ICED is a game developed by Break Through, a humanitarian group, and Garage Games, a game design company, to educate people about the situation of many immigrants. The game discusses immigration laws and detainment. The player takes the role of an illegal immigrant and goes through their life, trying to keep from being deported.
Below is a detailed analysis of this game roughly following Brian Winn's1 Design/Play/Experience framework, including:
The purpose of this game is to convince people that the immigration laws in this country are unfair to immigrants and to educate the populous about the truth of immigration. This game details things like that fact that many immigrants are afraid to call the police because they may be deported, or the fact that a misdemeanor to a citizen is a felony if an immigrant does it. It also shows the environment in detention facilities for immigrants who have been detained. The goal of the developers is that people who play ICED will be more likely to vote for changes to the immigration and citizenship laws. In fact, ICED stands for I Can End Deportation. This game doesn't do terribly well at its goals. The fact that the information is all given in either voice overs which can be turned off or text boxes that can be ignored, or in Myth Or Fact puzzles that can be solved without any trouble by picking the choice that seems more against the immigration policies.
The setting of the beginning of this game is a nameless, fictional city with a large immigrant population. The second half of the game takes place in a deportation detention center. There are five different characters, made up of teenagers and college students. Each one is an immigrant who is unknowingly breaking immigration law. For example, Suki didn't take enough courses on a student visa. Another example is Anna, who thinks she's a citizen but the lawyer that was supposed to get her citizenship when she was younger wasn't a real lawyer. The story takes the player from a normal day walking through a city, through an immigrations officer raid and into a detention center. The story is brute forced at points. Even if the player succeeds completely at the first two stages, they still go to the detention center just to see it. The story does help the goals of the game, though the fact that the story doesn't change based on player actions is quite odd.
ICED is played by moving the character around through a virtual city trying to gain points without raising their danger level. If their danger level gets too high, immigration officers show up to arrest them. The choices include the Myth Or Facct questions and other questions about whether or not to do certain actions such as registering to vote or calling the police on a man beating his wife. The actions don't have any kind of mix or randomization though, and all of them should not be done because, for example, registering to vote while not a citizen is illegal. Scattered throughout the world are ways of getting points. The main way to find these is by looking at the minimap for the little green dots. The player doesn't actually have to pay any attention to the main screen. The questions are the main gameplay which is intended for any kind of learning, though and while the questions could be very educational, they are very easy to determine the correct answer with out actually absorbing any of the information. The player merely needs to see whether the question seems to be expressed as a fact or an opinion and how reasonable the statement sounds.
ICED was developed using the Torque 3D engine to make a first person game. The controls are mouse to look and arrow keys to move, just like most first person shooters. The user interface has many different measures of the player's success, include score, progress, freedom and risk. Despite being on the interface the entire time, the risk meter only seems to apply during the city half of the game and the freedom meter seems to only apply during the detention center half of the game. The minimap in the top corner of the game by-passes the need to actually look at the 3D environment that the player is inhabiting. The questions are the main gameplay that is offered to the player. To make the point really stick, the information should have been offered through another medium rather than textbased questions. Perhaps by making the options be something more immersive like conversations or by making more actions available.
In 2007, Breakthrough asked the Education Development Center to assess ICED. Their assessment largely showed that the game was having a strong emotional affect on the players, but it also showed that many of the players thought that the game was far too biased and was putting its own facts into question. Some of the open-ended responses from the players suggested that only part of the story was being shown and that it was hard to feel for a character who was being detained for breaking that law. The main strong points of the game, according to the assessment, were the roleplay and immersion aspects. The major suggestion from the assessment board was to make the questions from the gameplay be more complex, since a simple true/false question doesn't cover the full depth of the situation.
ICED! is a basically good serious game with several flaws. The story is over-simplified, as are the choices, and the game bias is so strong as to turn off the kind of players who really notice, with some even noting that it puts their facts into question. For some people, this game and its emotional response will be enough to cause them to want to change immigration policies, but for many it will be lacking because of the overly strong bias. Had they used more complex gameplay and allowed less of their bias to show, perhaps the game could be more successful.
- Winn, Brian. The Design, Play and Experience Framework. In R. Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2009, pp. 388-401.
- EDC Assessment. Evaluation of Breakthrough's ICED! Video Game. CCT Reports May 2007. http://www.breakthrough.tv/images/downloads/9/CCT_Breakthrough_final0523.pdf