In 2008, the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, instituted an anti-immigration regime known as the ‘hostile environment.’ In the shadow of the 2008 financial crisis and fears of rising immigration from mainland Europe – legally, under the EU right to free movement – the regime’s stated aim was to make illegal immigrants feel so unwelcome that they would simply choose to leave, but in practice it was a broad psychological attack on the idea that anyone foreign should ever want to stay in the UK.
Over the following decade, the costs of residence visas soared while newpapers filled with stories of administrative cruelty, legal immigrants refused permission to work for the most specious of reasons, while widows and grandchildren of British citizens were deported to countries they’d never lived in. Banks, landlords and charities were saddled with mandatory ID checks for their customers and, in a notorious stroke of racist belligerence a fleet of vans was dispatched to patrol predominantly non-white communities across London, threatening “Go home or face arrest.”
While many of the more overtly offensive elements of the hostile environment were withdrawn after public outcry, the regime survived such amputations. Despite considerable research showing the positive effects of immigration on the UK economy and the reliance of crucial sectors of our infrastructure on a foreign workforce, for the past decade the hostile environment has been both the de-facto state of immigration in the UK and the defining policy of now-Prime Minister May’s political career.
Satire is a well-worn tool for the critique of unjust, discriminatory systems and, if done right, can promote awareness of the systemic flaws and disparities in a bad policy, or reveal the covert cruelty in an oppressive regime. However, getting satire right in videogames can be challenging, as it’s not sufficient simply for the narrative and setting to work towards the satire: the interactive elements of the game and the way the player involves themselves have their own subtext, and it’s all too easy for the message proferred by a game’s systems to undermine its narrative satire.
In much the same way that Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please satirized the immigration and oppression of Eastern Bloc police states, British developer PanicBarn’s Not Tonight offers a Brexit-flavored critique of the past ten years of the hostile environment. While Papers, Please directly addressed its theme by through making you work at a border checkpoint, Not Tonight applies a layer of abstraction by mapping the bureaucracies of border crossings onto the job of a nightclub bouncer.