Game developers respond to Trump's Muslim travel ban

A screen from 1979 Revolution: Black Friday.

Protests were organized at airports across the United States over the weekend in response to an executive order issued by President Donald Trump which bars people from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Syria from entering the US for 90 days, causing legal immigrants to be detained. The order also blocks Syrian refugees from entering the US indefinitely, and has become known more simply as a Muslim ban. The order's legality is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, and along with many others, a variety of game developers have reacted with condemnation and fundraising efforts.

On January 28, Kentucky Route Zero studio Cardboard Computer announced that the game was on sale for half-price at Itch.io, and that all sales earned would be donated the ACLU. As of right now, more than $9,500 had been raised—and other studios have joined in the effort as well. 

The following day, Nuclear Throne studio Vlambeer pledged that all the money it earned over the next 24 hours, through both game and merchandise sales, would be donated to the ACLU, specifically "to oppose the Muslim ban," the studio tweeted. That effort resulted in a donation of more than $13,500 from Vlambeer. Fez studio Polytron joined in as well, making the game pay-what-you-want on Itch.io until February 6 and pledging all proceeds to the ACLU. 

Most recently, Ink Stories, the developer of 1979 Revolution, said that it would join the effort by donating proceeds raised by the game over the period of February 1-10, to oppose "the divisive rhetoric and current immigration ban put in effect by Trump Administration."

"As an independent development studio, iNK stands firmly in believing that it’s the responsibility of the larger art and entertainment community to unite in solidarity against policies that are inhumane, unjust and un-American," the studio said in a statement. "Our industry has tremendously benefited from the ability of people to cross borders. Immigration has been a source of creativity and strength for this country throughout its history—and we oppose the ban and the dangerous precedent it sets." 

While it's easy to be immobilized by hurt and hopelessness, I believe that now more than ever we are confronted with an obligation, where we must dig in, resist and unite.

Navid Khonsari

1979 Revolution writer and director Navid Khonsari, whose family fled Iran for the West following the Islamic Revolution, said that this is a "deeply personal" issue, and called on other developers to join in the effort. “While it's easy to be immobilized by hurt and hopelessness, I believe that now more than ever we are confronted with an obligation, where we must dig in, resist and unite," he said. "Silence is not an option—so I commend those in our community who are taking action and hope that other game developers and publishers will join in, as we partake in this crucial movement, coming from all religious, national, ethnic and generational backgrounds to denounce the ban and stand with humanity, by saying that this is not right.”   

Not everyone was entirely enthusiastic about the idea: Garry's Mod creator Garry Newman took some issue with it on Twitter, specifically Vlambeer's, which he decried as "a marketing opportunity." He quickly clarified that "they're not the bad guys," however, explaining that he has "an ethical issue with donations being linked to sales." 

"I don't doubt for a minute that there [sic] intentions were good, but I do feel like there are probably better ways to do it than advertise it like a sale, counting down the hours until it ends etc," he wrote. 

As noted by Mashable, there is widespread opposition in the game industry to the travel ban. Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Bethesda Softworks, and Zynga have all issued either statements or internal emails celebrating diversity and opposing the ban, while prominent console dev Insomniac Games posted a video saying they "stand united in strongly opposing President Trump's immigration ban." The International Game Developers Association also issued a blunt statement saying it was "horrified by the Muslim ban" and promising to issue refunds to any attendees who are impacted by it.

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