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GDC travel plans snared by anti-Muslim immigration order (update)

Refunds offered to those who won’t attend because of Trump policy

gdc Polygon
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

The Trump administration's executive order on immigration has drawn a response from the Game Developers Conference, whose annual gathering of video games professionals from around the world is in a little less than a month.

Donald Trump on Friday signed an order that, among other things, bars entry to the United States for the next 90 days to persons from seven predominantly Muslim nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The International Game Developers Association, which holds its annual meeting at GDC, lists a chapter in Iran (as “emerging”). No other nations on the ban list have chapters listed on the GDC site.

The IGDA told Polygon that, of its 8,000 members, only two come from one of the seven countries on the ban list. “That being said, the issue isn't necessarily the affect on these specific countries but on the general spread of xenophobia in the U.S. government and how it will certainly affect the U.S.'s ability to hire talent and remain globally competitive,” Kate Edwards, the IGDA executive director, told Polygon.

Late Saturday, a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y. blocked the administration from deporting newly arrived immigrants who were in transit when the order was issued. The ruling, however, does not admit them to the United States. They remain detained in airports.

Update: Navid Khonsari, the Canadian-Iranian creator of the acclaimed 1979 Revolution: Black Friday says he has suspended his international travel plans for the next 90 days because he isn't sure that if he left he would be permitted to re-enter the United States, where he has lived as a legal permanent resident for 17 years.

On Sunday, as the White House moved to respond to outcry over the order, a senior official said the policy would not be applied to green card holders. Khonsari is one. Khonsari, however, said he is staying put in the U.S. in light of the uncertain signals sent by the Trump administration about its new border policy, the pending federal court challenge against the executive order, and “as one who is implicated as ‘political’ via 1979 Revolution'.”

The Trump administration's action, and the Iranian government's view of his work, means he is “on lock down here in America,” Khonsari said, “and deemed an American spy in Iran.”

1979 revolution iNK Stories

Khonsari was born in Montreal and then raised in Iran, leaving there after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the subject of his video game published last year. 1979 Revolution: Black Friday was nominated for an award at The Game Awards 2016 and has two nominations for the upcoming D.I.C.E. Awards, including Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction. It is a nominee for Excellence in Narrative at March 1's Independent Games Festival awards and was given an honorable mention alongside the nominees for the IGF's grand prize.

“My setbacks from this uninformed, cowardly, ignorant and racist action pales in comparison to the hardships of so many others,” Khonsari told Polygon.

“In a haunting echo of my own parents' situation, during the tumultuous time between 1978 to 1979 [in Iran], where they had to leap into the unknown and navigate the reality of oppression and injustice through discussions with friends and colleagues — I have similar conversations today,” said Khonsari, who added that more than 400 game development colleagues had contacted him in the past 48 hours to offer words of support.

“This humble position reminds me of why I made 1979 Revolution --- we must learn from history and not repeat it,” he said.

The Trump policy itself and the uncertainty it has brought to travel to the U.S. has led others to cancel travel plans, whether wary of the order's effect on them, as a protest against it, or both. Though the order only involves seven countries, many others have decried the anti-Muslim nature of the policy and the climate it endorses.

Shahid Kamal Ahmad, a games developer in the United Kingdom (and formerly PlayStation's director for strategic content) said on Twitter that he would not attend GDC 2017 in light of the order.

Today, he added:

Edwards, the IGDA executive director, noted that her organization is an advisory organization to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when American companies seek to hire overseas professionals to work in this country.

“Since becoming the Executive Director in late 2012, I have signed over 250 such letters for individuals from all over the world, including from what are identified as ‘Muslim nations,’” Edwards said in a statement to Polygon. “We embrace the fact that the passion and skill for game development knows no boundaries — political, geographic, cultural, or demographic. Thus to restrict immigration on the basis of an individual's state of origin represents an ignorant knee-jerk that assumes only the worst and wrongly stereotypes the people of an entire culture.

“We stand in absolute opposition to any policy in any government that would seek to unduly restrict an individual's ability to pursue their creative passion and chosen career path in game development,” Edwards said.

Polygon has also reached out to representatives of the Entertainment Software Association and the DICE Summit and Awards, which is held the week before GDC, to inquire about the effects of the policy on their memberships and their reactions to it.

A GDC representative told Polygon that the conference would make a fuller statement later in the week, as the executive order’s ramifications became clearer.

Update 2: The ESA issued this statement with regard to the immigration ban:

The Entertainment Software Association urges the White House to exercise caution with regard to vital immigration and foreign worker programs. As a leading force in technology and exporter of entertainment, the U.S. video game industry thrives on the contributions of innovators and storytellers from around the world. While recognizing that enhancing national security and protecting our country’s citizens are critical goals, our companies rely on the skilled talent of U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, and immigrants alike. Our nation’s actions and words should support their participation in the American economy.