Refugee Mario

by wjw on September 13, 2015

So when I was a young, callous person, I designed a board game called The An Loc Survival Game.

An Loc, for the young folks among you, was a town in Vietnam that was the centerpiece of a 66-day battle of mutual annihilation between North and South Vietnamese forces, the latter assisted by insane amounts of American air power, including at one point a B-52 strike flattening whole acres of ground every 55 minutes.

It was bad enough being a soldier in this fight, but being a civilian was far worse, because both sides were shooting at you as well as stealing your food and chucking your wounded children out of the hospital to make room for wounded soldiers.

So in my stupid, callous game, players were civilians who had to march around the board to the roll of dice, and try not to get killed, landing on squares that said things like, “You step on a mine and lose a leg!  Your movement is cut in half for the rest of the game.”

I suppose I thought this was satire.  Maybe it even was.  I think it accurately reflected the bleak mud-colored lenses through which I then viewed the world.

Refugee-Mario2233831606Anyway, the Syrian refugee “Samir al-Mufti,” who uses a  pseudonym so that he won’t get jailed or killed, has updated my concept with the Refugee Mario game, which adds contemporary content to the Super Mario video games.  In the game, Refugee Mario has to deal with corrupt smugglers in order to get across the Mediterranean, stay out of the hands of the border cops, then make his way to safety somewhere in Europe.  And he also stands a good chance of being drowned, blown up, or murdered on his journey.

It isn’t satire, because it’s too true for that.  It’s reality with some bright, splashy 16-bit colors and some catchy music.

(And by the way, I wish news reports would stop referring to these people as “migrants.”  They’re not migrating, they’re not moving to Europe so that they can have good jobs and health care, they’re fleeing because if they stayed they’d be killed, and their children would be raped and beheaded.  So let’s get the terminology straight, guys.  A little honesty is always appreciated.)

Tom September 13, 2015 at 5:40 pm

More than 70% of the asylum seekers are young men who probably don’t have any children whatsoever to be raped or beheaded. 30% are fleeing such intra-european terror zones as Kosovo and Albania, not Syria. Many asylum seekers of course pretend to be Syrian but are really from places as far away as Pakistan, not to mention the West Africans (not at war, by the way). Their passports can often be found strategically discarded by the border, since that’s the easiest way to stick once you’re in. The asylum seekers do not stop fleeing when in safety, but cross half a dozen EU countries before settling in cozy Germany or Sweden, if possible. (I hear Finland is now getting their share too, good for them.) Those people dramatically marching around in the roads and fields or swooshing along on trains or buses you may see on TV are usually already inside the EU. In short, you are astoundingly wrong.

Thanks for the malicious shaming, though. Much appreciated.

Ralf The Dog September 13, 2015 at 6:01 pm

The thing about labels is, they are far too useful for dehumanizing humans. If you don’t want to spend resources on people from someplace else, just call them migrants or refugees. If that does not stop your population from thinking of them as real humans, just like their brothers, sisters, children and parents, just include an ethnic or religious tag to their title.

When in doubt, talk about crime and about terrorists sneaking in with those dirty, unwashed barbarians. It never hurts to talk about disease and about lost jobs. “Do you want your children to starve, just to feed these ungrateful peasants?” It’s always a good idea to toss in a few visuals. Just use some stock art from starving people in a third would country. If the people in the picture have AIDS or Ebola, so much the better.

PS. Don’t forget the bit about becoming a minority in your own country.

John Appel September 13, 2015 at 9:53 pm

Did you catch the indie video game “This War of Mine” when it came out last year? The player takes the role of a civilian trapped in a war zone, trying to keep his or her family alive. By all accounts a pretty moving game.

And of course there is the famous “Papers, Please”, wherein one plays an immigration agent, deciding who can enter a fictional country and who can’t, while simultaneously being held accountable for upholding the regulations governing entry.

We have tools to bring us to greater empathy; the question is how to make them more visible than Kim Kardashian’s oiled buttocks.

wjw September 13, 2015 at 11:33 pm

Tom, so if these refugees aren’t actually fleeing war, why are we getting them in such numbers now? Why didn’t we seen these scenes last year, or the year before, or the year before that?

There are something like 2,000,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, 1.75 million in Lebanon (one-fifth of the population), 0.62 million in Jordan, with others scattered around places like Iraq and Egypt. So it doesn’t surprise me if they try to get to Europe.

As for shaming, I didn’t intend to shame anybody— but if you feel shame, own it. It’s yours.

Tom September 14, 2015 at 3:42 am

I’m not sure why this is happening right now. The history seems to be this: There has been a mounting pressure on the borders in Greece and Italy and the EU has not acted against it. Then we had a concerted media push with the very dramatic picture of that poor drowned kid (escaping from … Turkey. Not a war zone.) Hungary tried to stem the incoming flow, EU had a fit, Hungary let them pass onward. Now I see Germany closed its borders (in some sense) to regulate the incoming asylum seekers.

Here are two articles from DN, one of the Swedish papers who have pushed pro-migrant the hardest, and also the largest paper in Sweden. Handily enough they appeared this morning.

“NICKELSDORF. The Austrian border town of Nickelsdorf has become a new focal point in the refugee crisis. Sunday arrived 10,000 refugees to the border, they are now waiting to come on.

Throughout Sunday refugees arrived at the assembly camp in Nickelsdorf on the border between Hungary and Austria. Until midnight, more than 10,000 people arrived, according to the Austrian media and the influx continued on Monday morning.

