This article originally appeared in Pyramid #4
Under the Southern Cross: Gaming in Brazil
By Steve Jackson
When I was invited to be Guest of Honor at Brazil's national roleplaying convention, I had no idea what to expect. Most Americans know very little about Brazil... a batch of stereotypes about rain forests, street crime and Carnival in Rio. In fact, when I started to do my homework before the trip, I was embarrassed at how little I knew.
Now I'm back, and I know a little bit more. I know that Brazil is a huge, proud nation, with an economy that manages to boom in spite of horrendous inflation. I know that it's a vital, active culture... in some ways far freer than our own, far more tolerant, but with a huge gap between rich and poor. And I know that gaming is catching on in Brazil in a big way.
To begin with, Brazil is not a Spanish-speaking country. The original colonists were from Portugal, and Portuguese is the national tongue. It's enough like Spanish that I could read - after a fashion, anyway. But the pronunciation is very different; I could not understand much, even though most Brazilians could follow my halting Spanish. However, like European nations, Brazil is multilingual, so many of my hosts also spoke English.
Welcome to Brazil!
I asked for help with a few basic words in Portuguese, and learned some good slang terms. There are pitfalls, though. "Have breakfast" in one Brazilian dialect would translate literally, in another, to "Kill the faggots." This can cause confusion. And an idiom for "raise a fuss" translates literally to "spin the lady from Bahia."
The very best idiom I heard, though, was "As Jack the Ripper said, let's take it bit by bit."
Doors took some getting used to. "Puxe," with the X pronounced SH in the Brazilian manner, sure looks like it means "push." But it's "pull." This got me every time we stopped for coffee.
They drink a lot of coffee here... hot, very sweet, very strong, in tiny cups. This is the first coffee I've ever liked... it tastes as good as it smells. There's also a Brazilian soft drink called "Guarana." It's sweet and bubbly, and my hosts assure me that it contains no caffeine. Later I find out that it's made from a native fruit and contains a stimulant that makes caffeine look like skim milk. The name is generic, like "orange," and there are a dozen different brands.
I was a guest of Devir Livraria, a Brazilian importer, distributor and game publisher - they do the Portuguese editions of GURPS. In my three weeks in Brazil, I attended three different conventions. The first, in Sao Paulo, drew more than 3,000 people. I was amazed. The organizers, who were modest about their big effort, were amazed in turn to hear that they had just successfully pulled off one of the year's ten biggest game conventions... in the world.
This crowd was dressed about the same as any random 3,000 gamers in the U.S., and about twice as noisy. Also about twice as clean. You who have been to a big gaming con, or even a little one, know the problem to which I am delicately alluding. There are elements of our brotherhood who would rather game than bathe. Well, not in Brazil.
The second convention was a relatively small one of only 100-200 people, in a beautiful old city called Curitiba. The con was sponsored by the city itself! It was relatively relaxing, and gave me more of a chance to talk to the individual fans.
The third was in Rio de Janeiro, and it was exciting. The people of Rio, the "Cariocas," are considered to be emotional and tempestuous. Now, my hosts and traveling companions were "Paulistas," from São Paulo, and I thought they were a wild bunch... lots of fun. But the Cariocas really know how to party. I want to go back...
The Gaming Scene
Roleplaying and wargames were originally brought to Brazil by exchange students. This means that, in the beginning, most gamers spoke English. Those who didn't, learned! In fact, one thing that I heard over and over again was, "I learned English to play." At two of my appearances, teachers spoke up from the audience to say that they encouraged their students to game in English as a teaching tool.
What They're Playing
At the moment, White Wolf's Vampire is the big hit in Brazil, even though no Portuguese edition is available there. The elite São Paulo game club is called the Camarilla, and the Rio party I attended had a vampire theme.
D&D, of course, is the old standby, though it's also available only in English. GURPS is catching on fast. Shadowrun is also popular, and a Portuguese edition may be out by the time you read this. But anything published in the U.S. or Europe will eventually get to Brazil, and somebody will play it.
Most gaming takes place in clubs, which grow up in universities and around hobby stores. The hobby is still young; the average player is under 20. Most Brazilian gamers are male, but girls are welcomed when they show interest, and one of the most popular GMs at the São Paulo show (running Paranoia!) was a woman in her late 20s.
Clubs often meet at the gibitecas. These are libraries, but with a difference. When they realized that most kids read comic books if they read at all, the Brazilians didn't panic. They set up regular libraries with huge comic collections. It works - each Gibiteca gets a lot of action.
The miniatures hobby is just getting started. Miniatures are usually played unpainted - it's hard to get good paints and brushes. Still, several of the staff at Devir are skilled painters; they had painted up a Brazilian army for Ogre, which drew admiration whenever it came out. They got fine detail out of a brush about the size of a Q-tip...
