Final Project: Refugees and Citizenship

http://localhost:55082/ “Shadow Masquerade”

Colin Fedor, Elizabeth Noon, Ted Sines


The inspiration for this project was mainly found with the struggles that refugees and immigrants face when acquiring citizenship through legal and semi-legal means. In particular, we found the section of Americanah wherein Obinze was struggling to acquire citizenship to be of particular interest. He is a man who we have grown to know rather well – a character we could identify with, so his desire to stay in the UK was an understandable one. However, the difficulties that he was presented with seeking entirely legal means of citizenship were almost ludicrous. His failure, while due in part to his situation, is indicative of a greater issue that exists within Western nations’ policies regarding refugees and immigration. According to the National Immigration Forum, the United States has once again reduced the maximum number of immigrants and refugees it will allow into the country and this policy of denial is mimicked by many other nations around the world. While the extent of these policies is not entirely the same as that presented in the novel, it is still an issue that we are dealing with today.

Americanah certainly did an excellent job of presenting an accurate depiction of modern immigration, and the lengths people will go to in order to stay in Western “developed” countries (see Obinze’s attempted marriage to a British native). However, we think that we will be able to engage a wider audience if we shifted this narrative to the medium of video games. Our intention is to design a video game wherein the player is forced into the same situation as an immigrant or refugee attempting to flee desperate situations. In our game, players will be set loose in a cityscape that is controlled by an authoritarian government that has adopted the 17th-century practice of the masquerade into common usage (everyone in this society wears a mask). The player is thrust into this environment with one goal, to acquire a mask (the mask in this situation will be a metaphor for citizenship in the country, as nationality is another aspect of our identity, another mask that we wear to distinguish ourselves). However, you cannot move openly through this city without a mask and to be spotted without one is a death sentence.


Our visual is a non-combat stealth video game with 0% chance of battling. Once the character dies, the character will not be able to come back to life. The objective is the main character must risk his life to illegally obtain citizenship in a country that has a policy of isolation and refugee rejection. In essence, they do not allow anyone to come into their country who does not originate from that country. The main character is a refugee from a developing country.

A refugee is defined as a person who is unwilling to return to their country of nationality because of “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” (Cepla). When applying for refugee status in the United States, it takes an average of two years for refugees to be vetted because they must go through several rounds of background checks, screenings, and interviews under the United States Refugee Admissions Program (Cepla). Not only do refugees struggle with an enduring wait, but President Trump also set a refugee limit of 30,000 for the fiscal year of 2019, making it the lowest cap since the introduction of the Admissions Program and a competitive process for the refugees (Felter).

When people apply for asylum status, they too are seeking protection from violence and persecution in their home, and they must meet the definition of a refugee, but the difference is those seeking asylum are already in the country or are seeking entry and asylum at the country’s border (Willingham). From the asylum application to decision, the process takes an average of 180 days (Willingham). Regardless of whether the applicant is seeking refugee or asylum status, both are a long and excruciating process that may not render a decision in favor of the individual. Therefore, people sometimes go to extreme or illegal measures in order to gain citizenship within a new country.

An example of someone going to extremes to gain citizenship is similar to the character Obinze in Americanah. After Obinze was denied citizenship in both American and England, he attempted to marry a woman who was a citizen of England in order to gain citizenship, but he was caught and deported (Adichie 343-345). This shows that people are willing to make illegal choices after failing to gain citizenship or refugee or asylum status. The gameplay reinforces the ideas in the novel by representing a character who is illegally attempting to gain citizenship within a country by retrieving a mask from the black market.

The setting takes place in a city that is a fictional depiction of countries like the United States and Britain because these countries are economically powerful and isolated because they make immigration processes difficult. The citizens of this fictional city all wear a mask, which is a metaphor for citizenship, and it is something that immigrants and refugees have great difficulty obtaining. There is a black market within the city that illegally sells the mask to those who want citizenship and are willing to risk their lives to get to the mask. The cutscene will show a major city on a rainy day. There will be a billboard in the background that describes masks to be in high demand. It will then show a massive crowd of people all wearing masks, then it will cut to an alleyway which will show the main player of the game walk out of a door into the alley, handed a note, and the door will shut behind him. The note will state: “We know you are running for your life from your country. Fortunately for you, there are plenty of opportunities for you in this country. But, as you should well know, the locals are not exactly fond of outsiders. if you get caught, it is almost certain you will die a painful death. In the slum section of the city, there is someone willing to sell you a mask. Get it. If you get caught you will die so be quick, quiet, and try not to bring attention to yourself.”

The player must survive all obstacles as he makes his way to the slum section. They must avoid being detected while they make their way to the mask seller. Should they be detected, they will be pursued by law enforcement officers until they are either captured (and promptly executed) or are able to lose their pursuers. Should the player be caught, they are not given a chance to try again with their original character; rather, they restart from the very beginning with a new character.  By doing so, will be reinforcing the real world concept of immediate deportation of individuals caught engaging in illegal activity within another country. When the character reaches the slum section of the city and finds the individual selling the black market mask, a note will be handed to the character: “Congratulations, you have received citizenship. You will blend in with all of the other citizens of this country. Do not tell anyone who you are or where you come from or else you will be deported.”



Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Americanah, Anchor Books, A Division of Random House LLC, New York, 2013.

