La migra is a video game by Rafael Fajardo that deals with the subject of Mexican immigration into the U.S., and the process of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In the game, Mexican immigrants try to cross the Rio Grande while avoiding floating tires, drowning cats and fellow countrymen. The game plays like the 1981 Frogger arcade game. The main immigrants, after crossing the Rio Grande, must also cross Interstate 10 to get past the border patrol. The player controls the border patrol car, and can shoot bullets and handcuffs to the hopeful immigrants in an effort to thwart their immigration efforts.
Fajardo is part of the collective Games for change, which aims at using video games to make social and cultural comments. La Migra is part of SWEAT, an ongoing collaborative project, which focuses on making culturally investigative games. As explained by Fajardo, in this case,
“The arcade classic, Frogger, was taken as source material for simulating cultural realities at the US-Mexico border, specifically at El Paso-Ciudad Juarez. I attempted to create a multi-level critique through the piece, of culture, of games, and of technology.” (http://www.dailytoreador.com/archives/crossing-over-immigration-and-video-games-merge/article_a2204fda-533e-5238-a673-d23009356050.html)
The game rewards the player for not shooting the immigrants, as a way of denouncing the drastic and disproportionate punishments that Mexicans risk facing while attempting to cross the border. As explained by Fajardo, “You're not going to be rewarded for shooting and killing because the body, the carcass, is going to stay there.” Shot immigrants remain where they have been killed for the rest of the game, bathing in a pool of their own blood. Talking about a Mexican he has killed by accident, Fajardo explains that "He's there to remind me of my shame, (…) You actually don't get to win the day by killing."
La Migra is the second version of another game by Fajardo called Crosser. The roles have been switched between the two games. In Crosser, the player is the Mexican hopeful trying to make it past the border and ‘la migra’. Fajardo’s goal, through these two games, is showing both sides of the immigration dilemma. As explained by Carlos Bergfeld, “From the perspective of each party, they may be attempting noble causes - trying to secure a future for their family or working for their government - although their paths ultimately must conflict”. (http://www.dailytoreador.com/archives/crossing-over-immigration-and-video-games-merge/article_a2204fda-533e-5238-a673-d23009356050.html) "If you've got a high school diploma and you want a good federal job, la migra's not a bad option,” Fajardo adds.
Papers, Please (2013)
Another video game that deals with immigration and its moral implications is Papers, Please by Lucas Pope. In this game, which was released in 2013, the player becomes an immigration officer and decides who to let in or exclude from the fictional dystopian country of Arstotzka. The game opposes the moral implications of making such decisions to the pragmatic needs of real life by rewarding the player with virtual money with each case processed. The player can also accept bribes, but these ways of earning money come with the risk of letting terrorists in if a case has not been looked thoroughly enough, as well as moral dilemmas such as separating families. At the end of the day, the immigration officer needs to use this money for food, rent and heat for himself and his family.
Fajardo’s games, just like Papers, Please, allow the use of video games as a tool of reflection on social issues. Bringing up these issues within a ludic context provide more engagement from the audience, and offers a greater reach potential than other forms of social comments, as anyone can be drawn by the playful experience which can then grow into more of a reflective, awareness-building and thought-provoking experience. Perspective is key in all of these games. They show that issues that tend to be seen as “black or white”, especially in the U.S. where people have very emotional responses to the issue of immigration, are more complex than they may seem when looked at from another person’s standpoint. Crossing the border to seize the opportunity of a better future for your family and working a border patrol federal job in order to provide for you and yours may conflict with each other, but have the same fundamental motivations. Taking the risk of letting terrorists into your country because your family needs food and shelter shows another conflict of interest. By putting the player in the shoes of these people facing these dilemmas, these games allow us to expand the breadth of our opinions in more subtle, yet effective ways than raw reports or information, which people tend to reject unless they reinforce their pre-existing points of view.
State of Play: Games with an agenda, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, Australia, 2005
Discoveries Lecture University of Denver, CO, 2004
Image, Space, Object Lecture Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, Denver, CO, 2004
In House University of Denver Faculty Tri-ennial, CO, 2004
Ideas International Digital Media and Art Association annual conference and exhibition, Orlando, FL, 2004
Digital Libre Chicano Humanities and Arts Council, Denver, CO, 2004
Power | Play International Film Festival of Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2004
International Symposium of Interactive Media Design, Istanbul, Turkey, 2004
Pixels, Politics & Play ver. 3 Lecture at Museum of Contemporary Art / Denver, CO, 2003
Pixels, Politics & Play ver. 1 Lecture at Popular Culture Association National Conference 2003
Design Along the Edge Lecture invited to give to AIGA Seattle and Space.City, Seattle, WA, 2003
Design Along the Edge Lecture invited to give to AIGA Colorado, Denver, CO, 2002
Fajardo, Rafael. “Pixels, Politics & Play (ver. 2)”. Intelligent Agent Magazine. Patrick Lichty, ed. Volume 3, number 2. Summer/Fall 2003.