Immigration Game Explores Social Issues

Part of a growing new genre of video games which allows players to delve into social and policy issues, "ICED!" invites players to step into the shoes of foreigners who run afoul of the U.S. immigration system. Characters include a Japanese CS student who loses his student visa and is deported after failing to take a full load of university classes, a 10th-grade Indian girl who is detained for an essay she wrote on the US Department of Homeland Security, a Mexican high school graduate whose family overstayed its visa, and a Haitian war veteran who faces deportation when he turns to alcohol and crime after returning from Iraq. Every character included is based on a real situation, including the case of a 16-year-old New York girl from Guinea who was accused of planning a suicide bombing and detained for six weeks in 2005 before the charges dropped.

The game hopes to show how immigration laws passed in 1996 expanded the number of crimes that can trigger deportation and limited immigrants' rights to appeal; the title is a play on the acronym for the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Gameplay involves attempting to keep a low profile and performing community service; criminal behavior, such as shoplifting, causes the player to lose points. Too many points lost and the player ends up in a federal detention facility. Mallika Dutt, head of the nonprofit Breakthrough which produced "ICED!" explains that "the game allows you to get into the body of a person, so you can experience what they are going through. There are very few opportunities to get that perspective."

Boisvert and Natalia Rodriguez, the game's creators, came up with the idea in graduate school, speaking to immigration experts, attorneys and advocacy groups, as well as "ICED!"'s target audience of voting-age teens. Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for ICE, declined to comment on the game. "ICED!" is scheduled to be available for free download next month.

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