Video games span the entire world. Here is a series of snapshots that take a look at the diversity that gamers can bring to the table—people of all different cultures and nationalities love gaming. This isn’t an in-depth examination, of course—that could take years of research—but hopefully you’ll come away with a better idea of what gaming looks like in places outside of the culturally Western world (i.e., the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand).
One barrier to gaming on the African continent is poor Internet infrastructure. Connections are so spotty that online gaming is tough. That doesn’t stop gamers though—tournaments in malls are common, and so are arcades. The unreliable Internet brings players together in local hangouts. One Polygon user, mexcon_mike, says “I’m a Ghanaian gamer currently living and working in Ghana. My friends and I organize FPS LAN parties whenever we can.” There’s also a burgeoning game development movement taking root in some places, particularly in the mobile sector:
“So I grew curious to learn how to programme… everything was self-motivated, self-learned, and it was not easy,” Tawia explained.
“My inspiration all along had been [from] seeing this coming from this part of the world because we don’t find games from Africa and the gaming business is what is driving the Western world and we know it’s bigger than the music and movie industry combined. So I feel that that has been the vacuum that has been created here in Africa and needs to be filled to create different jobs – to create more jobs for artists, illustrators, story writers, poets, architects, and transform the whole technological field into a certain standard,” he continued. “That has been my inspiration throughout.” (Eyram Tawia, Ghana)
Nigerian gamers spend a lot of time gaming in company with one another due to the iffy Internet situation. Soccer games and first-person shooters are favorites in the region. Gamers set up tournaments in malls and other hangouts. The Knightz Gaming Center in Lagos is a one-room setup with a curtain over the door, but it sees a lot of business. In Nigeria, as in many places, gaming is a group activity—if you aren’t playing, you’re watching.
There are very few retail stores for games in Egypt. Those that do exist charge exorbitant prices. Therefore piracy is rampant, and gamers go to great lengths to engage in the pastime they love—for instance, setting up Facebook “stores” where middle men work to connect Egyptian gamers with products straight from foreign retailers. Many people don’t even realize that the games they’re playing aren’t strictly legal. Some gamers are calling on people from the big-name retailers and console manufacturers to take note of the apparently huge market for gaming in Egypt—most people would prefer not to pirate video games, and only do so because it’s the only option.
In 2012, Egypt’s political upheaval and violence made gaming in the country even more important for some:
…Fanous said he doesn’t use games to escape the contemporary Egyptian reality, he plays “games simply to relax from the stress us Egyptians experience every day, especially if you’re a student and have to deal with exams as well.”
Osama Haggag, a unemployed 23 year-old computer engineer, has also used games to relax in the past year.
“During the 18 days of protests, I would alternate between going to Al Tahrir and safeguarding my neighbourhood due to the lack of police,” he says. “While at home I was either watching news, or unwinding a bit by playing Steam games on offline mode as we were cut off the internet.”
East and South-East Asia
East Asia—especially South Korea—is known for its hardcore career gamers (i.e., people who engage in e-sports). It’s also known for a different type of paid gaming: farming is a pretty serious industry in some parts of China, for instance. The countries in this region aren’t big on console gaming. Most gaming is conducted on PCs, in arcades, and on mobile devices. Internet cafes are virtually everywhere, and there are specialized hangout spots (like PC Bangs—bang means room—in South Korea) for gaming in most major cities in East Asia.
There’s a wide variation in how serious gaming is in different countries, however. In places like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, or Hong Kong, a gaming center is considered a normal part of the household setup (like a television or rice cooker), while in Vietnam, Thailand, or The Philippines, mobile gaming is far more the norm.
It’s hard to discuss gaming around the world without touching on Japan. Some of the most popular and well-known video game franchises are Japanese-born. Think Mario, Pacman, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter…I could go on. In fact, the Japanese gaming industry dominated the American one for roughly a decade, though it has declined in recent years.
Even though Americans often think of Japan as a haven for geeks, and although virtually everyone plays mobile games in Japan, hardcore gamers are still often depicted as social pariahs (much like hardcore gamers in the United States are). And while Japanese games are popular in the United States, the reverse is seldom true. For instance, Japanese gamers tend to avoid FPS titles, which are a mainstay of the American game industry. That being said, one of the top dream destinations for geeks around the world is Akihabara, the electronics district in Tokyo. You can find more information about Akihabara here.
