[Update (Jan 31): In a video posted last night, Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games said that the company “stand united in strongly opposing President Trump’s immigration ban.” In the video, CEO Ted Price points out specific employees who have come to Insomniac from “around the world” and says that all the employees flanking him in the video “support our policy of non-discrimination.”
“We at Insomniac Games stand united in strongly opposing President Trump’s immigration ban,” Price said. “There’s no question that these orders will harm us as a company and many of our team members. So we ask: ‘Is this the American way? Is discriminating based on religious faith or national origin American?’ Absolutely not. This is a deplorable, discriminatory act that we and many others across the nation believe is patently unconstitutional. We have been, we are and we will always be a nation of immigrants.”
Price urges viewers to call their congressperson or reach out to an organization “creating opposition campaigns you can support.”]
In the wake of President Trump’s sweeping order to severely restrict immigration, visitation and refugee status for people from seven Muslim-majority countries this weekend, game developers and trade groups are struggling to respond in ways that protect their members and create a spreading the message of inclusivity in the gaming community.
“We embrace the fact that the passion and skill for game development knows no bounds – politically, geographically, culturally or demographically,” the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) said in a statement. “So limiting immigration based on a person’s state of origin is an ignorant knee bend [reaction] that only assumes the worst and falsely stereotypes the people of an entire culture. We are absolutely opposed to any policy by any government that would attempt to unnecessarily limit an individual’s ability to pursue their creative passion and chosen career path in game development.”
The Entertainment Software Association, which represents most major game publishers in the United States, was more cautious in its criticism of Trump’s order, saying, “The Entertainment Software Association urges the White House to exercise caution regarding to vital immigration and foreign workers programs.As a technology leading force and entertainment exporter, the U.S. video game industry thrives on the contributions of innovators and storytellers from around the world.While we recognize that improving national security and While protecting our nation’s citizens are critical goals, our companies rely on the capable talent of American citizens, foreigners and immigrants. Our nation’s actions and words should support their participation in the American economy.”
A spokesperson for the Entertainment Consumers Association, an advocacy group that focuses on gamers’ concerns, referred the ESA and IGDA to the ESA and IGDA when given a chance to respond, adding that “from the perspective of the game industry it really is a business matter.” (Update: This sentence originally misattributed the Video Game Voters Network quote. Ars regrets the mistake.)
Travel plans disrupted
Kate Edwards, executive director of the IGDA, tells Ars that Trump’s immigration orders have had little direct effect on the organization’s 8,000 members, only two of whom are registered as coming from any of the seven targeted countries. That said, Edwards added that she “knows”[s] many developers nervous about the wider implications for their immigration status in the US, including a former IGDA board member who now fears leaving the country because he may not be able to return to his home and work.”
Currently, Trump’s immigration order is disrupting international travel plans for many game developers and industry members planning conferences in the near future. The Game Developers Conference, which will host an international mix of tens of thousands of developers in San Francisco in March, tweeted over the weekend that “GDC is a global community – we are shocked by the #MuslimBan. Of course we will repay the affected participants and continue to fight for inclusivity.”
Navid Khonsari, a Canadian-Iranian developer of the critically acclaimed 1979 Revolution: Black Fridaytold Polygon that he is canceling upcoming international travel plans because, as a 17-year-old legal resident of a green card, he is unsure whether he will be able to return to America after such a trip.
“My misfortune from this uninformed, cowardly, ignorant and racist act pales in comparison to the hardships of so many others,” Khonsari told Polygon. “This humble position reminds me of why I made 1979 revolution—we must learn from history and not repeat it.”
British developer Shahid Kamal Ahmad said in a series from tweets that he is canceling his plans to go to GDC “given the current confusion, until the US position is clear…I may have legal grounds for going to GDC, but I’m not going to waste money trying to find out. I be on a list anyway… The video game industry will certainly suffer from this ban. The primary beneficiary will be Canada.”
It’s not just developers from other countries who have been affected by Trump’s actions. Brandon Sheffield, a US developer for Necrosoft, writes to Gamasutra that he has had to cancel his plans to attend the upcoming Tehran Game Convention because Iran may be barring US citizens from entering the country in response to Trump’s order.
“Make no mistake, this censors art,” Sheffield writes. “Art is often a vehicle for peace and understanding. For centuries, intercultural exchange of art has been a bridge that helps people understand where they have common ground…I’ve understood so much more about these places and where people come by simply having different kinds of people to work together. What an opportunity for understanding we are missing here!”
For example, Sheffield points out that Mahdi Bahrami, who won the 2014 IGF Student Showcase Award for his breathtaking work, would not be able to come to GDC to receive that award if he won it this year.
Some individual independent developers are putting their money where their mouth is to protest Trump’s order. Playdots, Inc., the company behind the popular dots series of smartphone games, took the unusual step of inserting a message and ACLU donation link visible to anyone who loads their games Two dots or Points & Co. during the weekend.
“As a US company, we value the diversity of our team and our players,” the in-game message reads. “We believe America should be a welcoming place, especially for the most needy, wherever they come from and whatever their religion. Please join us in standing up for civil rights.” Playdot co-founder and CEO Paul Murphy told Kotaku that 250,000 people had clicked an attached link to go to the ACLU website so far.