For about a month, Google Play users in Brazil could download a game that simulated what the South American nation looked like in the 1600s — a Portuguese colony and major hub of the Atlantic slave trade. In fact, that’s the whole premise of the game called “Simulador de Escravidão,” or “Slavery Simulator”: to use accumulated, make-believe wealth to buy, sell, punish or sexualize enslaved people.
“Choose one of two goals at the beginning of the slave owner simulator: the Path of the Tyrant or the Path of the Liberator. Become a wealthy slave owner or achieve the abolition of slavery. Everything is in your hands,” the game’s description read.
The game was taken down by Google Play on Wednesday after it first popped up on the app marketplace April 20. But now it’s at the center of several complaints — and a wave of backlash that has reignited a debate about regulation in digital spaces.
“It’s something unbelievable that in a country where racism is a crime, a country that lived through the wounds of slavery, a digital platform makes a macabre and barbaric game like this one,” Orlando Silva de Jesus Junior, a federal lawmaker, said in Portuguese during a congressional debate. “Young teens are the ones who consume the most games. It’s unacceptable that something like this happened.”
On Wednesday, Silva joined André Alexandre Garcia da Silva, from the racial justice advocacy group Unegro, in filing a complaint with the nation’s Public Prosecutor’s Office. The complaint accuses Google of violating a Brazilian law that bans “practicing, inducing or inciting discrimination or prejudice of race, color, ethnicity, religion or national origin.” Silva vowed on Twitter to seek the highest possible consequences, “preferably the arrest of those responsible.”
Silva’s complaint also asked the government agency to investigate a slew of offensive reviews on Google Play — including one that praised the simulation for “portraying well what I would like to do in real life,” according to screenshots included in the document.
“Great game to pass the time, but it lacks more torture options,” one user allegedly wrote. “They could also include an option to whip a slave, too. Other than that, the game is perfect.”
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A spokesperson for Google Brazil said the company’s online app store has “a robust set of policies aimed at keeping users safe and which all developers must follow.”
“We don’t allow apps that promote violence or incite hatred against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, or that depict or promote gratuitous violence or other dangerous activities,” the spokesperson said, adding that users should report possible rule violations they encounter.
The controversy prompted other politicians — including lawmaker Ivan Valente, Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman Thais Ferreira and São Paulo Councilwoman Elaine Mineiro — to submit their own complaints. The Brazilian Bar Association condemned “Slavery Simulator,” saying in a statement that it “represents a retrograde step and the lamentable racist mentality that should never have existed, nor should continue to exist.”
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On Wednesday, the Public Prosecutor’s Office opened a probe into why the game, which garnered over 1,000 downloads before it was removed, was made available on the platform. In a statement, the agency said Google has three days to provide “specific information about the game” — including its availability and a “full copy of all documents and of the internal administrative procedures of approval request made by the developer.”
Magnus Games’s portfolio includes a wide array of simulator-style games. On Thursday evening, other games by the “Slavery Simulator” developer were no longer available on Google Play. The slavery-themed game, as well as others, appeared to be available in English and for download on other Android app installer sites.
The developer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post. In its now-defunct Google Play description, Magnus Games advised: “This game is created for entertainment purposes. We condemn slavery in the real world.”
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But Silva, the lawmaker, said the game underscored the necessity for Brazil’s elected leaders to pass PL 2630, a piece of legislation dubbed the “fake news law.”
That bill is shaping up to be one of the strictest in the world concerning the regulation of Big Tech companies and their social media platforms. PL 2630 — which is comparable to the European Union’s Digital Services Act from 2022 — compels internet companies to report illegal content and imposes hefty fines for failures to do so. But the debate over the bill has been steeped in controversy.
Major companies like Google and Meta, as well as free speech activists and conservative lawmakers, oppose the bill. Earlier this month, Marcelo Lacerda, director of government relations and public policy at Google Brazil, argued that “Hasty legislation can make the internet work worse, restrict fundamental rights … and create mechanisms that put legitimate speech and freedom of expression at risk.”
But on Wednesday, with news of the slavery-themed game trending, Silva refuted those claims. “The very existence of something so bizarre and available on the platforms shows “the URGENCY of regulating the digital environment,” he tweeted.