In one of the first detailed interviews he has given since learning that his controversial SMUGGLE TRUCK immigration game was banned from Apple’s App Store, Alex Schwartz of Owlchemy Labs admitted that that the initial uproar about the game earlier this year was “merited,” but he is still determined to showcasing the game in the market.
Owlchemy released a statement last week about Apple’s ban and how the game company plans to sell the game via PC and Apple non-app versions. Also, a variation of the game called SNUGGLE TRUCK is available at the App Store.
We interviewed Schwartz via email today. Here is what he had to share:
FB: Did Apple give you a specific reason as to why they banned Smuggle Truck?
AS: Our communications with Apple are unfortunately under NDA so we cannot discuss the reasons for the denial other than the fact that the rejection was based on content.
FB: Why did you create an adapted version of Smuggle Truck called Snuggle Truck?
AS: Smuggle Truck was denied from the App Store due to content reasons. Snuggle Truck was our way to get the fun and excitement you see people experiencing in our gameplay trailer to the App Store.
FB: Most Latino organizations we know only (particularly Being Latino and Latinos in Social Media) were and have been extremely critical of the Smuggle Truck game. Was this criticism merited, in your opinion?
AS: I think the criticism was merited back when the initial news broke in early February. When the stories came out, all that was available for people to judge our game was a 20-second teaser trailer and a few screenshots. The game was approximately 20% completed. I think it was easy to assume based on the premise of the game that we were creating a hateful game, without having a proper window into the backstory, the reasoning behind it, and a proper showcase for the satire. Once we were able to get closer to a final version of the game and have tested it in players hands, we’ve received quite a bit of support for publishing such a satire.
FB: When you released Smuggle Truck earlier this year, you said that part of the reason was because you had friends who have had and were having major frustrations with the immigration process in the United States? Can you share more general details (without naming names) of those problems they experienced?
AS: As you mentioned, our friend chose to remain nameless due to the fragility of his status in the country. To sum up the issues broadly, our friend wanted to come to the U.S. to develop video games, had a U.S. college bachelors degree but no family living here. Without a full time job to get an H1B, and without enough proof to substantiate an O1, it appeared that there were no legal ways to immigrate. Even though he/she had plans to begin a startup, the proposed Startup Visa would not have applied due to the harsh requirements for investor funding. They can’t talk about their status currently, and it’s quite sad that it’s so common to be secretive about ones own immigration status for fear of further investigation by authorities, but rightly justified.
FB: You said that you believe this country needs comprehensive immigration reform. How does a game like Smuggle Truck fit into the debate?
Smuggle Truck definitely doesn’t address specifics on ways to reform immigration. Smuggle Truck also doesn’t impose a viewpoint on the issue of illegal immigration. The one major point that it addresses is the absurdity of the wait times for citizenship, as displayed in the Legal Immigration Mode. If you’re not familiar, this is a mode in Smuggle Truck where the player can sit in a waiting room for 19 years as a timer counts down to the point at which they can obtain a green card. See this chart below for some of our inspiration:
FB: Smuggle Truck recently won a local award in Boston? What was it for and why did you win it?
AS: We were chosen as finalists in the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX East) Boston Indie Showcase. The PAX conference chose three independent games that rose to the top by the criteria of innovation, fun, technical excellence, or otherwise displayed that they stood out from the crowd in some significant way. Here thousands of attendees were able to play the game and the results were fairly unanimous – people enjoyed the game and they “got it” once they picked it up. With the forest (read: Canadian) smuggling levels and the legal immigration, it was very apparent to players that they were experiencing something oozing with satire.
FB: Do you still stand by the fact that Smuggle Truck is not a controversial game that has offended many US Latinos? What would you like to say to the people who have criticized the game?
AS: Not at all, the game is most definitely controversial. Many of the criticisms of Smuggle Truck boil down to an ideology that believes a game cannot talk about a subject like immigration. The misconception that interactive games can only work with fun, happy, light, and airy subjects is something that we as game developers need to address, whereas film has had decades of experience in that realm. We’ve definitely learned that satire is something that requires ample context and in an interactive medium like games, it requires you, in some cases, to experience it for yourself. The original press pieces about Smuggle Truck back in February definitely did not get a chance to see that angle nor the more structured satire included in the game, such as our Legal Immigration mode. To those who criticize the game, I challenge you to try out the game. Subtlety is sometimes lost when viewed from afar.