Artist Gonzalo Alvarez understands the harsh reality people face when crossing borders. Both of Alvarez’s parents crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to create better lives for themselves in the U.S. According to Alvarez, his mother was even captured “a couple times” before she successfully made it. Though his parents are both citizens now, Alvarez wanted to create something that would convey the struggle they faced as immigrants. So he created a video game about it.
Using his parent’s immigration stories as inspiration, Alvarez has created an 8-bit video game called “Borders.”
“Borders” was created in only 7 days, with the help of two game developers. On his personal website, Alvarez makes it clear that “Borders” was not designed to be played for entertainment, but instead, was conceived as:
[A] political art game created not only to exhibit video games as an art form but to portray the dangers Mexican immigrants face in order to give the next generation a better future
In “Borders,” the player takes on the role of a Mexican immigrant attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Along the way, the player must stealthily avoid la migra and los moscos, and collect jugs of water to stave off heat and dehydration. Every time the player dies, the skeleton of their previous attempt remains in the game. Each skeleton serves as a reminder of the many immigrants who never complete their journey.
Alvarez chose the 8-bit graphic style to create a more “immersive” experience for the player.
The simple 8-bit art style was necessary for taking on a complex issue like immigration. The Texas native told Lamar University Press that he went with the pixel art style because it requires the player to let their imagination take over. “This [immigrant] is just, essentially, a vessel for you to put yourself in. You kind of become the character.”
Alvarez understands the sacrifices his parents made so that he could have these kinds of opportunities.
Alvarez told the Lamar University Press that he is able to purse his dreams in the U.S. because his parents won their real-life version of the game: “I’m living proof of them winning the real game.”
And he hopes that “Borders” will add to the on-going conversation about immigration reform.
Alvarez told the Beaumont Enterprise, “My goal with this was not only to show games as an art form, but to start a dialogue about immigration.”
A playable arcade-style version of “Borders” is available at the Sol Art Gallery in Beaumont, Texas.
So far many players have attempted to cross the border, but very few have actually made it. “Borders” will be on display at the Sol Art Gallery through March 3rd. Fan of Alvarez’s work can check out his website, which features more art inspired by the “whimsical worlds influenced by the grotesque yet charming culture of Mexico” he grew up with.
Be sure to download a free version of the game here.
Make the journey for yourself.