Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Video game fosters empathy with migrant farm workers

Students and faculty at the University of Denver are attempting to use the power of video games to spread social consciousness by means of “humane gaming.”

A group of undergraduate and graduate students from the digital media, computer science and electronic media arts design departments have been working on Squeezed, an online video game. The game is described as a “first person picker,” a non-violent version of “first person shooter.”

“Our biggest challenge was to create a socially conscious video game that’s also fun,” says junior computer science major Porter Schutz.

Students created Squeezed to raise awareness about the lives and struggles of migrant farm workers, both legal and illegal. Players, represented by frogs, must pick fruit in order to obtain juice, which is used as currency.

Part of the juice that the players make is shipped away to a “shining city on the hill.” A player must decide how much of the remaining juice to spend on themselves and how much to send to their family. The juice sent home supports the family and is used for community projects like schools and clinics.

Throughout the game, letters from home show the effect of the juice that has been sent. If the family receives enough juice, the letters contain good news. But with too little juice, the letters contain bad news, causing the “despair” level to rise. If the despair level rises higher than the player’s health level, the character will begin to drop fruit and become less productive. Eating fruit can increase health, but there will be less juice to send home. Alternatively, the player can alleviate despair by buying a phone card and calling home—but this also decreases the juice available to send home.

The game was not designed with an ending in mind.

“You don’t win a green card at the end,” says Mohammed Albow, a computer science graduate student.

Rather, players are expected to balance their character’s life for as long as possible to gain a greater understanding of the everyday challenges faced by migrant workers.

The project is student-led and advised by faculty members Associate Professor Rafael Fajardo, Assistant Professor Bill Depper, and Scott Leutenegger, professor of computer science and director of the game development program.

Partial funding for development of the game came from Partners In Scholarship (PINS), a DU program that supports student and faculty projects through grants awarded on a competitive application process. Additionally, mtvU, MTV’s new network dedicated to showcasing the work of college students, has given a $15,000 grant to support the game development work performed by graduate students this summer.

Currently, Squeezed is scheduled for an Oct. 30 release on

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