Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Border Crossing

After going through so many border checks last week, from France to England and from England to the U.S., I've been especially conscious of immigration trajectories and the evaluative exercises associated with border-crossing. During my trip, I often found myself making cynical procedural calculations about who might and might not be an asylum-seeker when choosing which passport-processing line to enter. After listening to the moving memoir of Haitian immigrant and niece of an asylum-seeker Edwidge Danticat on NPR today, I'm feeling a little guilty about distancing myself from their plight.

In my virtual life, I recently played Ian Bogost's persuasive game Points of Entry not as a potential immigrant, but as a federal officer judging the cases of applicants for entry. Unlike many videogames, there was considerable prefatory material that explained the rules of the game, which indicated that the game was designed for those who rarely played videogames and might not want to use trial-and-error to figure out the rules. The game's premise is that you are using the Kennedy point system to determine if a given immigrant is eligible for entry, but you have a God-like power to change the immigrants age, education, family members already in the United States, etc. in order to make their score optimized for entry. The mathematical catch is that you are competing against another inspector, and you need to shave points to generate higher index numbers by minimal margins in comparison to your opponent. And, of course, like many of Bogost's games, your work as a federal employee involves tremendous clock-ticking time pressure -- whether as a TSA screener, as a food import inspector, or as an immigration inspector. Actually I think that there is often less time/output pressure in government work than in many jobs in the private sector and that the challenges of delivering government services effectively often have more to do with a murky knowledge landscape where it's hard to know the scope of the problem rather than merely dashing through varying tasks as quickly as possible.

This fall, a 3D downloadable game called Iced from Breakthrough Games will be available to highlight the daily dilemmas of immigrant teens. The title comes from an acronym for "I Can End Deportation," and the game was recently featured in an article in The Los Angeles Times called "Immigration debate finds itself in play." As the article points out there are also ultra-racist games about the subject, such as the repugnant Border Patrol, which was reviewed here a year and a half ago.

As VP pal Dan McGrath has pointed out, the Internet may have played a significant role in ending the debate in Congress about the Kennedy-McCain Immigration Bill, S.1033, also known as the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act. When anti-immigration bloggers decided to close-read or "dissect" the text, often by using the distributed labor made possible by collective Internet practices, they disseminated line-by-line commentaries on the voluminous piece of legislation in entries with titles like "The Immigration Bill Dissected," "Summary Of The Fine Print Read, And NZ's Easy To Use Text," and "Immigration Bill: Online and Awaiting Your Comments."

When it comes to my own relationship with the 50 United States, I much prefer online casual games like 50 States in 10 Minutes or Statetris.

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