Professor and digital artist Rafael Fajardo sees technology as an extension of his educational work, not for the content of the video games he develops, but for the capacity for criticism that playing them unleashes.
"Many video games are simulacra of reality," Fajardo told Efe in an interview, adding that while the simulation is never complete, it is sufficient to allow the player to see himself reflected in the situation he is experiencing through the game and reflect critically about what it means.
The professor of digital arts and electronic design at the University of Denver recalls his childhood in Texas as a kind of laboratory where he spent his days drawing and taking electronic devices apart to see how they worked.
By the mid-1990s, a long search for interactive electronic media with the artistic and social content he longed to explore through them led Fajardo to the world of video games.
He found a model for what he had in mind: "Hidden Agenda," a game in which players took the reins of a post-revolutionary government in a fictitious country of the Americas.
"The idea of the game hit me so hard, it was an almost impossible challenge," he said. "Plus there was the fact that it could inspire such emotions in me with such simple programming and visuals."
In 1999 Fajardo organized SWEAT, a group bent on developing video games with social content, at the University of Texas at El Paso.
The group's first project was in 2000, a videogame with a border setting called "Crosser," in which the player helps an individual cross the river and a highway from Mexico into the United States.
Fajardo continued exploring the border as video game in the next project dubbed "La Migra" (referring to U.S. immigration authorities), in which the player's role is reversed.
With this switch in the story, Fajardo was out to show the complexity of the border dynamic, since, he says, many immigration and customs workers in the U.S. are Latinos.
"Video games belong to a long tradition of satire," he said. "It's something like Voltaire did on the stage: present a work that is entertaining and at the same time plunges you into some powerful social criticism."