The ongoing European Migrant Crisis sees death tolls rise as refugees take expensive and often extremely-dangerous trips with smugglers, often to be displaced again or even arrested when they arrive. The European Union is struggling with the ethical responsibility to assist people who've endured desperate and life-threatening circumstances for a chance at a better—while some countries believe in developing a unified continental plan to assist in the crisis, there are also fears that placing asylum-seekers would lead to more risk of life and resource strain. Some countries are building fences.
Creator Francois "Nerial" Alliot and collaborator Arnaud De Bock felt the human lives of the migrants themselves could too easily be lost in the ethical debates about asylum and human smuggling. In their new game Passengers, you play a smuggler bringing people to Europe. You can select what kind of watercraft you pilot and what kind of bribes you accept, and how many people to bring on board—these factors affect your own profits and level of risk. On your journey many of your passengers will die, you'll attract the attention of the coast guard, run out of water, or worse.
The most impactful part of the game is when you choose who to take on board. Each asylum-seeker comes to you with a name, a history, perhaps a family, and an amount they can afford to pay, which you can negotiate. You find yourself in the position of judge—who deserves another chance? Who might be too fragile for the trip and should leave room for someone else? Should you take a high number of people, even if it makes the trip more dangerous?
Would you take a drug dealer, a criminal, a benefits-seeker? What if he was more polite and appreciative to you than the sullen man who won't look you in the eye and doesn't seem grateful for your risk? Would you try to negotiate a higher fee from a woman and child if they seemed healthy, if you knew they probably had money?
Ultimately do your own feelings make a difference to the fate of your passengers, who will often die at sea?
It does remind of the constant calculations of what "life is worth" that often come with these incredibly complicated but heartbreaking situations. The free little game was made in a weekend for the Ludum Dare 33 jam, the theme of which was "You Are The Monster." It's a PICO-8 game—Passengers co-creator Arnaud De Bock kindly sent us the fanzine about the elegantly-constrained digital console last week.