BRAZIL: Young Indigenous Hero Teaches History in Video Game

  • by Fabiana Frayssinet (rio de janeiro)
  • Inter Press Service

Jeró, a Tupiniquim Indian, is the hero of 'França Antártica', a new video game developed by a team from the Federal Fluminense University (UFF) in the city of Niteroi, located across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro.

The third-party action game takes place in the 16th century, a period in history when the French, lead by Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon, invaded Guanabara Bay with the mission of founding a new colony to be called França Antártica (Antarctic France).

Erick Passos, executive director of the video game project, explained to IPS that players of the interactive game participate in the story through the character of Jeró.

The son of a Portuguese father and indigenous mother, Jeró is raised by his father among the Tupiniquim and French prisoners. By being raised in this 'globalised' environment, he learns to speak fluently the different languages of all the characters involved in the story.

There are plans for a second level of the game where little Jeró is taken to France as a slave. This will be followed by a third level, where he returns to his Brazilian homeland as an interpreter during the attempt to found the colony of Antarctic France.

As a young man, Jeró’s adventures continue to unfold in Brazil, where he saves commander Durand de Villegaignon and earns his favour, after which they all settle in Fort Coligny.

The video game’s plot is fuelled by action, as obstacles continue to mount. The lack of women and the wretched living conditions spark rebellions among the colonisers, combined with deadly infighting between the Catholics and Protestants, a critical shortage of drinking water and increasing attacks on the fortress by local indigenous peoples.

In the midst of all the action there is also a romantic subplot. During his adventures, Jeró meets Justine, a French girl he falls in love with after saving her life.

In this war between the French, the Portuguese and indigenous Brazilians, the hero must choose which nation he belongs to: that of his beloved, that of his mother, that of his father, or that of his people? It is the game’s players who are responsible for making this choice, Passos explained.

The idea of recounting the history of France’s attempt to colonise Brazil 'in a fun way, with a computer game that is also educational,' originally emerged from the UFF film school, he commented.

'Video games have a universal language. Anyone who plays França Antártica, whether they are in Brazil or Europe, uses the same language,' noted Esteban Clua, coordinator of the UFF Medialiab laboratory, where the game was developed.

Because the game is meant to be educational as well as entertaining, the team at the university were careful to respect the historical, geographical, environmental and cultural realities of the period between 1555 and 1567, when the French forces were defeated and forced out of Brazil.

Passos stressed that in the first instalment of Jeró’s adventures, which takes place in what was then the totally pristine Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest), the game’s developers strived to be faithful in recreating the flora and fauna of the region.

In this level of the game, its hero, still a young boy, comes up against a series of adventures as he attempts to recover a sacred amulet belonging to his tribe.

The development team was initially tempted to use ferocious crocodiles as one of the obstacles Jeró must face when crossing a swamp.

But crocodiles are not native to the region of Brazil depicted in the game, so they replaced them with yacare caimans, alongside other animal species commonly found there.

'Although the characters are drawn in typical animated cartoon style, their clothing is also modelled on the clothing worn during that time in history,' said Passos.

Clua stressed that in countries like Brazil, where there is no tradition of producing video games, 'it is important to highlight our culture to spread knowledge of things that the world would not know about otherwise.'

He believes that the video game genre is 'a very important virtual tool.' Among other things, it makes it possible to create 'an interactive history laboratory,' something that would be difficult to bring to the classroom through traditional teaching methodologies.

The game was developed with the support of the Secretariat of Culture of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

The aim is to promote this new cultural industry as a medium for education and cultural awareness as well as to foster the development of multidisciplinary projects in universities.

The idea is to strengthen the role of virtual tools as a teaching resource, which can even be used in distance education and digital inclusion initiatives.

França Antártica, which won a bid for digital media in the category of electronic games, was developed with the participation of the UFF Computer Institute and Art and Social Communication Institute.

For Clua, government support is crucial during the initial stages in countries like those of Latin America, because developing a video game requires significant financial backing.

When it comes to video games, he said, 'people don’t care where it was made. It just has to be fun, and has to match the quality of games made in countries with more resources.'

In Brazil, as always, the challenge was met thanks to the 'originality' that Latin America is known for, he said. Faced with a lack of resources, he added, 'we managed to overcome problems by working creatively.'

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service