Videogame Sparks Controversy

Washington, Feb 9 (IANS/EFE) A videogame that will be in the stores this March, and which invites users to drive a pickup truck full of undocumented immigrants without losing any while trying to get them across the border, has sparked a heated controversy.

"Smuggle Truck: Operation Immigration" is the creation of Boston-based Owlchemy Labs.

The company's founder, 23-year-old Alex Schwartz, and partner Yilmaz Kiymaz, said they are not trying to make fun of the immigration problem but to raise awareness about it.

"'Smuggle Truck' was inspired by the frustration our friends have experienced in trying to immigrate to the United States," Owlchemy says on its web site.

"With such a troublesome issue being largely avoided in popular media, especially videogames, we felt the best way to criticise it was with an interactive satire."

Owlchemy Labs describes as a "minefield" the procedures required to enter the US legally, and says that at a certain point the programmers mentioned that with so many difficulties, it's almost easier to try and cross the border illegally.

The company says it hopes the game "stirs up discussion on ways to improve the problematic immigration system in the United States".

But those arguments failed to convince pro-immigrant groups.

"We believe the problem of illegal immigration is not a game and neither are the deaths on the border," Jorge-Mario Cabrera, communications director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told EFE.

A similar opinion was voiced by Katherine Vargas, spokeswoman for the National Immigration Forum, who said that people shouldn't minimise the importance of such a complex subject with what she described as "bad-taste images that perpetuate the negative prejudices against Hispanics and immigrants".

In its brief video, Owlchemy shows a pickup full of immigrants racing at top speed over a dry, mountainous desert landscape dotted with cactus plants.

The high speed and the holes in the road shoot some of the undocumented immigrants out of the bouncing vehicle before they are able to cross the US border.

The videogame awards medals to players that allow them to move up to play at higher levels.

The "Green Card", as the document is known that guarantees permanent residence in the US, goes to those players who drive slowly and manage to get all the undocumented immigrants into the country safe and sound.



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