ICED officerGiven the amount of time it takes to design, develop and go to market, it’s rare for current issues or events to find their way into a game. ICED, a new issue-oriented learning game that takes on the hot-button topic of immigration, is an exception to that rule and also shows how new development tools may make current events games more feasible.

ICED was developed by MFA students Heidi Boisvert (Hunter College) and Natalia Rodriguez (Brooklyn College) with the input of more than 100 New York City high school students, while working with Breakthrough, an international non-governmental organization, with offices in New York and New Delhi, that uses media, education and pop culture to promote human rights, equality and justice, ICED uses Garage Games Torque engine to put a FPS perspective on the immigrant experience.

After a brief assessment before entering the game space, the player chooses the persona of one of five immigrant teens, each of a different ethnicity and immigration status. While navigating the game’s urban landscape, a players actions determine their fate, accurately simulating how immigration laws are unevenly enforced, often denying due process and violating human rights of all immigrant in the process.

Though sure to make CNN’s resident anti-immigrant spokes-pundit Lou Dobbs Lou Dobbs rant-and-rave, ICED gives teachers and students a powerful and provocative tool to stimulate discussion, learning and understanding of the immigrant experience. ICED may also be a harbinger of a new approach to development for all game genres, serious and otherwise, that dramatically reduces time-to-market, making it possible to build a game that reflects current — or at least recent — issues and events.

Several companies including Making History developer Muzzy Lane are building web-based game-building services that promise to “…bridge the gap between those who want to make games and the ability to create them. With our service…virtually anyone or any company will be able to make or mod their own games ranging, from a casual card game to a sophisticated 3-D video game, on the web, in real time.”

Essentially what this means is that like digital publishing, graphics, photography and video, the tools of game development that once were once rare, remote and difficult to use are rapidly being democratized. In the context of serious games, this has profound implications for empowering curriculum planners and individual teachers to customize games — or even create new ones — to meet the needs of their schools and students. For entertainment games this could be an even more disruptive trend by introducing a social aspect to modding, sharing and playing games, changing the players experience in subtle and dramatic ways.