ICED Game Review – Breakthrough

02/27/08: Updated: It’s hard for me to be too harsh on the game because of its intent. However, I do think it could have been put together a little better. The decisions your character is faced with in the game, and the assumptions about migrants that can be drawn from those decisions, are easy prey for nativists.

ICED game logo

I’ve spent some time playing the ICED video game and will provide some input. The game is designed much like many popular first person games, but thankfully without the gun or shooting (though you’re challenged as to whether or not you should pick one up). The game is based on a city like New York and you essentially run around doing good deeds, answering questions, and are challenged with opportunities to break the law. These challenges include picking up a gun, jumping a turnstile, spray painting a wall and stealing a car. If you analyze the game closely it seems to focus more on those opportunities to commit crimes.The game does not allow you to interact with the world you’re in directly. To interact with another character who may ask you to vote, join the military or buy counterfeit DVD’s you simply walk up to them. I chose the character Suki who came here as a student, but did not realize there was a credit hour requirement for his legal residence. Having taken only nine hours in college he had violated his conditions of stay and therefore was considered to be here unlawfully.

Game Characters

After you pick your character the game loads. The following message is scrolled up the screen as the game is prepared:

Breathrough: Building Human Rights culture

Since 196 almost 2 million people have been deported from the U.S.

No one is safe from deportation – the sick and elderly, pregnant women, families, Green Card holders and even people escaping other countries where they might have been tortured for their beliefs.

Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants being detained in horrendous conditions. They have no idea of their destiny.

They do not have access to due process.

They are not given the legal rights that U.S. citizens have.

Are these are American values?

It is a myth that detaining immigrants keeps America safe.

In fact, detaining immigrants breaks up families and destroys their lives.

Moving through the first part of the game you come upon hand icons which give you points for doing good deeds such as planting a tree, adopting a cat, becoming a big brother helping the homeless and donating blood. I wasn’t sure how some of these good deeds could be achieved given the fact that you’re trying to keep a low profile (in the game), but I understand the idea that a person’s citizenship status has nothing to do with what’s in their hearts. Sadly though, what’s in your heart is not taken into consideration when you’re before an immigration judge. As the game taught me an immigration judge cannot make considerations based on the person before them.

Image From Game

Throughout the game there are also light bulb icons which ask you questions about immigration and undocumented migrants. Many of the questions have to do with things that can cause someone to be deported.

Myth vs FactThis Myth vs Fact asks “The main reasons people are forced to live their home country are war, human rights violations and lack of employment.” Of course, the correct answer is “fact”. Another question in the game asks if lax border security has led to a mass influx of undocumented migrants. The answer to that questions (contrary to popular belief) is “false”. Many migrants are overstayed visas and are therefore considered undocumented.The game presents you with various scenarios where you are asked to make decisions such as: providing false documentation to gain employment, signing up for the military, buying counterfeit dvds and spray painting a wall. Of course each of these scenarios could cause you to be singled out by the law and deported. It is this part of the game that is hard to understand. For those against migrants this is perfect food for their finger pointing as it assumes that migrants are constantly being faced with decisions to break the law in this manner. I understand the “it’s the law” crowd when talking about immigration, but there’s a big difference between being in a country without permission and stealing a car. I think the game would have been more effective if it was more of a true simulation game that allows you to interact with your environment. However, I understand the cost of such a game might have been prohibitive.Answering the questions correctly keeps you out of trouble, but once you’ve gone through every checkpoint in the game you are still pursued by immigration officers. I found that hiding in the alley worked pretty well, but then I had to make a run out of there to see what would happen. Luckily I was presented with citizenship.


After the thrill of winning citizenship you are given the opportunity to celebrate by being placed into a detention center.


There was more complexity in trying to go through the various checkpoints in the detention center and it seemed as though there was no way out. I’m sure this is similar to what many migrants are going through. In this portion of the game you learn about the horrors of immigrant detention centers – horrors such as those recently posted about on the Damn Mexicans blog.

After running around the detention center for a while I gave up and conceded to being deported.


Though the game did tell me that I wouldn’t be able to apply for citizenship for a long time by taking this route I did not want to continue in the detention center. The terrible irony is that I was bored running around the detention center and felt as though I’d never get out while for many people this is a real situation that I cannot even imagine. This scenario made me feel as though these detention centers were designed to break the migrants and force them to concede to deportation. I can’t imagine spending one day in a place like. What’s worse is you can be constantly moved from center to center and your family may not be kept together.

When looking at this game I tried to see it from various perspectives. People that are compassionate to this cause or who just want to learn about the injustices this is a good game. I believe you have to be open to something like this in order to receive its benefits. For those on the anti-immigrant front they will probably not be moved be this game though I’d like to think they could be.

(link to write-up on MTV’s website)


9 thoughts on “ICED Game Review – Breakthrough”

  1. Good review.

    To be honest I was a little dissapointed with the game. I felt like they taught too much through words and questions on the scree and not enough through gameplay. The questions are also worded in a way that those hostile to migrants will not even pay attention to them. It’s better than nothing, though, and it’s gotten a lot of press.

  2. I agree, but I guess making the game more interactive and robust would have taken a lot more time and money.

    The other problem with making the game too interative and real is that it would be too disturbing to play. Most games don’t represent a true reality, aside from possibly war games, but having this game too real I know I wouldn’t have been able to play it.

    I think people in general prefer whimsical games rather than violent ones which is why the Wii is surpasing other game systems in the market. So hopefully for those people that take the time to play this game it will be enough to move them on some level.

  3. Yeah, I didn’t find the game very interesting either, at least when I look at it from an outsider’s point of view. Since I’m already interested in immigration, I went through it, but if I were just a gamer who was curious I probably would have given up after a couple of minutes.

    One thing that weirded me out was the decisions that you were supposed to make, because they all seemed negative–spraypaint graffiti on the wall or no, steal this car or no, which were, um…interesting choices. Now, the game kept freezing on me, so I only say about 8 of these decisions, but they all seemed negative to me and didn’t really highlight the completely innocuous and everyday things that an immigrant can do which could get them deported, such as forget to report an address change or drive without a license.

    All the same, I’m with you in the hope that for some people this game will spark an interest in the situation many immigrants find themselves in, both undocumented and documented. And yes, it is a great review. 🙂

  4. You’re right about the decisions. That’s something I felt when playing the game too, but forgot to include in the review. What those decisions seem to do is imply that as an undocumented migrant you’re always deciding whether or not to do something illegal. In some sense it implies that undocumented migrants are inherently law breakers. This is a terrible stereotype we’re trying to remove so it’s definitely not a good thing. However, this may have been intentional in an effort to teach people that migrants, just as themselves, do not run around picking up guns, spray painting walls and stealing cars. In some sense the lawlessness of the character mirrors the empathy and morality of the player. If they choose to break the law in the game then they’re either desirous to do so themselves or they’re simply mocking the character and the game for amusement. (which of course is twisted)

    Thinking about the game more the migrants in this game seem to have no choice but to run around aimlessly making decisions about whether or not to break the law while occasionally contributing to their community. They aren’t even allowed to work in the game even though we know that many migrants have jobs without needing to provide false documentation to get them. In the end (or at least as far as I got), when you’re put in the detention center, you basically run around the detention center until you decide to concede deportation.

    Playing the game, I also had problems with the it freezing, but after trying in on a different computer it worked much better.

  5. From the moment ICED starts up, you know we’re in trouble. You see, ICED (which stands for “I Can End Deportation”) is a “game for change,” in this case one that advocates for reform of immigration policy, its stance being pro-immigrant. During the initial loading screen, voice-over and scrolling text tells us “No one is safe from deportation–the sick and elderly, pregnant women, families…” And so on.

  6. I don’t get it… Most nations, Mexico included take a far stronger stance against illegal immigration and yet it’s the United States which is vilified. You should see what the attitude is in Europe towards immigrants, even legal immigrants.

    This game is basically playing fast and loose with the facts and practically encouraging illegal activities.

    What I resent is this attitude that if you’re against illegal immigration you’re somehow against immigration in general.

    I completely embrace immigration; America was built on immigration. That doesn’t mean, however, that illegal immigration is right.

    I don’t understand the fantasy land people live in who believe that illegal immigration doesn’t have a detrimental impact on this nation. Look at what California and other border states are enduring.

    These people come to the US, put a burden on the system by using it’s social services. Even if it’s not their intention they’re eventually forced into it, whether it be for medical reasons or something else. But because they’re here illegally and paid under the table they don’t actually contribute to the system. The most they contribute is via sales tax, which isn’t much, because it’s not like they can afford much of anything.

    Employers love these people because they can get away with paying them so little and in some cases can even be abuse. It’s not quite on the level of slavery but I’d argue it’s exploitive.

    Making all illegal immigrants in the country today legal would certainly address the problem for those already here. The problem is that it will only encourage countless more to stream across the border. So at which point do we decide enough is enough?

    I love how that game calls for an end to deportation. Are they telling me that even if an illegal immigrant commits a crime we cant deport them? So we should all pay to have that guy jailed in our prisons?

    I didn’t want to get into a tirade on immigration, but that stupid game really got to me.

  7. It looks like you did get into a tirade and I’d suggest doing a little more research on immigration and the real costs not the ones issued by FAIR or Numbers USA. Immigrants contribute more and use less than you think.

    I hear that statement a lot:

    What I resent is this attitude that if you’re against illegal immigration you’re somehow against immigration in general.

    What I resent is the fact that the above statement is often made by people that apparently don’t know our immigration system. There is essentially no form of “legal” immigration available to many people south of the border. So yes you are essentially apposing “legal” immigrants as well.

    Let’s just be clear here. I in no way attempt to imply that everyone against undocumented migrants is hateful. Many are simply being persuaded by the anti-migrant super groups who use fear to pull you in to the “safety”. For a person that hates migrants and is prejudice I’ll probably never have a chance, but for someone that is open minded they may be able to see past the lies and hysteria from the anti-migrant groups.

    Most people have no problem disagreeing with our government regarding the war and other issues, but when it comes to immigration so many seem to think everything is fine. Well, it’s not and they need to be corrected.

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