whole has of video games.
Thankfully, given the rising number of game developers, conferences, trade shows, and the general outreach taking place in the country, this is changing, but its speed is severely hindered by a few key factors. Chief among these are the influence of judicial decisions banning "violent" games; legislative bills aiming to ban all "offensive" games (including those which, according to the bill, might be found offensive by Satanists), and a rating system run by the government.