Journalist invites readers to 'catch the corrupt' with game inspired by Lava Jato scandal

Operation Car Wash, known as Lava Jato in Brazil and considered the biggest corruption case in that country’s history, has provoked the indignation of many citizens. For this reason, journalist Luiz André Alzer gave Brazilians the opportunity to seek "revenge" and punish corrupt politicians and businessmen through a card game he created that is inspired by real characters and situations of the scandal.

The game, called "O Jogo da Lava-Jato" ("The Lava Jato Game"), was printed in the May 28 edition of Rio de Janeiro newspaper Extra, of which Alzer is founder and director. The goal of the journalist, who has closely followed the transnational corruption case, was to offer readers a playful and innovative way of looking at the issue.

“Some infographics produced by newspapers and sites gathered information such as connections of the people investigated and the denunciations against them. This, in a way, already had the characteristics of a game. I like card games and board games, and as a journalist, I prefer to work with the real world, because I do not have as much talent for fiction,” said Alzer, who previously launched other board games: “Desafio Carioca” (Carioca Challenge) about Rio de Janeiro, and “O Jogo do Vinho” (The Wine Game), about the wine universe, both based on real situations.

“The Lava Jato Game” consists of 72 cards divided into 36 “Accused” cards (showing types of characters allegedly involved in the corruption scheme) and 36 "Judicial Decisions" (indicating supposed legal actions to be made by the players). The objective of the game is to send the greatest number of implicated people "to prison.”

Although the characters and situations shown in the cards are inspired by the facts that have been revealed since 2014, when the investigation began in Brazil, the game does not mention real names of those accused or investigated. This was done to avoid legal problems against Alzer or Extra, since the investigation by Brazilian authorities is still ongoing and not all involved have received a sentence, but also to create the dynamic of a logical game.

“No character adheres to the facts 100 percent, since for the game to have a good dynamic, I had to merge information from other characters,” Alzer said. “It would be unfair to give a real person attributes that are not theirs.”

Thus, instead of indicating the names of those involved, the cards show titles such as "Senator," "Former Congressman" and "Operator," each accompanied by the cases against him, other characters with whom he has a connection, their degree of involvement in the case and the amount of money involved in bribes.

In addition, each card of the "Accused" includes a cartoon made by Renato Machado, who relied on both real and fictitious features to create them, according to what he told Extra. Consequently, the public will not find it difficult to see a physical resemblance to some of those involved.

Alzer said that within a few days of launching the game, he has received emails from people who found the game amusing, and some readers told Extra that the product would unleash good discussions about what is happening in their country. Nevertheless, the journalist is cautious in clarifying that the main objective of his creation is to entertain, which is why he does not see a risk of the topic being trivialized by the game or that it might generate disinformation among the readers.

“The main purpose of the game is to have fun. It is not a report in the format of a game, although it has been inspired, with as much fidelity as possible, by actual facts and by news published in the last two years,” Alzer told the Knight Center. “But it has another purpose: to give Brazilians the opportunity to take vengeance on politicians and other characters involved in the biggest corruption scheme in Brazil’s history, since each player is a judge with the objective of arresting the corrupt.”

The journalist believes that Extra was the ideal media to launch the game as it is a publication recognized for its creativity in dealing with harsh and serious issues of the nation’s reality, so deciding on a card game to address the issue of Lava Jato was an almost organic decision.

“When I thought of the game, my first idea was to turn it into a card game, which would allow it to be launched by Extra, which has precisely this characteristic of telling stories in an innovative way,” Alzer said.

The game, which in the coming weeks can be acquired through the website of its creator as a deck of cards, adds to the growing news coverage of the Lava Jato case that is occurring both in Brazil and in the rest of Latin America, which, in Alzer’s opinion, could soon have a palpable effect on the political life of the South American giant.

“This has led people to have a very large amount of information, which allows them to evaluate and form a critical opinion. I believe that politics has never been so openly discussed in the country. Although, unfortunately it is being discussed because of corruption. Anyway, the revelations that come up all this time will certainly have transformative power in the country in the very near future.”

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.