Although Brazil is a huge country that is recognized worldwide, foreigners know very little about us beside the usual Carnaval, Football, Caipirinha & Bossa Nova (ok, and big butts) cliches.
Which is sad, as our myths and culture offer a refreshing change from done-to-death themes and settings we see in gaming. I never saw a game making good use of our art, music, beliefs and folklore, of legends like the Saci, Mula-sem-Cabeça, Caipora, Boitatá, Curupira and many others.
Hell, we even have a "ancient mysterious language" in the form of Tupi-Guarani, a language spoken by natives that has woven itself into our own Portuguese, distancing us from Portugal. Many Brazilian words come from Tupi, especially names - sometimes with surprising meanings.
Ipanema, for example, is the name of one of the most well-known beaches in Rio de Janeiro (and that one song everyone knows). Few know that Ipanema actually means "bad water" in Tupi-Guarani.
Of course, having a rich, original culture that no one else using it is a great opportunity to impress people with charming and exotic titles, like Xilo, an award-winning 2011 indie game prototype:
The spiced giant robot
Koichi Iwabuchi is a Japanese scholar, famous for coning the expression "mukokuseki" - or "Culturally Odorless" - to describe how Japanese exports like Walkmans, Anime and Video Games were easily accepted worldwide. He claims it was because they didn't carry strong Japanese cultural values that could put off foreigners - what he calls "Cultural Odor".
While it was true decades ago, with Mario, Dragon Quest, Castlevania, Astroboy and even Pokémon, it's a bit harder to look at modern JRPGs, Animes and Mangas and say the same thing.
Thus, to me a more relevant concept is his theory about the opposite phenomena - the moment when this "Cultural Odor" become a "Cultural Fragrance", adding to the appeal of the product.
It's obvious that this appeal is very restricted. Saying a game is from Japan can create high expectations depending on the audience, but saying a game is from Brazil usually results in lines like "are there even computers in Brazil?", or an aversion to an unusual culture they don't understand.
Xilo, as mentioned above, is a game with a heavy "odor", not a "fragrance".
However, each culture has its own particularities, that unique way of doings things that cannot be easily described. It's not an odor nor a fragrance, that you immediately say "oh, this is definitely Japanese!", but a subtle, unusual element you can't describe at first. An exotic spice.
I believe that Chroma Squad, a tactical RPG inspired by Japanese tokusatsu shows, has such "spice":
Chroma Squad also has an unique humor, influenced by local shows like Os Trapalhões and an icon of Latin America: El Chavo del Ocho - a show from the 70's that still reprises here every day.
These elements and influences are felt in the game, in its jokes, references and dialog, but it doesn't become an "odor" that puts off foreigners - like if it was based on Capitão 7, a Brazilian hero no one ever heard about. Rather, it's a global game with a distinct "spice" that could only be produced here. Only in Brazil you would have this unique cultural mishmash of "low-budget" casual humor, theme songs sang in Japanese (like the tokusatus that aired here, not like Power Rangers) and monsters designed after SpongeBob SquarePants, Teletubbies and Pop-Up Pirate.
It's a subtle way of "leaking" our culture into the world, our humor, references and way of seeing things, even if under the guise of Japanese Tv shows. Eventually this can evolve and become a "fragrance", perhaps with people associating Brazil with an unique brand of humor, tone or theme - like how you know Russian games usually have a dry, bleak and desolate tone.
And there are more subtle and unexpected places this "spice" appears... like in alleys.
Although the RE team was extremely talented and probably did a lot of research on American cities and their layouts, they could not avoid leaking their own culture and experience into the gaps.
Another game I would like to mention is Max Payne 3. Famously, it's set in São Paulo, and this time the location plays a vital role in the plot, as Max doesn't speak Portuguese nor the game offers subtitles to the Portuguese dialogs, so both Max and the players feel lost in a foreign country.
There was a lot of outrage from Brazilians over Max Payne 3. First, Rockstar said São Paulo has "famous for its hot weather and funk music". That's Rio de Janeiro, amigo.
Then came things like hiring Portuguese actors to voice Brazilian characters, a "Gauchos" restaurant serving Mexican food and some VERY weird uses of our local folklore, among other bizarre things.
