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Why this former researcher started a game company

A man stands outside in the desert and looks to the left. The #WeArePlay logo is in the bottom left, and the Google Play logo is in the bottom right.

Born and raised in Salvador, Brazil, Filipe has always been fascinated with his country’s culture and past. So much so that he decided to study history, eventually becoming a teacher and researcher. Also a long-time gamer, Filipe saw gaming as a creative way to tell stories — and realized it was a good medium to reach people beyond the classroom and share Brazil’s heritage with the world.

So together with his business partner, Victor, he founded Aoca Game Lab. Now a team of eight people, Aoca Game Lab recently launched their first title on mobile, ÁRIDA: Backland’s Awakening, a survival game following the adventures of a young girl in the historic town of Canudos, Brazil. And they were recently selected as one of Google Play’s Indie Games Fund recipients, which supports small games studios based in Latin America.

Filipe shared his story in our latest film for #WeArePlay, which celebrates people around the world building apps and games. We chatted more with Filipe about combining his passions for history and gaming, what’s next for the studio and the team’s recent trip to Canudos to introduce the game to those who inspired it.

Interview with Filipe in Salvador about his inspiration behind Aoca Game Lab's first game, and then we follow Filipe as he travels to Canudos to he meets locals and show the game inspired by them.

Tell us more about the inspiration behind ÁRIDA: Backland’s Awakening.

When I was studying history, I learned about the War of Canudos in the 19th century and the brave people who faced that conflict. Their resilience and solidarity moved me, and I wanted to share their story with as many people as possible. Our team was able to weave in their history through characters and plotlines, and show off their beautiful desert landscape in the game's scenery. Now, potentially millions of people can learn more about the town in a fun, entertaining way.

Eight people stand around a table outside and smile at the camera.

The Aoca Game Lab team

Why was it important for you to share Brazilian history and culture with the world?

Generally, I think it’s important for people to understand different cultures. So if we can help others learn a little more about Brazil and its people, while having some fun, then we feel we’re helping to educate the world. ÁRIDA also touches on universal topics like migration, drought, climate change and race. So even though the game is set in a town many may not have heard of, they can still find some way it relates to their own culture or society — wherever they’re from.

Three kids and an older man sit outside watching a man play a game on his phone

Filipe shows his game to a family in Canudos

What was it like to show your game to the people of Canudos?

We really tried to bring the voice of the Canudos people into the game. So we were anxious (and excited) to see how they’d react. When we showed it to them, they started pointing out things they could see in the game — their beautiful cacti, herds of goats, traditional fences and even their own homes. The smiles on their faces brought us so much joy. I’d recommend other indie developers get out there and see the positive impact they’re having on people. It’s motivated us to get straight back to work and make the game even better.

What’s next for Aoca Game Lab?

The team is very busy working on two more sequels to ÁRIDA. With the help of Google Play programs like the Indie Games Accelerator and the Indie Games Fund, we can keep working on these projects and sharing a piece of Brazilian culture with the entire world.

Read more about Filipe and other app and game founders featured in #WeArePlay.

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