Controversy is swelling over a proposed iPod and iPad app scheduled for release in March. It’s called Smuggle Truck, and as the name implies, the game invites players to smuggle truckloads of illegal immigrants over the desert and across what would appear to be the U.S.-Mexico border (note the mesas, rock formations and the rest of the topography as a rusty, open-backed truck bounds along, bouncing passengers – including newborn babies — high in the air to squeals of “wheeee” and “whoaaa”).
Drivers who keep the most immigrants on board as they cross the border are awarded – you’ve got it — a “Green Card” for their efforts.
Now here’s the question: is Smuggle Truck, which calls itself “the premiere smuggling game on the app store,” incredibly offensive – or is it, as developer Alex Schwartz at the Boston-based Owlchemy Labs, claims — a satire on the harsh realities of the immigration system in the United States?
And why would anyone touch the thorny immigration issue by creating this kind of an app? “We felt like this issue was kind of a bit taboo for games and popular media,” Schwartz explained to the AP. “So we wanted to build something… about this struggle that we could put into our work and out passion, which is making games.”
Owlchemy discusses the genesis of the game in The story behind Smuggle Truck, a section the developers added to the website.
“With a satirical eye on a real issue, we want to create a game that is fun to play but also stirs up discussion on ways to improve the problematic immigration system in the United States… Smuggle Truck was inspired by the frustration our friends have experienced in trying to immigrate to the United States …This idea originated as a result of learning that the process of legal immigration was not as straightforward as we had assumed. As we lived through a painful 12 months of our friend struggling through the absurd legal minefield that surrounds U.S. immigration, we felt that we should create a game that touches on the issue,” the story goes.
Immigration advocacy groups, however, are not amused.
“I don’t think that people who are trying to emigrate into the U.S. think they are part of a game,” Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, a Somerville, MA-based Latino immigrant advocacy group said in an interview with the AP. “They do it because they are desperate.”
Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrants & Refugee Advocacy Coalition believes the game trivializes the seriousness of immigrants willing to risk their lives under a broken immigration system.
“Last year, 170 human beings died crossing the border. It’s disgraceful that anyone would try to make money out of this tragedy by making light of it in a game,” Millona said in statement.
Thanu Yakupitiyage of the New York Immigration Coalition echoed Millona’s feelings in an interview with New York’s Daily News. “This game pokes fun and trivializes the harsh reality of our current immigration policy that leads people to putting their lives at stake and embarking on dangerous border crossings.”
But not everyone has reacted negatively to the Smuggle Truck concept. Schwartz and his team have tested the game in public. “We’d go around to Starbucks in Boston and we’d kind of bring the game around our laptop and get feedback . . . from random strangers,” Schwartz told the AP. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Steve Kropper, co-director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform, a bi-partisan group that seeks immigration restrictions, laughed when he heard about Smuggle Truck according to the AP story. “In America, we are used to trivializing everything,” Kropper said.
Schwartz insists he never meant to offend anyone. He says his team is open to ideas and changes so that immigrant groups are more comfortable with the game. Owlchemy has already altered the appearance of the immigrants so that they don’t look so specifically Mexican. And the developers say they have opened up a contest for suggestions from outside programmers. The prize? Your face on one of the immigrants.
But are superficial changes enough to alleviate concerns? Should Apple approve Smuggle Truck for release? Even if Smuggle Truck never sees the light of the app store, one thing’s for certain, the developers have, indeed, stirred up discussion.
So is Smuggle Truck high satire, or just in poor taste? You decide. And let us know in the comments.
But first, take a look at the Smuggle Truck trailer:
Photo screen grab from YouTube video
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.