On the other hand, the figures themselves are widely available. Some are imports; others are locally-made pirates. Because of import tariffs, the legal figures are very costly... and, while some of the copies are just blobs of lead, others are as good as a pirated figure can be.
Some stores refuse to sell pirate figures, but others shrug and say that their customers can't afford to pay a day's wages for a single miniature. The obvious solution is for Brazilian manufacturers to make the figures under a legal license - that would avoid import tariffs, and they'd be motivated to stop the pirates. But that hasn't happened yet.
Be that as it may, I drew a lot of attention with the Ogre Miniatures display that I set up. Every time, I was mobbed by enthusiastic would-be players. Few had seen the game before - and nobody had ever seen the miniatures version - but they learned fast. In Rio, a big team from the local game club played an eight-hour game against the "visitors." When we won... by a single inch of Ogre movement... everyone burst into cheers, with the Cariocas yelling as enthusiastically as though they had been the winners. It was a great game, and someday I hope to give them a return match.
The Art of Gaming
What is most interesting, and most exciting, is that Brazil is treating gaming as an art form! Game Masters, or "Mestres," are considered to be skilled performers. Game creators are honored... I probably signed more autographs in my three weeks in Brazil than I had in the past three years. I autographed games, books, programs, posters, scraps of paper. I autographed an arm. I autographed knapsacks, and lots of shirts and hats. At one point, I looked up to see the next guy in line was a cop. A big São Paulo cop in a blue uniform. He handed me his hat and indicated the inside of the liner. I signed it. Then somebody gave me a TSR book to sign. But he grins - he knew he was messing with my head. So I told him to roll 3 dice. He did. Triple ones. The message was clear. I signed his book, and I smiled.
But creators are also subject to criticism... I had to answer some tough questions from my audiences. Not rude, just penetrating, like, "How can it be good art to try to put all backgrounds into one system?" The only real zinger was, "Did you read Tolkien's books, or did he play your games?" Afterwards, my hosts explain that Tolkien wasn't well-known in Brazil until recently...
In my talks, I hit the same themes that I developed over and over throughout the trip: Roleplaying is a social hobby that develops both creativity and cooperation; roleplaying teaches people to enjoy reading and even research; roleplaying is now an international hobby, and as the Internet develops it will become even more international.
There is absolutely none of the "demon" fear that we see in the supposedly-sophisticated USA. Brazil is a land of many religions, and tolerance isn't just a word... it's a way of life. Even if a Brazilian believed that gaming was "demonic" - and I met none who did - he would never have the bad manners to tell his neighbors not to play! In a land where voodoo and Theosophy are respected lifestyles, nobody tries to convert their neighbors by force or by lawsuits.
These people take gaming seriously. There are two people in Rio now who are Ph.D. candidates in roleplaying. My trip was covered in major news magazines and newspaper supplements, and by several TV stations, including Brazilian MTV. And even as I write this, months later, I'm still getting copies of magazine articles about my trip.
Devir Livraria was the first major importer of English-language games. It started as a comics distributor, run by three Unisys engineers with a common love for underground and experimental comics. Gradually, like U.S. comic distributors, Devir found games to be a profitable sideline. Eventually the sideline outgrew the original business, and Devir is now publishing GURPS and TWERPS in Portuguese, with plans to release one product a month.
GROW is the Milton Bradley of Brazil, with yearly revenues in the tens of millions. It publishes Portuguese editions of Tactics II, Risk, Diplomacy, Ace of Aces and Supremacy, but its main interest is in family games. However, GROW now has the rights to D&D, and is hoping to sell enough Portuguese versions of the new "black box" edition to make the license profitable.
Best of all, the hobby is now reaching the stage where Brazilian publishers can find a good market for original material. A wargame company was launched in the 1980s, but failed - due to management problems, not lack of interest. Its releases are now collectors' items.
Currently, two "national" roleplaying games are available in Brazil. I can't really review them, since I read Portuguese by the looks-like-Spanish method, but when you've seen enough games, the language becomes secondary. I could understand enough to have opinions!
Tegmar is basically a D&D copy - one needs little Portuguese to recognize that - but it's not badly done. Its combat system is new and looks to me to be an improvement over the original, with a table that's much easier to read.
Bandieriantes lets players re-create the exploration of Brazil... but it's a fantasy Brazil, with lots of native monsters. The term bandieriantes actually means "flag-carriers," and refers to the first explorers.
Would I Go Back?
Of course. I had a great time. They love gaming in Brazil, and they do it well... and they're just getting started. In five or ten years, this country will be producing some fantastic stuff.
Besides... We stopped by a newsstand at one point, and I saw a news magazine writeup about the conventions. It called me the pope of roleplaying. According to my hosts, "pope" is Brazilian slang for "top expert" - it's a compliment.
I ask you. Where else can I be a pope on MTV?
Article publication date: December 1, 1993
Copyright © 1993 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.