"Smuggle Truck: Operation Immigration," the self-proclaimed "premiere smuggling game on the App Store" (we'd hate to see all the not premiere ones) has initiated a half-assed online debate over how lightly the border-hopping situation between Mexico and the U.S. should be taken.
To a bunch of holed-up gamers in Boston, the answer is, of course, let the good times roll. For non-profit orgs in the immigration biz who deal with flesh 'n' bones desert death tolls and human-rights abuses on a daily basis, however, the iPhone/iPod/iPad (or how 'bout just iP^3?) smuggling app is a total slap in the face.
We were sort of split on the matter --
after all, catapulting innocent (if angry) animals into a giant fort-like booby trap isn't very nice, either -- until we saw this video of a preliminary glitch in the new game:
This just got weird.
From another YouTube test run of "Smuggle Truck," these are the kind of absent-minded sentences that leave the gamer's mouth:
The objective is to carry "three or more cargo -- live cargo, that is -- in under 30 seconds." Then, you can win the "Green Card award"! But on the next level, "you have to be really careful not to lose all your immigrants." Now, focus on "going as fast as possible -- ignoring all the babies, so [you] can go even faster."
Wow. Game creators Owlchemy claim they're actually being quite progressive:
"Smuggle Truck was inspired by the frustration our friends have experienced in trying to immigrate to the United States. With such a troublesome issue being largely avoided in popular media, especially video games, we felt the best way to criticize it was with an interactive satire.
In Smuggle Truck, players are driving a truck with passengers in the back, bringing them over a fictional border. 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 comment was thrown around that "it's so tough to legally immigrate to the U.S., it's almost easier to smuggle yourself over the border", and thus Smuggle Truck was born. A two-day prototype eventually turned into an iPhone game, with the plan to reach as many players as possible.
Throughout the creation of the game, we maintained a meticulous eye to avoid depicting stereotypes and specific locales. Through user testing and feedback from fellow developers and even random strangers, we worked to represent the game in a more abstracted form.
With a satirical angle 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."
OK -- we're calling BS. That manifesto is more saturated in crowd-pleasing "making a change" cheese than our freaking college-entrance essays.
But they're right about the landscape: It's a pretty androgynous mix of California, Arizona and Texas' southernmost desert terrain. Honestly, the lease accurate part is how easy it is to complete the crossing -- no abusive Border Patrol, no corrupt coyotes or kidnappers, no nothin'. Here's the whole trailer:
NBC Los Angeles interviewed some immigrant aid orgs, who are... definitely not laughing. (Come on, guys: Haven't you heard "Illegal Immigrants' 'Anchor Babies' Took $53 Million In Welfare Services In L.A. County In 2010"?)
"Last year 170 human beings died crossing the border," said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrants & Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
Millona said the game is in poor taste and trivializes the seriousness of immigrants willing to risk their lives to cross 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.
Patricia Montes, executive director of another Massachusetts-based Latino immigrant advocacy group, agrees.
"I don't think people who are trying to emigrate to the U.S. think they are part of a game," Montes said. "They do it because they are desperate."
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Still, it may not be quite the "iPhone App Draws Outrage" situation that Fox News Latino is dubbing it. Immigrant aid workers have far better things to do than be "outraged" about an amateur, slightly racist time-killer.
(Want to see an app that really gets to the bottom of the issue? These UC San Diego professors have a water-locator -- or Transborder Immigrant Tool -- for stranded immigrants, and it works on both smart and crap phones, instead of just the Apple dynasty.)
You tell us: Does "Smuggle Truck" cross the line, per say?