In Texas, a major battleground in the nation's heated abortion debate, two women are using an unusual medium to promote awareness: a video game that challenges players to obtain an abortion.
Choice: Texas is a free, web-based game that allows players to choose from five female avatars with various levels of difficulty getting an abortion. Professors Carly Kocurek and Allyson Whipple are seeking funding on IndieGoGo to launch the game and bring awareness to Texas' anti-abortion laws.
The game-makers debuted two of their characters on Tumblr this month — a 19-year-old bartender living at home and a 35-year-old lawyer who supports her aging mother and younger siblings. Kocurek and Whipple told Persephone Magazine that the cast of avatars will also include a high-school student, a woman facing dangerous medical complications with her pregnancy, and a financially struggling, married mother. Here's Whipple:
Each character represents a different level of difficulty based on the obstacles facing her. None of them have it easy, because even if you have the privilege of money and paid sick days at work, there are still other obstacles to deal with. But certain characters will be much harder than others. The obstacles each character faces (geography, money, time, transportation) will influence which choices a player can make throughout the game. Think of it as a choose-your-own adventure story, but with the adventure being very tied to where you live or what kind of job you have. [Persephone]
Whipple and Kocurek used published accounts and testimonies from Texas women, many of which have come to light since state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) delivered a much-publicized 11-hour filibuster to block a restrictive abortion bill. Despite Davis' attempts, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed the bill into law, spurring the Choice: Texas project.
"Before, it was kind of something we were working on as a side project, but in the wake of the legislative session, it's become more timely and felt a lot more pressing," Kocurek told Persephone.
The duo created the game to promote awareness and compassion. They argue that the experiential nature of a role-playing game forces players to empathize with women in the difficult position of an unexpected pregnancy.
However, many are, unsurprisingly, uncomfortable with using a video game as a medium to discuss abortion. Town Hall's Cortney O'Brien writes:
Whatever happened to Mario Kart Racing or Sonic the Hedgehog? Shame on Kocurek and Whipple for developing a game that misleads kids into thinking pro-life legislators are the villains and abortions are worthy causes for which to fight. [Town Hall]
Choice: Texas isn't the only issue-based video game. Depression Quest challenges users to get through the day facing the kind of obstacles medically depressed people cope with. The goal is to "show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do," according to the game's developers.
A similar game, Spent, was launched in 2011 to raise awareness about the nation's problems with poverty. Players try to support a family and survive a month on their last $1,000 after losing their jobs.
While Depression Quest and Spent are already live, Choice: Texas is still in the prototype phase. Whipple and Kocurek hope to launch their controversial game in January 2014.
"To me, this game is centered around two things: Awareness and empathy," Whipple told Persephone. "Many people, including privileged pro-choice people, do not realize the extent to which people with less privilege struggle with geography, time, and money to obtain abortions. It's not necessarily willful ignorance, but if you're lucky enough to have a well-paying job, your own car, and the ability to get time off, you might not realize just how bad other people have it."
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