Is iOS Game 'Smuggle Truck' as Controversial as it Looks?

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It's an iPhone, iPad and web game that lets you smuggle immigrants across the border in a bounding purple truck. And it's upsetting people who've never played it.

Developer Owlchemy Labs calls Smuggle Truck "the premiere smuggling game on the App Store." Well, not counting others like Hyperspace Smuggler, which have nothing to do with immigration (intergalactic or otherwise) as far as I know.

Imagine an arcade-style game in which a jouncing slate truck races across side-scrolling cactus-punctuated hardpan. Stuffed in the back are "immigrants" that look a bit like matryoshka dolls. When the truck bounces (or leaps to clear huge pits, dead animals, and other obstacles) the immigrants kick into the air like flung tenpins. By speeding up or slowing down (the game employs rudimentary physics) you can "catch" them. If you miss, your score drops.

Owlchemy says the game "was inspired by the frustration our friends have experienced in trying to immigrate to the United States." The company believes the actual process of immigrating is "largely avoided" in the media and "especially [in] video games," and thus wanted to critique it with an "interactive satire."

Satire indeed. The video teaser includes the sort of rousing orchestral music you'd expect of a Michael Bay movie. Immigrants thrown into the air cry "Wheeeee!" and "Whooooa!" Catching flung babies appears to be worth extra points. Players are awarded green cards for saving immigrants' lives. If you just drive crazy (but save at least one life) you can win a reckless driving award. And levels end Mario-like, as your truck leaps past a flagpole on the other side of a checkpoint.

See for yourself.

It's hard to say what the real public reaction is, since the game's not available. The media's generalizing a handful of Facebook comments into headlines like 'iPhone App Draws Outrage'. Bloggers who've apparently only seen the video or read the preliminary knee-jerk stories are hopping onboard, expressing indignation, shock, outrage, etc.

I'm not so sure myself. Controversy incites controversy, whatever the medium, whatever the position taken. Tendentious games hoping to stir debate probably will. It's certainly possible to get a game like this wrong, even if the mechanics work. It's also possible to get it right, even if some (or even many) are offended.

What do you think: Does Smuggle Truck appear to trivialize the immigration issue (based on the video, admittedly a poor source for passing judgement)? Or is that precisely its point? Is it really a shrewd and ironic commentary on the way some trivialize the actual experience of crossing the border? Or just a moneymaking ploy?

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