These little details all combined to create a São Paulo that, although had a skyline just like the one I see now looking through my window, doesn't feel like the city I live in.
A few weeks ago, Daniel Várvra wrote an article about how he wants Kingdom Come: Deliverance to be as authentic as possible, since it was never done before and foreigners will never be able to do it:
As a Czech, most foreign games and movies set in my own country seem to me at best ridiculous, because foreigners can’t even manage to capture properly the look of this country (Call of Duty, Metal Gear Solid 4, Forza 5 etc.), never mind our mentality and culture.
I agree with him, gringos tempering with my culture led to things like Street Fighter's Blanka and a soup-opera where a woman gives birth to a Curupira (a mythic guardian of the forests). It's a mess! But I think it's an entertaining, unique and "spicy" mess, that could never be created otherwise.
A surprising example of this is Max Payne 3's Chapter 10. Most of the game is spent on favelas or inside warehouses, garages and stadiums (or an airport train that really should, but does not exist). The only time in the entire game you visit downtown São Paulo is when you go to a bus graveyard.
"What the hell? Why didn't they use the Paulista Avenue or Mercadão instead of making shit up?!" said I while playing, before googling it and finding out that yes, São Paulo has a bus graveyard:
I was born in São Paulo, I lived here most of my life. Yet I saw things I had never seen before in a game made by foreigners that don't even speak Portuguese and only visited for a few days - precisely because they didn't live here and didn't care for its traditional landmarks.
Like Vávra, I still wish to see "my São Paulo" in a game, with all the quirks and locations only a local knows. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the São Paulo that Rockstar portrayed, the vistas they chose to show and design choices such as the bold "no subtitles" approach they went with.
Max Payne 3 is a game set in São Paulo that no one who lives in São Paulo could ever create. Here Rockstar found a foreign location to tell their story, players got lost in a foreign land and I saw my hometown portrayed and experienced through their foreign eyes, with a different flavor.
This is a healthy, interesting exchange, that bought something new to all of us.
All the Scotsman
I would love to see more of the culture of my country out there.
To see more people watching movies like O Auto da Compadecida (aka A Dog's Will), reading books like Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, listening to Raul Seixas (and not just Garota de Ipanema), playing games based on the adventures of Cangaçeiros and Bandeirantes, of fugitive slaves and Italian immigrants, of 1864's imperial soldiers and 1964's anti-dictatorship rebels.
However, I don't think that's something only achievable by cramming those inside every game we make, or that it's something that only a True Born Son of Pátria Amada Brasil can help achieve.
Culture is a difficult thing to define, more even to limit. Trying to replicate the culture of others will certainly result in confusion and mistakes, with your own mentality, beliefs and experiences discreetly blending in though the gaps, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.
That would be an impossible barrier to surpass in a 100% accurate cultural and historical game, but most (none?) people aren't making those - they are trying to make interesting games.
As long as you aren't being racist or full of prejudice, then your take on a foreign culture can likely bring something new to the table, add some "spice" to the recipe, aiding both to you and those who you're borrowing from and allowing it to reach places and people it could never reach before.
Think of it as an unusual musical cover, like Pat Boone singing DIO:
Yeah, it's not a Metal song anymore, the heresy! But it will probably get at least a small smile from any metalhead, and it might even make your grandma get interested in what you're listening to. It speaks volumes of the quality of the song that someone so removed from the Heavy Metal scene would cover it, and the original will always be there for you to enjoy.
And so, I hope to one day play games about myths and traditions from Brazil, India, Korea, Nigeria, China, Poland, Mexico, Chile, etc... all made by locals, proudly showing their culture.
But I also eagerly await for the day I'll play a Brazilian RPG set in Medieval Poland, a Polish platformer set in Brazilian
forests cities, an Indian RTS set in Greece, a Korean FPS set in the US, a Nigerian action game set in England and whatever other crazy combination anyone can come up with, with their cultures adding new elements to these games, spicing them up, offering new perspectives.
For this is the true richness of interacting with other cultures - not just telling your stories and hearing theirs, but bonding to create new ones. Or at least flavor them differently.
PS: Just please stop with the monkeys roaming Brazilian streets, ok? That doesn't happen, I swear.