The Videogame About Immigration

Imagine a videogame that tasks you with integrating immigrants into society; with easing tensions between different groups; and with fighting racists and xenophobes. Sounds like a strange premise for a videogame, and one that would surely be too risky for any developer to try. Videogames are for escapism and shooting stuff, not for teaching lessons about migration and multiculturalism. Right?

And yet, ladies and gentlemen, this videogame — the videogame about immigration — exists.  And not only that, but the videogame about immigration is a Nintendo videogame.  That’s right — the publisher that introduced the world to jumping plumbers and cute, yellow mice is also responsible for a game in which racial hatred creates serial murderers.

The game in question is Xenoblade Chronicles X, which was released for Nintendo’s Wii U platform at the end of 2015.  The game is about a lot more than just immigration: the beginning of the game sees the last surviving remnants of the human race escape Earth as it is blown to smithereens by alien spaceships; the humans eventually land on a distant planet, Mira, and much of the game is occupied with discovering this new planet and uncovering why the attack on Earth happened in the first place. Along the way, the humans come into contact with other alien races — some hostile; others friendly and trying to escape the hostile ones.  Many of the friendly types come to live within the bounds of the humans’ city, known as New Los Angeles. Integrating, ameliorating and championing these new citizens takes up a lot of the side quests in the game’s hundred hours of gameplay.

The way these alien races, their customs and the ensuing conflicts are presented is simplistic, as should probably be expected, but is realistic enough to make the integration debate feel believable. The Manon are a race of fantastic scientists who provide extremely valuable technology, which is useful to the humans in their efforts against the hostile alien races. However, the Manon’s interaction with humans gives many of their kind an addiction to pizza, which makes them irritable and anti-social. The Nopon, meanwhile, are great merchants who contribute heavily to the humans’ economy, but are selfish and self-centred. The Orphe are brilliant engineers who help the humans develop a functioning water purification system, but don’t comprehend human values around family and sentimentality. The humans, for their part, have a very static view of morality which makes it difficult for them to comprehend other cultures.

In this atmosphere of many different alien races, new friendships and conflicts develop. Stories of relationships developing between people of different cultures and backgrounds are contrasted with the actions of extreme xenophobes who try to murder the new arrivals.  In amongst this your character acts as the immigrants’ champion, attempting to scupper the racists while helping everyone learn about the customs of their new neighbours.  This can be tricky, and things are not always clear-cut: one memorable mission involves trying to track down a pizza chef bent on murdering Manon; it transpires that his motive was the recent passing of his wife, who he believed had been driven to death through stress of looking after the pizza parlour and its addicted Manon customers. The tale also involves a Manon detective, whose girlfriend is one of the victims of the murderer’s spree. Though at times these stories can become far-fetched, Xenoblade acknowledges that the immigration debate is complicated and involves a whole range of different people with different attitudes.

If there is a lesson that Xenoblade teaches when it comes to immigration, it appears to be that the best way to ameliorate relations is through communication. Having a willingness to talk to someone else — even though they may have completely different backgrounds and customs from you — is the best way to come to a solution that works for both parties. It is a lesson that many people throughout British society need to take notice of: rather than feeling resentful or fearful of new neighbours, people should try to communicate with each other in order to form a common understanding. It should come as no surprise that those areas of the UK with the most immigrants are often those with the most positive attitude towards them — when people interact with each other, they begin to learn about and understand each other.  And politicians, for their part, should aim to unite people of different backgrounds rather than divide them for political gain.

As we stare into the abyss after the EU referendum result, and with hate crimes against immigrants on the rise, we need to start making a positive case for immigration — not only in politics, but in popular culture.  If this obscure game from the Pokémon creators can do it, then so can we.

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Jon Holiday

Jon commentates on the ways culture and politics interact.

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