BEAUMONT, Texas – A Lamar University student wants people to sympathize with the plight of illegal immigrants, so he created a video game to illustrate the perils of cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
The game, Borders, lets players assume the role of illegal immigrant to roam through the desert with the ultimate goal of crossing into the United States. Along the way, players must dodge attacks from gun-toting border agents known as “la migra” and helicopters called “los mosquos” by jumping in bushes and sprinting through the desert.
The game’s sombrero-wearing illegal immigrant must also collect water to keep hydrated on the journey, and those caught by border patrol or who perish from dehydration turn to permanent skeletons in the game’s landscape as a reminder of the dangerous trek.
Lamar University student Gonzalo Alvarez told the Lamar University Press he was inspired to create the game with fellow students Jon Digaicomo and Genaro Vallejo Reyes by his parents’ experience crossing the border before he was born.
“ … It was just kind of taking my parents’ experience, and creating something the people could interact with, simulating what it’s like,” he said. “Now people get to experience it themselves and try to beat the game, because the game is actually kind of hard.”
Alvarez, an art student, put the game on a computer and created a stand resembling a traditional arcade game that’s now on display in the university’s Sol Gallery until March 3, according to his website.
The theme works well with the game’s 8-bit graphics, a deliberately low-tech approach Alverez said is designed to better connect players with the reality of illegal immigrants.
KBMT reports roughly 6,000 illegal immigrants have died in the desert attempting to cross into the U.S. since the year 2000.
“I went with pixel art style, because of its minimalism [and how it] allows for creative stimulation from the viewer,” Alvarez told the University Press. “You can’t really tell what it is — but you can tell what it is — and that ambiguity allows players to portray themselves in the character without necessarily seeing the character as an entity.”
“So this isn’t Joe, this isn’t Bob, this isn’t Jose — this is just, essentially, a vessel for you to put yourself in. You kind of become the character,” he said.
The art installation has been played hundreds of times since he created it last year, many symbolized by the growing piles of bones in the game’s virtual desert.
“The goal was to publicly install this game and have as many people as possible play the game to expose them of what its really like to cross the border while building up a mass grave a skeletons,” Alvarez wrote on his website.
“As of now there are over 400 skeletons in the game, created by the people who played the game and died. These will symbolically live on in the machine as a physical memorial to those who didn’t make it. If you do happen to cross the border you are met with a hopeful image of a bright city in a sunset as well as putting down your name in the leader boards which serves to commemorate those who made it.”
Borders is available for free download, though Alvarez is accepting donations.