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Friday, May 24, 2024

'Gaymers' Are Taking Brazil by Storm

During a  livestream, with an LGBTQ+ flag in the background, blue hair, and pop songs boosting his moves, Alcides Furlin, 29, shoots his enemies away. The Brazilian engineer and streamer describes himself as a “nerd boy, an acid drag” and tries to create content that merges the gay and gaming communities.

This approach is becoming a trend among a subset of Brazilian streamers—call them entertainers, artists, performers, or simply The Gaymers.

Their streams have many things in common: witty captions, vibrant backgrounds, silly rules that steer the live chat, and looks that are sometimes boyish, sometimes extravagant, with colorful wigs and expressive makeup. Watching them for the first time feels strangely familiar, like listening to your best friends ramble on about everyday life, dramas, crushes … and games.

“Roughly, a gaymer is a person who identifies as LGBTQ+ and actively participates in the gaming community,” explains Lucas Goulart, a social psychology doctor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. Goulart specializes in the intersection between queer culture and video games, and, according to him, gaymers are also caught between what can be seen as contrasting worlds. “It’s hard because sometimes they don’t see themselves in either community,” he tells WIRED.

There are stereotypes surrounding gaymers, says Goulart, mainly, that a gay man who is into fashion and partying cannot be a "geek gamer," someone who only thinks about video games, as he puts it. But Brazil's gaymers are pushing past these stereotypes to create something new. And since many of their livestreams have over 10,000 active viewers, it is safe to say their audiences value personalities above dichotomies.

Furlin knows that people love his drag queen persona, Lola Dvil. “People respond to transparency,” he says. “I need to be smart about how I approach things because I’m not talking to native gamers, but I’m committed to showing the truth, whether that means admitting difficulties getting an eye-shadow right or being honest about having a hard time to pass levels in a game.”

His awareness pays off. With over 8,000 followers on Twitch, Lola is a part of many LGBTQ+ gaming initiatives, such as the international Stream Queens and the Brazilian Project Fierce. Both work as streaming communities and show a variety of content produced by gaymers. And besides participating in collective projects, Lola’s personal calendar is packed. She livestreams five days a week, anywhere from two to 10 hours, doing everything from playing League of Legends to offering beauty tutorials.

Twitch in Brazil

Twitch saw explosive growth during the pandemic—hitting the mark of 18.6 billion hours of viewed content in 2020. In Brazil, as of July last year, Twitch ushered in new rates for subscriptions: It now costs just R$7.90 ($1.50)—a value 65 percent lower than the original rate in the country.

The move is part of a global initiative that aims to provide greater accessibility in regions where the platform is popular. And in this game, popularity comes with a price. For some time now, Brazilian Twitch can be seen as a good indicator of political tensions and shifts.

In May, Jair Renan, son of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, was banned from the platform after spreading Covid-19 misinformation and encouraging gamers to break social isolation. His father is also having a hard time communicating with the gaming crowd—once a solid foundation among his voters.

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“Anyone who watches gaymers knows immediately on what side we stand,” says Lola, talking about politics. She stresses that her audience should be critical and well-informed and debates the topic with a lot of charisma. It’s hard to imagine that she is new to streaming—having started her channels when the pandemic hit Brazil—as she comes across like a seasoned pro.

The Godmother of Brazilian Gaymers

Samira Close is one of those seasoned pros. She is the drag persona of Wenesson Pereira da Silva, a 27-year-old man from northeastern Brazil who worked as a seamstress and telemarketing operator before becoming a streamer.

Son of a single and evangelical mother, Wenesson never considered streaming as a career while growing up. He lacked the financial means to invest in equipment for gaming, which, back then, was only a hobby. At first, he participated in friends’ streams. Over time, followers started commenting on how funny and spontaneous he was and asked if he would consider making his own channels. “Why not?” he thought, as he searched for solutions to pay the electricity and internet bills.

Samira Close was born in 2014, and the longest she has been offline since then is 10 days. Samira now streams from her shiny working station to almost 900,000 followers who are eager to interact with The Godmother—a nickname coined by her fans.

Samira’s livestreams range from five to 10 hours a day and, at their peak, gather over 15,000 concurrent viewers. She plays a variety of games: from Free Fire to Resident Evil, depending on what mood she is in.

