Immigration game hits wrong note with advocates
Creator says goal is to help, not hurt
The battered-looking pickup truck careens over a Southwestern United States landscape, with cartoon men, women, and children bouncing out of the back. As the passengers land on the ground, the truck moves on, belching thick exhaust.
That’s the setup of a new game that a Boston-area studio is planning to release next month on Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad, as well as the Internet. The object of Smuggle Truck: Operation Immigration is to cross the treacherous US border without losing too many immigrants.
The Watertown studio Owlchemy Labs LLC said yesterday that the game is meant as a satirical comment on the difficulties of immigrating to the United States.
Immigration advocates see it differently.
“It’s a tasteless and horrible joke,’’ said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the largest immigrant advocacy group in New England. “Thousands of people die crossing the border.’’
Millona said she watched a video trailer for the game yesterday and was appalled to see cartoon babies bouncing out of the truck.
“I was almost in tears the way it turned tragedy into a joke,’’ she said.
One of the game’s cocreators, Alex Schwartz, 23, said a friend’s efforts to navigate immigration laws inspired him and his partner at the two-person Owlchemy, Yilmaz Kiymaz, to create Smuggle Truck.
“This is our way of bringing more attention to the immigration problem, which we think deserves more light,’’ Schwartz said. “I don’t see why an iPhone game can’t comment on topics that are serious. A political cartoonist can make this kind of statement. Why can’t a game developer?’’
The game, which is in the final stages of development, is not yet available on the iPhone or iPad. All games and applications, or apps, that run on Apple’s devices must be approved by the company, and Apple regularly rejects applications that it deems obscene, offensive, or defamatory.
Apple did not respond to a request for a comment on Smuggle Truck yesterday.
But even if the company does turn down the game, Owlchemy intends to release it online, Schwartz said. In fact, a short video trailer for the game is already available on smuggletruck.com and Facebook.
When the game is released, in late March, Schwartz said the studio is planning to charge $2.99 for the iPad game and $1.99 for the iPhone version.
Schwartz said that over the last few weeks he has been asking patrons at a local Starbucks to try the game, and the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.’’
“They get the idea that this is a comment on immigration, not just a joke,’’ he said. “You can’t judge it just by looking at a video and some screenshots.’’
He added that the scenes of the Southwest US depicted in the trailer are from the first level of the game. Subsequent levels take place in a forest and in underground caves in an attempt to broaden the message about immigration, he said. The developers have also been “meticulous in avoiding stereotypes,’’ Schwartz said.
But Millona, of the immigrant and refugee coalition, said that while she doesn’t dispute Owlchemy’s right to publish the game, she does not believe illegal immigration is an appropriate topic.
“These people are crossing the border because they are desperate,’’ she said. “I don’t think we should be turning a tragedy into a game.’’
D.C. Denison can be reached at email@example.com.