An "abortion video game" designed to show the obstacles Texan women face when pursuing the procedure has sparked controversy, with pro-life supporters claiming it completely fails to acknowledge the life at stake and offers no voice to the unborn baby.
"I am saddened by this game," Emily Horne, a lobbyist for Texas Right to Life and a Texas native, said in a recent interview with Polygon. "It reduces abortion to a dry, simplistic view and it completely ignores the voice of the unborn baby, who obviously has no voice or perspective in this at all."
The game, called "Choice: Texas, A Very Serious Game," is in its developmental stages and involves players embarking on a quest to navigate past Texas' abortion restrictions to achieve the ultimate goal of having an abortion. Players may pick from five characters representing women facing different geographical, financial, or healthcare-related obstacles that they must overcome to receive an abortion. For example, one character is presented as a 19-year-old bartender and rape victim, who wishes to terminate her pregnancy, while another character is an excited, expectant mother who faces medical complications with her pregnancy.
The game's description on the website Indiegogo says "Choice: Texas" is an "educational interactive fiction game."
"Players will explore the game through one of several characters, each of whom reflects specific socioeconomic, geographic, and demographic factors impacting abortion access in Texas. Although billed as interactive fiction, Choice: Texas is based on extensive research into healthcare access, legal restrictions, geography, and demographics, and is reflective of the real circumstances facing women in the state," the description reads.
The game's creators are Carly Kocurek, a Texas native and assistant professor of Digital Humanities and Media Studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and Allyson Whipple, an Austin-area poet, writer, and self-described feminist. Whipple wrote in a blog post on her website that the purpose of the game is to show that some women have "better choice options" than others.
"Cost is not the only struggle women have to deal with. Those who can't take much time off work, or who have to care for children, struggle with making time for mandatory counseling and clinic visits. Those who live in rural areas may have to travel far and take several days out from their normal lives - and this is made especially difficult if they don't have cars," Whipple writes.
"In addition, recent Texas legislative changes that will cause clinic closures will require these women to travel even farther. Carly and I created a cast of characters that cover a swath of ages, races, economic levels, and geographic locations," she continues, adding, "[the game] shows that while women in Texas ostensibly have freedom of choice, some women have less choice than others."
Whipple also told RH Reality Check that she hopes the game can be used as a sex education tool for older high schoolers, "with the right teacher in the right school district."
Horne of Texas Right to Life added to Polygon that the pro-life movement in the U.S. is constantly evolving, and she wouldn't be surprised to see a video game promoting the pro-life perspective sometime in the future.
"There are always new ways to discuss this sort of thing. The pro-life moment is constantly adapting and exploring new ways to reach people. We're focused on legislation and education but it wouldn't surprise me to see people with different talents looking at [games] as a way to reach people," Horne said.
"There are lots of people in different walks of life and with different skills who are looking for ways to talk to the pro-life point of view," she added.
Kocurek and Whipple will introduce a working prototype of "Choice: Texas" at the upcoming Future and Reality of Gaming [F.R.O.G.] conference in October. They expect the game to be released in February 2014.
In July, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a law titled, House Bill 2, restricting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The law also requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their clinic, and have their abortion facility meet the same safety standards as ambulatory care centers. Additionally, the law requires the abortion-inducing bill RU-486 to be administered in person.
This new set of abortion restrictions in Texas sparked a national debate, with hundreds of pro-life and pro-abortion protesters flocking to the state's capitol building to offer their support or opposition for the bill. Democratic Senator Wendy Davis successfully delayed the abortion legislation by holding a 10-hour filibuster, but Gov. Perry then called a special session for lawmakers to have the bill passed.