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Video games in Cuba

Even without Internet access, young people are patching together networks to play and compete, even in underground 3D theaters.

La Habana

Two decades ago only Cuba's privileged had a computer, whether because a family member had brought one from abroad, or because one of the parents worked with computers. Recreation options for children and young people were mainly in the street, except for those who had a Nintendo or a PlayStation, and spent hours mesmerized in front of the TV screen.

Now, with the increasing spread of technology, everyone does whatever it takes to get a computer – even if that means buying them in pieces and putting them together. And, though among girls this hobby is very rare, most boys are addicted to video games, with a greater number of young Cubans spending their free time in front of computer screens – especially if they are among those fortunate enough to form part of the digital network linking homes, streets and towns, through nanostations and cables. This is a set of local networks intended to substitute for the Internet, and through which they can play, chat and even meet new people through youth forums that mimic Facebook. Many of them, without any better options on their vacations, spend whole days playing online.

Others who are not lucky enough to be on the Net take their laptops, or even lug heavy desktop PCs, to the homes of friends who are connected.

Groups that are "disconnected" but also addicted to video games, meet in the same house or apartment and improvise LAN parties, linking computers and squaring off in hotly contested competitions. They go home only to sleep and eat, leaving their computers and returning only after resting the bare minimum.

However, those who have not even managed to cobble together a "Frankenstein" (a PC with several outdated accessories), have to pay for their entertainment.

It is public knowledge that 3D cinemas and video game locales, after being legalized as freelance activities, were later banned and shut down, but some of them have managed to endure, operating in the shadows. Groups of young enthusiasts flock to these places, where opposing teams face off, divided into teams or municipalities, playing late into the wee hours.

In these clandestine venues, located in some of the worst neighborhoods of Havana, teenagers gather who are potential criminals, virtually channeling their hyperactivity and violent tendencies. Although the atmosphere is intense and very competitive, laden with insults and profanity, it is very rare for a fight to occur.

The price they pay for their fun is usually 2 CUC for each player, when they rent for a night, or 10 to 15 CUP, if they rent by the hour.

The centerpiece game in these places, and on the Net in general, is DotA, a strategy game in real time. Known worldwide since 2011, when the first international tournament was held, its popularity has increased every year. The Cuban government has already organized its own tournament at the national level, using its Youth Clubs as a vessel for it. But extra-official gatherings and competitions far surpass the official ones. The game has generated huge events in Havana, and other, less important ones in places like Pinar del Río and Guantánamo.

The initiative by DotA fans spurred them to create a magazine called Nick, announced at the closing of the last Otaku Festival. Its pages report on recent and upcoming Cuban DotA tournaments, in addition to the team that is winning, and details on its members. The latest games hitting the market are also featured.

The fascinating world of video games is attracting more and more young people. There are those who do not have to work for a living, and employ virtually all their free time as protagonists in this parallel reality; those who live in dysfunctional homes, and for whom playing is their only escape; and others, with more normal lives, for whom it is their favorite hobby, and even those who invest all their creativity and passion in them. There are boys of different ages who aspire to be the star, the best player, and it doesn´t matter if that doesn´t mean globally. Recognition at even the neighborhood or network level is the dream of thousands.

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