How does it feel to be an undocumented immigrant?
A new texting game, “Do Something,” aims to simulate the experience, allowing participants to get a taste of a day in the life of those 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.
Needless to say, I was intrigued when I found out about Do Something’s little venture. I have always wondered what my undocumented friends were going through, and now I finally had the opportunity to experience it for myself.
I was thoroughly disappointed.
Let me take a moment to say that I am no stranger to the immigrant experience. Though I may not have gone through it myself, my own mother immigrated to the United States and eventually received her citizenship. Also, I am from rural Texas where it’s normal to be surrounded by classmates who are foreigners and lack immigration paperwork.
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The game is intended for kids in high school, and even though I graduated a few years ago, I don’t think I’m too far removed from it to get the desired experience, or at least something similar.
It begins when you text DREAM to 38383 and are instructed to “imagine you’re an undocumented immigrant graduating high school tomorrow.” The game continues as you are constantly faced with decisions in a “choose your own adventure,” goosebumps-esque storyline style.
Whichever plot is chosen, though, it always ends up in the same place: Your undocumented mom is arrested, you use some type of social media to campaign for her release, your story miraculously gains momentum by receiving attention from a celebrity or mainstream media outlet, people either make phone calls or sign petitions, and finally your mother is released. Then, once all of that is done, the game encourages you to call your senator and sign a real petition.
My first beef with the game is that most of the scenarios that it simulates are not specific to the undocumented immigrant experience. A lot of it can simply be described as anyone, undocumented or not, having a bad day. Anyone can experience the frustration when a bus isn’t running or the dissatisfaction from washing dishes at a coffee shop. The only fictional situations that made me even remotely feel the struggle of a person living here illegally were when my mom was arrested for not having the right identification and when I couldn’t accept a full ride to my first choice school because I’m not a United States citizen.
Second, the game uses SMS language, the abbreviated form of English that some argue is easier to use for texting, employing such abbreviations as “ppl” (translation: people) and “txt” (text). Not only that, but the creators also implemented some modern and hip expressions such as “Snap, ur in trouble!” (Oh no, you’re in trouble!) and “ballin!” (awesome!). I understand the decision – to better connect with the game’s intended audience – but I couldn’t help but think, “its rly hard 2 take u srsly rite now” (It’s really hard to take you seriously right now).
In the end, Do Something is quite simply a game, like Monopoly, where buying a multimillion dollar property is about as real as a unicorn playing soccer. And the game only starts to feel real when it asks you to sign a petition or call your senator “to help make paths to citizenship for all.”
The project began when Israeli-born, undocumented immigrant Roy Naim urged the non-profit to teach kids about immigration. Creators of the game used Naim’s story as well as those from Latin American immigrants to come up with the various plot lines.
“We thought, ‘Let’s show what it really is like,’” Christina Blacken of Do Something told the New York Daily News.