There's a video game making its way around the Internet, and many who have come across it say it crosses a line.
"Border Patrol" is a Flash-based game that lets players shoot at Mexican immigrants as they try to cross the border into the United States. "There's one simple rule," the game's opening screen states, "keep them out ... at any cost!"
The game first surfaced in 2002, but amid the national uproar over illegal immigration, it has reared its ugly head once again.
"This was created by someone who had a racist agenda," said Brian Marcus, director of Internet monitoring for the Anti-Defamation League. "The person who made it intended that the message be racist and meant for it to spread hatred."
"Border Patrol" upsets many immigrants' rights groups, as well as others. But the game is nothing new, as hate groups and those just looking to ruffle some feathers have long used Flash-based games to spread messages of hate.
In "Border Patrol," players are told to target one of three immigrant groups portrayed in a negative, stereotypical way as the figures rush past a sign that reads "Welcome to the United States." The immigrants are caricatured as bandoleer-wearing "Mexican nationalists," tattoo-touting "drug smugglers" and pregnant "breeders" who sprint with children in tow.
The sign contains an American flag on which the stars representing the 50 states have been replaced with a Jewish Star of David, and a small sign that appears below says "Welfare Office" with an arrow.
"Extremist groups are always looking for new ways to get their message out," said Marcus, "and there's a lot of talk about how, when they make these games, they get a lot of attention."
While the timeliness and offensiveness have attracted a great deal of national media attention, "Border Patrol" isn't the first game of its kind.
Hate as a Genre?
Marcus points to games like "Ethnic Cleansing," in which players fight off groups that in the game embody racial, religious and sexual stereotypes to cleanse society.
Though he admits that sometimes the intent is more innocuous, the result can be the same.
In a game called "Kaboom," a player acts out the role of a suicide bomber who must take innocent civilians with him when he explodes.
The game offended many and came quickly to the attention of the ADL.
"When we investigated the question of what the person's [who created the game] intent was," Marcus explained, "it turned out to be a college student who did it in a few hours as a joke. He couldn't believe all of the excitement he had caused."
But that, Marcus said, points out a lack of sensitivity that perpetuates stereotypes inadvertently.
"We have people who are creating these kinds of games as a joke," he said. "But it still desensitizes people."
Easy to Make and Easy to Offend
"Flash games are very simple to make," explained Jason Ocampo, editor for Gamespot.com. "Most games require multimillion-dollar budgets that only big corporations can afford, but with Flash, a talented artist can create a game or animation with one or two people. All they need is the right software."
Ocampo says Flash games represent one of the many ways in which the Internet has given people the tools to express themselves online.
They're attractive to people who want to try their hand at making games because of their simplicity, but they are also attractive to players because they can be played right in an Internet browser and don't require any installation.
He says that while programs like Flash offer people a great way to make games and animations with little or no experience, such programs, like many things on the Web, can be misused as well.
"The anonymity of the Internet makes some people think they can't be held accountable for what they say or do," said Ocampo. "Because of that, there are certainly elements on the Web that revel in raising any kind of hell they can."
Games like "Ethnic Cleansing," "DriveBy 2" and "African Detroit Cop" were all created to further racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic opinions and to use the ubiquity of the Net to get the message out to as many people as possible.
But Ocampo points out that these are not anything like the games kids or even adults could end up buying in a video game store.
"Video game companies try to be edgy," he said, "but corporations know there are places they can't go without getting slapped with massive lawsuits."
He says there's no chance you'll see "Border Patrol" on an Xbox or PlayStation.