Samira generally has a very upbeat aura. She talks enthusiastically—as if she is always on the verge of a joke. Her mouth has a permanent, almost sarcastic, smile, and she uses her beard as a statement. “When I decided not to shave, I wanted people to understand that I wasn’t there to be a woman, that wasn’t the point. It was simply how I wanted to appear and it was aligned with my message of ‘you can be whoever and do whatever, you don’t need to fit any expectations, even the drag ones,” she says.

Thinking back, Samira says that she could not recognize herself in the gaming streamers that she saw before starting her channels—not only in terms of appearance but also in their gestures, their humor, in the subjects they chose to discuss. The only thing they had in common was their love for games.

But sometimes a shared interest is not enough for a community to come together. “When I started, other gamers didn’t take me seriously. They cursed me, they mocked me, I felt a lot of hate,” she recalls.

Segregation Within the Gaming Community

Seventy-four percent of adults who play online games have experienced some kind of harassment or embarrassment, according to an Anti-Defamation League report from July 2019. When talking about LGBTQ+ players specifically, 35 percent reported being harassed because of their identity. “We are living something that I like to call post-Gamergate,” explains Goulart, the social psychology doctor.

Gamergate (GG) was a year-long online harassment campaign that started in 2014, with members coordinating a series of misogynistic and violent attacks against female gamers and developers. According to Goulart, GG members declared what can be seen as a culture war over, mainly, two things: the diversification of the gamer identity and the growing social criticism, such as discussions about race, gender, and diversity within video games.

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“If we look closely, Gamergate was actually a lab for the American right-wing, a lot of their values found resonance there,” says Goulart. The movement was guided by the idea that its members, fueled by notions of superiority and extremism, refused to see in video games things that they rejected in real life.

Despite the discomfort she felt, Samira says the early intimidation she received from other gamers and streamers only gave her more fuel. “I saw it as an extra incentive to occupy this online space, there was so much to change and to transform.”

Samira felt responsible for leading the way for gaymers. For her, humor is key because it makes things lighter and easier to digest. And when it comes to giving out tips for those thinking of streaming themselves, she has only two rules. “The first thing I say is: ‘Don’t compare your beginning with someone’s middle.’ And the second thing is to have fun. Because when you have fun, people feel it and have fun with you,” she says.

This attitude has led to a lot of success for Samira. She has appeared on TV, released a single, and is a reference within the Brazilian gaming community. “When you do drag, what happens a lot is that you get trapped in the character. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of everything I’ve achieved through Samira, but sometimes I think there are things that Wenesson wants to conquer,” she says.

Luckily, the road has been paved, with many gaymers taking to streaming after Samira. “I’m glad because the LGBTQ+ community likes a lot of different things, so it’s not just a matter of visibility, it’s also a matter of diversity in the content,” says Samira.

Gaymers for All Audiences

Rebeca is one of those streamers who knows how to shake things up. Friends with Samira, she is the drag of 23-year-old Alexandre Paulo dos Santos. Dos Santos identifies as nonbinary and started streaming three years ago, while they were still working at a beauty salon.

Rebeca began her streaming career like Samira, participating in other people’s streams until viewers really liked her and donated a computer so she could produce her own content.

Today, Rebeca has more than 200,000 followers and sometimes streams for more than 10 hours a day. She loves games such as Overwatch and Fortnite, but focuses on sharing her lifestyle. “The main objective of my lives was never the gameplay itself, it was always the exchange, the conversation, the space where humor flows naturally,” she says.

Rebeca recalls that her favorite livestream was actually a karaoke night with other Brazilian streamers. “The girls know each other, and we have a lot of fun together,” she says. With every 100,000 followers, she organizes a karaoke stream with special looks, awards, and direct voting from the public.

“The girls and I developed this friendship that sometimes we are playing late-night games without even streaming them,” she shares. Rebeca says that she convinced everyone to become neighbors so that they could build a tighter community in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.

Even though LGBTQ+ streamers have gained sponsorships and public attention, they are still not mainstream, says Rebeca. “There are big teams of gamers that compete and everything, and it’s hard to find a member of the LGBTQ+ community within them. That needs to change.”

Maybe it is only a matter of time. With its revenue reaching an additional 5 percent year-over-year, the gaming industry in Brazil looks promising and far from the “toys for boys” cliché—despite outdated stereotypes, games seem to be reaching the boys, the drags, and anyone willing to play.

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