The company behind mobile games Dots, Two Dots, and Dots & Co doesn't usually speak directly to its players about what's going on in the world, but following President Trump's Friday executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries, Playdots, Inc. decided to push out an update asking its audience to support the ACLU.
The language of Trump's executive order prohibited immigration from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, banned immigration of anyone with refugee status from those countries for 120 days, and ended immigration from Syrian refugees in particular indefinitely. As the travel ban went into effect yesterday, people at various airports around the country began being detained or sent back on returns flights, resulting in large protests that went late into the night.
Witnessing all of this, the designers behind the Dots series of meditative and relaxing puzzle games decided they needed to respond as well. "A few of us were texting our frustrations throughout the day, and ultimately in the afternoon I hopped on slack to see who might be interested in doing something," Paul Murphey, Playdot's co-founder and CEO, said in an email to Kotaku. "Literally minutes later, half the company was online ready to give up their Saturday night to get something out in the product. I was very moved." (Note: AM Cosmos, one of Playdot's employees, has written for Kotaku in the past).
The morning after Trump signed the travel ban, the ACLU, joined by the International Refugee Assistance Project, the National Immigration Law center, Yale Law School's Jerome N Frank Legal Services Organisation, and the firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, filed a law suit against it. Promoting the ACLU then seemed like an obvious choice since, in Murphy's words, "they were front and center on this issue." After a few hours of design, coding, and localizing the message into a dozen languages, a message with a link to the ACLU went out to anyone who booted up Two Dots or Dots & Co on their mobile device. As of this morning, Murphy said approximately 250,000 people had clicked through to the ACLU's website.
In the past, Playdot has run events for PRIDE and Univision's RiseUpAsOne Initiative, but nothing that was ever this overtly political. "We have been tempted to activate our audience multiple times over the past year, but ultimately felt if our players are coming to Dots to escape," Murphy said. "It wasn't fair for us to remind them what's happening outside the game."
"However, too many lines were crossed this week and on Friday specifically, and the team felt compelled to take a stand. Our games will remain apolitical, but we may draw attention to issues that we feel are important."
Late last night, the ACLU was successful in getting a Federal Court judge in New York to issue a partial stay that would hit pause on the part of the executive order targeting lawful visa and green card holders which would prevent them from being removed from the U.S. until the law suit could be further reviewed.
Playdot aren't the only ones trying to support the ACLU's work right now either. Cardboard Computer, the three-person collaboration behind the Kentucky Route Zero series discounted its game this weekend and is also donating the proceeds to the ACLU.
— cardboard computer (@cardboardcompy) January 28, 2017
— Rami Ismail (@tha_rami) January 29, 2017
And Vlambeer, the developer behind games like Super Crate Box, Nuclear Throne, Ridiculous Fishing and LUFTRAUSERS announced last night that for the next day all revenue collected by the company would be donated to the ACLU as well. Rami Ismail, the studio's one half, said that the fundraising campaign would go beyond simply sales of their games to also include any merchanise sold at Vlambeer's booth at this weekend's PAX South video game convention.
GDC is a global community - we're horrified by the #MuslimBan. Of course we'll refund affected attendees, and keep fighting for inclusivity.
— Official_GDC (@Official_GDC) January 29, 2017
Ismail also noted in subsequent tweets that he is currently working with a number of designers who won't be able to attend this year's Game Developer Conference as a result of Trump's executive order. It's an issue plaguing enough of GDC 2017's would-be attendees that the conference put out its own tweet stating that the organisation would refund tickets for people no longer able to attend under the current circumstances and would "keep fighting for inclusivity."
Kate Edwards, the executive director of the International Game Developers Association, an organisation that holds its annual meeting at GDC, told Polygon that while only a few of its members would be directly affected by the travel restrictions, the IGDA sees the move as a knee-jerk one and believes that "game development knows no boundaries,"
"We stand in absolute opposition to any policy in any government that would seek to unduly restrict an individual's ability to pursue their creative passion and chosen career path in game development."
While the legality of different portions of the travel ban is still being adjudicated in court, people throughout the video game industry are likely to still be grappling with its consequences in the weeks ahead.
If you're in gaming — developer, esports players, you name it — and have been affected by Trump's executive order on immigration we'd like to hear from you. You can email us here or contact our writers directly.