On the Austrian side were buses ready to run the new arrivals, the question was only worth it because the refugees no longer can go by train to Germany.”

Consider in passing the picture of the border crossing. A handful of women at the center of the picture, surrounded by hundreds of young men. Here is a bigger version:

An example of an asylum seeker who is using the current chaos to move his family into Sweden and bypass even our famously lenient Migration Board.

“VIENNA. The trains to Germany stopped suddenly to go and quickly filled the Westbahnhof in Vienna with people – and rumors. It took some time for the message from Berlin penetrated. Shpal Ibrahim grieved extra, he had hoped to be able to take his family home to Sandviken. … – I have lived in Sandviken in two years. My family was in Turkey. I have asked the Migration Board that the family will come to Sweden, but they said to wait, wait, wait, he says.

Once it’s been a year, the wife and the two children, eleven and six years old, to take the escape route across the sea to Greece, then passed through Macedonia and Serbia to Hungary.

Shpal Ibrahim flew to Budapest and went to the border town of Röszka to retrieve the three.

– I had big, big problems with the police, says Shpal Ibrahim, finally, he got off the family from the camp and so ended the trip at the Westbahnhof in Vienna.”

Of course there is no surprise “they try to get to Europe” (though not just any part of Europe). They and many others. But you can’t go settle in Europe (er, Germany or Sweden only, please … we have standards) just because you feel like it. Well, that’s how it used to be. At the moment you more or less can.

I try to be honest, but apparently it’s not good enough. Shame on me then.

Dave Bishop September 14, 2015 at 12:35 pm

A couple of quotes from the Editorial of this week’s ‘New Scientist’ (no. 3038, 12th Sept 2015):

” … experts agree that large-scale migration will be a defining issues (sic) of this century, driven by population growth, political instability and climate change, and enabled by increased global connectivity, both physical and digital. We cannot stop it by building fences or turning away boats. So we had better get a handle on it now.”


“If our leaders carry on making it up as they go along without recourse to evidence, they really will have a crisis on their hands.”

Wise words!

I’ve felt for some time now that the ideologies that dominate UK politics (at least) are, essentially 19th century ones – but now deeply corrupted by neo-liberalism. The current refugee crisis suggests to me that we desperately need political ideologies relevant to the 21st century. Such ideologies should really be evidence based – if an evidence based political ideology is even remotely possible … ?

Diane Gray September 14, 2015 at 11:35 pm

people always have, and always will, sought a greater quality of life. When your quality of life is so low you almost can’t survive, you will leave your home and your country to have food, shelter, to not be shot at by both sides of something you have nothing to do with. Not so long ago, America said, No Irish”. Then it was “No Mexicans”. And yet our country was founded by immigrants, and continues to let immigrants in. Thank goodness our borders are so far away that not many of the current refugees can get here. (sarcasm, thank you.

wjw September 15, 2015 at 12:31 am

Just because people drown on their way from Turkey doesn’t mean they’re Turkish. There are over two million Syrian refugees in Turkey right now, living in camps. The refugee route is through Turkey and across the water to Greece.

Just because a refugee is male doesn’t mean he isn’t a refugee.

There are a large minority of Kosovars in the mix, but insofar as they don’t speak Arabic they’d be easy to spot by any Arabic speaker. Then they can be bused back to Kosovo, no doubt to try again. (Not that there aren’t a lot of reasons to leave Kosovo, which is run by the twelve [or thirteen, or fourteen] Mafia families who are no doubt profiting by the crisis.)

There are also a fair number of Afghans who have just given up on their own country. Can’t blame them, really.

I agree with the New Scientist. This is what the 21st Century is going to be like, so we’d better get a grip on this stuff.

TRX September 15, 2015 at 7:32 am

> so if these refugees aren’t actually fleeing war, why are we getting them in such numbers now? Why didn’t we seen these scenes last year, or the year before, or the year before that?

Three things:

1) the EU’s changing policies about illegal aliens entering the EU and its member nations

2) the changing policies of the governments these people are fleeing from. Back in the old days the authorities would put up barbed wire and light towers to keep their citizens at home, even if they didn’t want those citizens in the first place. Now they’re letting those people go, if not actually encouraging them to leave

3) the widespread knowledge of these two things. Where once governments could hold tight to information flow, the word gets out much more easily now. Why right now instead of a few years ago? It takes a while for the word to get out, people to make the trip successfully, word to get back home, and for other people to begin seriously considering doing the same.

Back in, say, 1980, you’d be shot at if you tried to leave, “repatriated” (likely to prison or execution) once you got to your destination, and likely nobody would ever find out what happened to you.

An acquaintance of mine escaped from Hungary in the early 1980s. He made it the hard way, across the wire. He bounced around various embassies in Austria while the authorities there were arranging to deport him back to Hungary. Finally the Brits gave him asylum. Without the doctorate in physics and fluent English he would have probably wound up back in Hungary in a much worse situation than he left.

Circumstances have changed a whole lot since then.

wjw September 16, 2015 at 11:39 pm

TRX, your point #2 is interesting, and points to the collapse of Utopia as a political dream. The regimes you mention were Utopian in aspiration, and for someone to want to leave Utopia was treason against the future mankind, and subject to punishment. The people running the region now have no Utopian aspirations at all, they just want themselves/their clan/their sect/their ethnic group to run things, and if anyone else leaves, that’s just ducky with them.

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