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Pakistani game developers denied a visa for GDC made a game about it instead

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Travel restrictions have been on the rise since President Trump came into office

The title screen for Trying to Fly shows green clouds in rain outlined in white. Image: doldydo

Two game developers from Pakistan who were denied U.S. visas to attend the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco have made a game about their experience. The stated goal is to draw attention to issues faced by those attempting to travel into the United States from Muslim countries. Restrictions have been on the rise since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.

Trying to Fly was created as part of the Global Game Jam, which took place Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, by Bisma Zia, Anam Sajid, and Ali Hamza. Both Zia and Sajid had previously been awarded scholarships by the Independent Game Developers Association (IGDA) Foundation, a non-profit organization, to attend GDC. But, when they applied for visas to enter the U.S. for GDC in March, they were denied. Similar stories have played out over the past few years, impacting residents of Iran, Syria, and other predominantly Muslim countries.

“They wanted to make a game that would highlight their (and others) experience at the Visa interview process,” reads the game description, “and how such measures can directly have an effect on their future careers and lives. The bird represents the applicants dreams and aspirations for the future.”

The IGDA has made great strides in the past decade to support fledgling game developers around the world. Pakistan represents an emerging new territory for gaming, due in part to its surging middle class and the adoption of mobile technology. It’s also home to the Pixelart Games Academy, Pakistan’s first games academy.

The same weekend that the Global Game Jam kicked off, the Trump administration announced it would expand its travel restrictions in 2020. Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania will all have new restrictions put in place regarding access to visas.