Thailand is one place among many whose gamers turn primarily to piracy to find their games. Like most nations where piracy is an issue, Thailand has lacked access to affordable gaming. American retailers have no presence there, so Thai gamers must resort to gray-area measures to get the games they love. The most popular type of games—aside from mobile games, which are prevalent just about everywhere—are MMORPGs, particularly Japanese and Korean ones.
In 2008, a Thai teenager killed a taxi driver, allegedly claiming that he wanted to see if it was “as easy as in GTA.” Grand Theft Auto and all its sequels have been banned in the country since then. Thailand also implemented a gaming curfew in 2003 for online gamers. Despite these barriers, Thai gamers are among the best in the world—Thailand recently opened Neolution E-Sport World, a gaming center and stadium that hopes to support gamers all over Southeast Asia.
The Middle East
Modern warfare settings are common in Western FPS games, which means that many companies create video games set in the Middle East, starring American soldiers. As one might imagine, gamers from this region (not to mention their governments…and their parents!) aren’t too keen on these games. This is particularly true when the in-game enemies are Muslim or Arab—positive representations of Arab and Muslim people are rare in Western games.
Iran has 95+ active gaming studios, believe it or not. The Iran Computer and Video Games Foundation is a non-profit NGO formed in 2007 that aims to support and promote game studios. It has established a Games Education Institute, held festivals and exhibitions, and represented Iran at regional and international game festivals.
Unfortunately, we here in the United States don’t get to play many of those games. To at least some degree, American games are considered propaganda by Iranian authorities because they spread American cultural values, many of which are at odds with Iranian cultural values (at least in rhetoric). One Iranian-American game developer is facing possible arrest upon reentry for his game about the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis. Of course, many Americans feel the same way about Iranian games.
Here are a few of the Iranian games featured at Gamescon in 2011.
Because there is a 35% tax on imported luxury electronics, consoles in this region are rare, even among the wealthy. Arcades are common, however, and online PC gaming is flourishing, despite poor Internet connections in many places. The Internet infrastructure will likely stop India’s game industry from growing at the rate that China’s is, but it’s still a booming market. India has also lately entered the game developer’s industry, with its first major title released in 2010.
South and Latin America
Console gaming is popular in this area of the world, despite heavily inflated prices. Taxes are severe, in part because many of the governments in the region feel that the influx of American games and products is detrimental to their own regional markets. There may also be some cultural head-butting, but not to the extent that there is in, say, Iran. In Brazil, the PS4 is selling for a grand total of R$4,000, about $1,850 in American dollars, over four times the retail value in the U.S. Sony, PlayStation’s manufacturer, isn’t any happier about it than Brazilian gamers are, but the company can’t do much about it.
Social games here, as elsewhere, are extremely popular. Forty percent of Internet users play social games, and since the region recently passed the 80-million-Internet-user milestone, that’s not an insignificant number.
Mexico’s game industry is doubling every four years. Sixteen million Mexican gamers spent a total of 29,000,000 hours gaming in 2011, despite the relatively higher cost of consoles and lack of availability of legitimately purchasable games. Piracy is falling as people begin to buy through legitimate channels. Arcade machines, called “Chispas” (Sparks), “Maquinitas” (Little Machines), or “Electros” in local slang, are common, and have been for decades, though their popularity has been declining in favor of consoles since the late 1990s. Game development is also a growing industry in Mexico. Learning games, in particular, are a draw.
While gaming is still somewhat reserved for the middle class to wealthy, growing up with games is becoming a normal part of Mexican life. Most popular titles are available in local malls in translated and/or subtitled versions, and console gaming is prevalent.
Brazil is home to 40.2 million gamers, and may be the fastest growing market in the world for video games. Brazilian gamers frequent LAN Houses—places where they can gather and play online games together. Although online gaming is the norm (unlike in Nigeria, for instance), players still consider gaming a collaborative activity. The kids in the image below are watching and helping each other navigate World of Warcraft. As Carla Barros (Dept. of Media and Cultural Studies at Fluminense Federal University, Brazil) observed that:
There may be two, three or four people around the same computer, with one “officially” protagonizing the adventure, and another, with more expertize, taking the mouse at times to advance in the steps, and others commenting on the game or simply joking.
Tell Us About Gaming Where You Live!
What does gaming look like in your part of the world? Let us know in the comments!
And, as Egyptian fourth-year medical student Yousef Ahmed says:
I…believe that gaming should be a transcendental form of media, not limited to where you happen to have been born. Because though we may come from different backgrounds, speak different languages, and have different ideologies, when we put those headsets on and fire up our favorite game, we are essentially just the same – enthusiasts escaping reality to our own magical world of video games.