Americanah is a novel written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who grew up in Nigeria. It is a story about two individuals, Ifemelu and Obinze, who are both raised in Nigeria. Ifemelu eventually is able to legally travel to the United States to go to school, but quickly learns what it means to be black in America. She is forced to adjust, especially when she must assimilate into the American job market and college. She experiences love, racism, and success, but she also faces obstacles while in America. Obinze, on the other hand, struggles to obtain citizenship and is willing to attempt less than legal ways to enter the country because he tries to marry a British native in order to obtain citizenship. Eventually, Obinze was caught and it resulted in him being deported back to Nigeria. It is a novel depicting the paths of two individuals that intersect throughout, and it gives readers a new perspective of the immigrant process. The novel does have a bias because the author is from Nigeria, so she is speaking from her experiences through her work. She is able to give readers this perspective that an author from another country writing about the immigrant experience of leaving Nigeria and trying to enter the United States or England otherwise could not do. Adichie does a good job of incorporating the immigrant experience into a story that is relatable to every audience, especially younger generations because parts of the novel take place during the characters’ college years. 

CNN, AJ Willingham, CNN Design: India Hayes. “Applying for Asylum in the US Takes, on Average, 6 Months, 2 Interviews and One Big Decision.” CNN, Accessed 1 May 2019.

This popular media source comes from CNN, which is typically known as a left side political bias opinion. This article was written by AJ Willingham, and it describes the differences between asylum status and refugee status. The difference between the two is that refugee status is granted for people outside the United States and asylum status is for people who are seeking protection who are either already in the country or are seeking entry and asylum at the border. There are two ways to request asylum, the first one being if someone has been in the country for less than a year or is seeking asylum at a port of entry, which is known as an affirmative asylum. The second way to request asylum is if someone is facing deportation and is caught trying to enter the US illegally, which is known as a defensive asylum. The article explains how there is lots of paperwork involved, biometrics appointed, and an interview. The author states that the applicants may have costly and time-consuming travel arrangements, and the scheduling process for the interview is “actually kind of backwards,” because the USCIS prioritizes more recent filings to discourage people from filing for asylum for fraudulent reasons. This process could take months to complete. On average it takes about 180 days, which is about 6 months. The author refers to this as a “tense wait,” and the fate of the asylum seeker lies in the asylum officer’s hands. The final decision is not always the final decision because it may not be a simple “yes” or “no.” This article does have a sympathetic bias in favor of refugees and the struggles that they endure during this long process. It does not give the Trump Administration’s reasoning for such strict processes, it just shows those seeking asylum have a long wait and large costs in order to try to legally stay in the US. This article does lean left in political bias. 

“Fact Sheet: U.S. Refugee Resettlement.” National Immigration Forum, Accessed 1 May 2019.

This scholarly article comes from the National Immigration Forum. The article defines “refugee,” and provides information regarding who determines the number of refugee admissions, and what the refugee limit is for the fiscal year 2019. Over the past few years, the US is attempting to cut down on the number of people that they are allowing to seek refuge, and this year’s fiscal number is 30,000. It also states that the US mainly admits refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Ukraine, and Bhutan, and refugees are resettled in states like Texas, Washington, and Ohio. Primarily the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees refers refugees to the US for resettlement. The article mentions that it takes refugees an average of nearly two years to be screened and vetted. Resettlement agencies who have agreements with the U.S. Department of State help take the refugees to their new homes when they arrive in the US. Additionally, the resettlement agencies help refugees start their lives by assisting them in obtaining a Social Security card, registering children in school, and learning how to access stores for shopping. The article also states that the Office of Refugee Resettlement helps provide refugees with cash, medical assistance, employment, and social services. It also provides information on how refugees can legally work in the United States, and refugees can apply for a green card to become a permanent resident after one year in the US. This article provides information with a neutral bias. It does not provide an opinion, but useful facts about the immigrant process.

Felter, Claire, and James McBride. “How Does the U.S. Refugee System Work?” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 10 Oct. 2018,

This scholarly article comes from the Council on Foreign Relations, which is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher. There is a wide variety of individuals who contribute to this organization like scholars, lawyers, journalists, educators, and business executives, etc., who fact check the information that is published. This article informs readers of the legal definition of a refugee, the history of how long the United States has been accepting refugees, and how the numbers of refugees allowed into the United States has declined. Additionally, the article discusses what countries the refugees are from, how they are screens and approved, and what government agencies are involved in the process. While the article does appear to be neutral and provide legitimate information regarding refugees, the authors do have a bias within the article in favor of refugees. It briefly mentions at the end of the article how only a handful of more than three million refugees have implicated terrorist plots. It also states that most terrorist attacks have been committed by U.S. citizens, and the 9/11 hijackers were in this country on visas. It also explains how states cannot directly block federal government decisions on where to place refugees, but they can complicate the process by directing state agencies to refuse to cooperate with resettlement agencies. It does show a bias in favor of refugees, while also providing legitimate information. This article leans towards advancing the positions of refugees and places federal decisions in a negative light, without giving much deference to the actions of the federal government.

This Is the End of Asylum for Refugees as We Know It in the United States (Opinion) – CNN. Accessed 6 May 2019.

This popular media source comes from CNN, which is typically known as a left side political bias opinion. This article is written by Rafia Zakaria, and it discusses how the Trump Administration has proposed to require those seeking asylum to pay processing fees for their applications and limit their access to work permits. The bias in favor of refugees is evident throughout the article because it uses words to put President Trump in a negative light. For instance, the author says that the Administration has “nipped and hacked” at asylum laws and rules. The author explains that under the new program, applicants could face questioning by a border patrol guard who will evaluate whether they have a credible fear of persecution, and then it gives an analogy of how this would be equivalent to a police officer who makes an arrest also the judge at the first court hearing. Additionally, the author also describes Attorney General Jeff Sessions to have “antipathy” toward asylum seekers and claims the “US thumbs its nose at the world’s tortured.” It also claims that administration is hiding xenophobia under legalese and statutory “mumbo jumbo.” This language meant to share a negative opinion against the administration, and it fails to address the reasoning behind the government’s new proposals. Readers are not given information as to the reasons for this new program.  It uses name calling rhetoric in order to advance a left side political bias.