Points of Entry
Click “play” in Ian Bogost’s browser game Points of Entry and the description above the game screen reads as follows: “Compete to award more Green Cards than your coworker under the Merit-Based Evaluation System proposed by the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Legislation.” The player is presented with an immigrant who starts out with a number of traits including their occupation, experience level, age, level of education, if they already have a job or offer, proficiency in English, and whether or not they have any family ties in the United States. Increasing most of the stats will increase the immigrant’s overall score which ranges from 0-100. Being a lawyer or computer programmer increases the score exponentially while being a food service or construction worker drops it. It is almost impossible to win with an immigrant who has no formal education. The player has to beat the computer controlled opponent’s score, but not by too much in order to maximize their score. They are placed on a 40 second timer. The game was originally published in the online version of the New York Times but is sadly no longer there. It still remains on Persuasive Game’s website.
As the introduction indicates, this was a demonstration on how the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Legislation of 2007 would have functioned if passed. As represented in the game, it would grant work visas to immigrants only if they were worthwhile workers and family reunification visas to members of nuclear families. It was designed to be a compromise between liberals who wanted a clear line to citizen ship and conservatives who wanted increased border control (as it also came with funding for patrol vehicles, agents, radar towers, etc.) The bill never passed but the game looks at what circumstances might arise if it had. The player is put in the position of not the immigrant but the immigration worker, effectively forcing the player to play as themselves and not in a hypothetical situation in which they are an immigrant. The player is then forced in a fast paced scenario to gauge a person’s worth, evaluate it, and move onto the next one. In this way, the people are seen less as people but as numbers and statistics, seen not as their merits as human being but as the most suitable parts of the economic machine. No matter how understanding or compassionate the player is, if they want to win they have to accept the fact that non-English speakers, the lower educated, those without family ties, without much experience, or after a certain age are worth far less than their “more valuable” peers.
“It is often though games that solutions are developed and scenarios tested. This conversation allows the public to not just talk about the issues, but also experience “play the game” and provide solutions, other system flaws, understanding and agreement.” Paige6. (2010). Persuasive Games: Food Import Folly and Points of Entry.
This quote from a blog entry on Paige6 also references Persuasive Game’s (of which Bogost is a founding member and primary designer) Food Import Folly. It is a similar sort of concept to Points of Entry as the player works under time constraints at the United States border except with this food is taken in and expected rather than people. There is an overwhelming rush of food imports coming in over the border and in order to win the player must keep out contaminated food. While this is a criticism about the FDA and not immigration reform, the two juxtapose in an interesting way. In both cases the undesirables must be kept out. With food it is an understandable goal with far too little funding. In the case of immigration, it can be considered quite unfair and with too much funding in the way of security. Also, is it possible we are looking at the immigrants as we are looking at food? As something beneficial to us and not as their own entities?
Interestingly, Points of Entry is not the only noteworthy game centered around the life of an immigration worker. The independent game Papers, Please by developer Lucas Pope also capitalizes on this idea. Papers, Please takes place in the dystopian country Arstotzka rather than the United States so the political commentary is not as obvious (as well as the fact the game takes on a Soviet mood) and the undesirables that are screened out are terrorists, criminals, and smugglers. However, all immigrants are subjected to a long and invasive process that includes interviews, fingerprinting, and body scans. It is less about how people’s worth is evaluated and more about how they are treated, almost as guilty until proven innocent. In fact, this aspect is more similar to another one of Bogost’s games, Airport Insecurity, which highlights the price people must pay in order to be free of terrorism and other foreign threats. But both clearly illustrate the effects of tight border security, how a desire to keep the population “clean” dehumanizes the people coming through it.
Bogost describes his games as a platform to discuss political topics in an interactive medium that is perfect for creative expression. On an interview on The Colbert Report, he described his games as existing in a different genre than most games. He says his are mainstream and others more niche as everyone cares, at least a little, about politics and the larger workings of the world while far less or concerned with roleplaying as a soldier or elven wizard. His games are designed for everyone to play in a way that is easy to understand. Especially given that many of his games were commissioned by such organizations as Humana, the UK Clinical Virology Network, and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, it is easy to see that his games are meant to be not only informative but make dull seeming issues more interesting, making the player want to learn more. How does he feel about the McCain-Kennedy bill?
“The promise of one single method to judge the absolute merit of immigrant workers demonstrates the real value of contemporary domestic policy: bureaucracy itself…games might allow citizens to experience the implications of legislation more directly. Points of Entry offers one example of such a practice.” Bogost, Ian. Points of Entry.
More of Ian Bogost’s Games and Work:
Interviews and References: