A video game wants to change how we look at an international tragedy.
It's a powerful look at humanity.
Europe is in the midst of a dire migrant crisis. This year, Germany alone expects 800,000 people to claim asylum.
Many of the would-be immigrants are fleeing war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Others are simply trying to escape parts of Africa and the Middle East that have been hit with famine and crushing poverty.
The journey can be perilous. An estimated 2,500 have drowned this year crossing the Mediterranean Sea, one of the riskiest routes to Europe. Asylum seekers often report violence and abuse during their journeys.
A video game seeks to change how we think about the crisis and humanize how we view migrants.
While the EU governments continue to debate what to do about the crisis, London-based game developer Francois Alliot (he also goes by the name "Nerial") and his collaborator Arnaud De Bock took on a project to help humanize an often faceless collection of stats and numbers. Together, they created "Passengers," a game that puts the player in the position of a smuggler trying to assist refugees and asylum-seekers making their way to Europe.
The game is a bit like a modern take on "The Oregon Trail."
"Passengers" highlights some of the tough decisions facing both smugglers and migrants.
The game starts with two decisions: Where are you going? and Who are you taking?
Not every person hoping to make the dangerous trip will be able to. You're put in the position of deciding who you'll take with you, and who gets left behind. Do you take the scholar? Do you bring the accountant? Do you bring the former criminal?
In my first time through the game, I took as many people along for the ride as I could. Even then, remembering that these people all represent real stories playing out in the real world, I was left feeling that it's unfair that others would be left behind.
In the end of that first play-through, everyone lost. Including the "lucky" passengers selected.
After a number of passengers died along the way, my poor boat capsized after being hit by a storm. There were no winners. Whether lost at sea or left on shore, the characters were gone.
In Europe, the political gridlock around immigration can be just as bad as in the United States.
The U.S. has its own challenging political situation when it comes to immigration. We have over 11 million undocumented immigrants hanging in a perpetual state of limbo, and despite the fact that presidential candidates seem to talk a lot about it, Congress hasn't delivered a comprehensive solution in decades.
The issue is different in the European Union, which has 28 member countries (and no shortage of diverging opinions). But similar to the U.S., migrants in Europe are also struggling for their rights.
If we value human life, a safe haven must be available to all. These preventable deaths at sea are unacceptable.
Perhaps Nerial's game will spark more public interest in addressing the problem at hand. After all, if the immigration system wasn't so broken, people wouldn't need to take such dangerous routes to their destination.
Perhaps it simply serves as a reminder to be grateful for what we have. In either case, it's amazing how such a simple game can have such a profound effect on the player's own sense of morality and self-worth.
There is a human cost to any government's inaction on immigration. Thanks to one game, that became a bit more clear.