Digital Democracy

Digitalization and the Public Sphere in Brazil

Opinion | Politicians Among Us

Electoral campaigns of 2020 use gamer culture as strategy of digital communication

By Luiza Carolina dos Santos* e Danielle Sanches** ***

Saturday, November 21st, 8 pm: around 500 thousand people gathered in front of their phones, computers, tablets or televisions to watch the candidate to the City Hall of Sao Paulo, Guilherme Boulos (PSOL) play Among Us with youtuber Felipe Neto and his team. In the morning of Monday, the number of views of the video surpassed 2.5 million, more than 8 thousand comments and 320 thousand likes. In the Sunday afternoon, it was the turn of Manuela D’Ávila (PCdoB), candidate to the City Hall of Porto Alegre, to face the game in another live stream from Felipe Neto’s channel, maintaining the expressive number of views, likes and comments of the candidate of Sao Paulo. Both candidates ran in the second round in their respective cities and had expressive growth during their campaigns marked by digital strategies.

From the point of view of communication, this strategy uses what Canadian theorist Marshal McLuhan defines as “the medium is a message”. The act of playing, in this case, is the communication itself and not the discourse that might potentially happen in this environment. While playing, Boulos and Manuela showed their availability of being part of conversation in progress in this environment, which occurs in the terms of the interlocutor and not only of those who speak.

This is not the first time that Among Us, a game that became popular during the social restrictions imposed by COVID-19, figures in the political scenario. In mid-October, the American Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used the platform Twitch to stream the same game. Just like Boulos and Manuela, Alexandria is also aligned with the left. This game figures as an important component of the political communication since the goal of the player(s), who plays the role of a member of the crew in a spaceship, is to detect and eliminate the imposters. In each round, one or two players incorporate the imposters, having the goal to sabotage the mission and kill the crew without being found.

It is important to highlight that, in the first round of the elections, Boulos had other incursions in the gamer world: besides a first live stream of Among Us on Twitch, he also was present in the Flow podcast, presented by the influencers of games Monark and 3K, and launched his own game, the Super Boulos 50. With a simple mechanic, the goal of the game is to evade the adversaries and help Boulos reach the City Hall, conquering each neighborhood in Sao Paulo – while activating political platforms of the candidate, such as the fight against violence and the resolution to matters of housing, health and transportation, as well alerting against “tucanos (politicians from the opposition party, PSDB) who hold the city back”.

The streaming of games and actions directed to a gamer public are, in the three cases, aligned with strategies of digital communication and the use of consistent social networks that seek to not only speak with younger voters potentially more aligned with left-wing topics, but also to reduce the distance between the left and right wings in the use of digital mediums for the campaign – a fact that was very present in the elections of 2018. Other candidates of left-wing parties, such as Jilmar Tatto (PT) and Fernanda Melchionna (PSOL), for example, also betted in communication in new platforms, such as TikTok. The approximation to the digital environment of these campaigns do not happen only through the use of specific platforms, but also through formats, language and aesthetic that is characteristic of the digital culture.

The incursions with the gamer public are particularly interesting: the perspective of a conservatism and alignment with the right wing (sometimes far-right wing) of this public is widely spread both among players as well as among researchers of the gamer culture. However, as the practices of digital games stop being a culture of niche, composing of the socialization of a great part of young people and young adults, this tendency to conservatism is minimized and questioned.

The search for an approximation of the left with this public seems to happen in a strategic moment. Going back to McLuhan, it is necessary more than speaking to a specific public, but also understanding the social modifications that the digital media bring to the means of communication, including to the political communication, and it seems that the left wing is starting to understand this phenomenon. The social media and digital platforms, added to the mobile technologies, bring relevant modifications to the way we consume information and politically and socially position ourselves, which is marked today by the fragmentation and dispersion. In this scenario, the politician who knows how to navigate in these modifications of communicational context starts ahead.

In the social media, it is possible to speak to diversified publics and build different narratives that use aspects of fragmentation and dispersion in the conversation: threads in Twitter, videos on WhatsApp, challenges on TikTok, among others. The digital games are also a space where friends talk, consume content and are influenced by one way or another, and, because of this reason, it is also where the political conversation should also be. The political discourse must be translated into conversation, and, for that, it is necessary to understand where this conversation takes place – and, mainly, how. It seems the left wing has understood this context.

*Luiza Carolina dos Santos is a researcher from the Department of Public Policy Analysis of Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV DAPP) and doctor in Communication and Information by the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).

**Danielle Sanches is a researcher from the Department of Public Policy Analysis of Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV DAPP) and doctor in History of Sciences by the École des Hautes En Sciences Sociales in co-tutorship with the Casa de Oswaldo Cruz/Fio Cruz.

***The manifestations expressed by the participants of the panels from the Fundação Getulio Vargas – in which are identified as such, in articles published through general communicative vehicles – exclusively represent the opinions of their authors and not, necessarily, the institutional position of the FGV.


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