We are very, very happy to share some very cool information with you. Recently Laura Hudson wrote a piece for The Guardian, describing female game designers fighting back on abortion rights. Even if our project is not strictly a game, we were mentioned as well, as we are using the new technology, game engine and interactivity to bust the stigma and normalize the conversation. Kind of awesome ;)
The article describes various interactive projects, both video-games, live-action role-playing, and our VR experience. Working on The Choice is sometimes challenging, especially when we present to tech communities, not really focused on women's rights, and on "women's subjects", not to even mention abortion... It is always great pleasure to discover and meet the audience who becomes interested the more we talk, but often it brings a feeling of cutting through the jungle with some butter knife. So glad to see those badass ladies doing the same, in their field, and creating momentum for all of us!
So what are the other projects, mentioned in the article? Spoiler alert: one more Polish, I am super happy to see it. Of course, I knew it before, and played it ;)) It is a Tamagotchi-style pregnancy simulation, Fantastic Fetus by Aleksandra Jarosz. Your task is to take care of health, hunger and emotional state of your character, who is pregnant (in wanted pregnancy).
"As the months pass, you imagine your child’s future: what he or she will look like, who they might become. But when the baby is born, you discover that it had a fatal genetic abnormality and no chance of survival. Your dreams are shattered, and the revelation is made more terrible by the fact that the state denied you the relevant medical information to make a different choice about your pregnancy that might have abbreviated your suffering or given you any sense of control."
This is very realistic situation in Poland, where in theory you could seek for doctor's help, but they often don't even inform pregnant woman about abnormalities - to "avoid abortion"... Yes.. I have no words for it, this is so upsetting it is hard to find a good comment even... But not only Poland is like that. Do you remember Kristen from our storytellers? Luckily for her, she went to another doctor because she felt something is not right, and she had to make very hard decision of letting her daughter go, and not making her suffer more than it's needed.
Ok, let's get back to The Guardian and other projects mentioned there.
"The year is 1972. You’re part of an underground network of feminists in Chicago that provide illegal (at the time) abortion services to vulnerable, pregnant people with few options. Despite the risk of imprisonment, and the ways that your personal experiences may not always perfectly align with your activism, you persist."
And here is quite intriguing description from the projects website: "Players will argue about feminist politics, counsel people seeking abortion, and conduct abortions using a metatechnique. Characters will have personal conflict and political solidarity in equal measure. Characters will come to the uncomfortable realization that people who they care about sometimes oppress them, and learn that even a feminist organization can be racist." Sound spicy! :)
Trapped is a project that started as a card game, and now you can play it on your browser. It's been created by the outreach team at Women's Health Specialists in California, and expanded on by teams at the Abortion Access Hackathon. The idea behind the game is to make players realize the obstacles that people face when seeking abortion access, and how various factors can affect this access (and make it harder...).
"Sure, you’ve made the decision that an abortion is the only sensible choice for you, but how far away is your nearest clinic? What complications will it create with your job? How much will it cost? What intentionally prohibitive rules – such as “TRAP” laws, which create arbitrary and medically unnecessary rules to hamstring abortion providers – mean that clinics can’t even function in your state? In Trapped, you wake up in a randomly generated scenario where you want to end your pregnancy and must negotiate the Kafkaesque series of rules and fees that accrue." - describes Laura.
Carly A. Kocurek and Allyson Whipple, creators of Choice Texas decided to show how different challenges and barriers people face, depending on their background: different ages and races. You can play different characters, and each of them runs into different complications in their state:
"Alex's storyline details the difficulties of a teenager facing a surprise pregnancy.Jess's storyline deals with a dangerous crisis pregnancy and the loss of a child. Leah's storyline begins with a sexual assault. The assault is not described in great detail, but it is important to the story and drives Leah’s own decision making. Latrice's story and Maria’s story are less driven by trauma. This is not to say that they are not upsetting, but they do address the situations of two women with relatively high access to healthcare, financial resources, and familial and community support." (description from Choice Texas website)
The game "forces you to decide what you really want, what you are willing to sacrifice, and what it will mean for your future. Can you afford to have an abortion – or afford not to do it? Will your partner be supportive? It doesn’t feel easy, any way you play it."
I did not play this one yet, but it looks like it catches very important aspects of making decision about having abortion - both by defining those challenges, but also showing what people take into account when deciding - and what antichoice movement seems to not notice, with their stereotypes of who "the abortionist" it and how inhumane they supposedly are...
Reading description of Childfree by Axelle Cazeneuve, a life-action role-playing, I am wondering where is the project taking us, read this: "seven participants act out a decision about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy." Will it be about society deciding for us? This would be so heavy! And so true... It is not this entirely, but in a part: the whole game takes place within a mind of a fictional person, and the players represent her internal conflict:
"The facilitator takes on the role of the pregnant person, sitting in a spotlight, while three people in the shadows around them represent distinct elements aspects of “self” (their present situation, their dreams, and their needs) and three others represent elements of “society” (morality, the law, and societal expectations of maternity)."
I would love to play this, and with different set of people involved - probably the outcome would be very different, depending who would be taking each role. Sounds very interesting, for sure!
What is the common element of all those projects, including The Choice VR? Laura Hudson caught what is my main thought and message, and all the developers described above seem to share this approach:
"The goal is not to force players to accept a single perspective or conclusion, but to contend with the numerous tangible, personal experiences of people dealing with unintended pregnancies. Most of all, they ask players to consider the very real human beings trying to make difficult decisions about abortion. These people are often erased by simplistic, judgmental political stances – or legally prevented from making those decisions altogether."
Yes. So much yes!
In next blog post I will describe better The Choice VR itself. As mentioned at the beginning - we are not a game, but we use game tools to create and keep user's focus and engagement. What's different, is of course the VR aspect, as well as our background in film, and using real stories of people who had abortion. But this post is getting a little long now, so I will leave it all for next time ;)
*All quotes from The Guardian, unless specified.