Review by David Thomas, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2014

The Migrant Trail

Realistic role-play of illegal immigration near the U.S./Mexico border

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication & Collaboration

Subjects
  • Social Studies
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
5-12
Common Sense says (See details)
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Pros: Treats an important social topic with intelligence and feeling.

Cons: The game can be frustrating, losing players before it makes its point.

Bottom Line: Provides a great supplemental activity for students studying immigration issues, and will come to life with discussion of how the frustration and difficulty of the game is tied to its message.

Teachers will find this game a great icebreaker for any conversation about border politics in particular and social justice in general. By queuing up ideas about the rights of humans to make choices about where and how they live and the political realities of those choices, The Migrant Trail will open up a conversation that can continue in the classroom. It should be useful both as an introduction to the topic and as a discussion starter after watching the film The Undocumented, and could also pair nicely with NPR: Borderland. For older students, placing The Migrant Trail in conversation with Papers, Please could make for a great unit on border politics and immigration policy as well as on serious game design.

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Presented in comic book style spiced with real-world video and images, The Migrant Trail asks players to role-play either a U.S. Border Patrol officer or a Mexican national trying to enter the United States illegally. The game simulates the journey using a simple top-down view of a group walking down a desert road. At each branch in the road, players must choose a direction. As time goes on, more choices are required: Leave behind an injured member of the group? Drink dirty water to stay hydrated? Keeping an eye on a set of indicators measuring things like will, strength, and hydration, players carefully husband their limited supplies. Make a bad choice and they die. Run into the border patrol and they’re arrested. Border patrol officers drive the same road attempting to capture illegal immigrants -- or locate the remains of those who don't make it. A short epilogue describes what life in the United States is like for those who successfully make the crossing.

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As an experience of the conflict and dilemmas facing those who strive for access at the U.S./Mexico border, The Migrant Trail has something to offer. It's a powerful learning opportunity that gets kids considering different viewpoints, and building empathy and cultural perspective. Kids will learn to think more carefully about the issues -- and people -- involved in the greater border story. At the same time, the game itself provides only a limited taste of the challenge of keeping people on one side or the other of an invisible line. So, while The Migrant Trail provides a start on the journey of learning about complex social and political issues, it doesn't go quite far enough.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Simple game mechanics make the point that illegal immigration is dangerous, deadly, and almost impossible to stop completely. But feelings of frustration and pointlessness take hold too soon during play.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Failure can be used as a tool for learning, but here, failure and success seem largely independent of the choices players make. While this frustration makes a point, it could be better balanced.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Little is available in the way of help or community, but as a piece of a larger campaign to support the film The Undocumented, it does offer a gateway into a community of concerned voices.


Common Sense Reviewer
David Thomas Director of academic technology

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