TX women bring abortion fight to world of video games

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DATHAN HULL

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on September 4, 2013 at 7:02 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 4 at 7:32 PM

AUSTIN -- It's world of abortion politics meets the world of video games.

The game Choice: Texas, a Very Serious Game is a text-based browser game in which players will assume the role of one of five Texas women facing crisis pregnancies. In a video posted to the crowdfunding website indiegogo, the game's creators described it as "an interactive fiction game designed to raise awareness of the financial, geographical and other barriers facing women seeking an abortion in Texas."

The project is the creation of Austin writer and poet Allyson Whipple and friend Carly Kocurek, a native Texan and video game historian teaching in Chicago. In an interview with KVUE, Whipple says the idea for a game portraying the difficulties facing women in Texas came before the most recent legislative session began.

"When the big filibuster happened and then the special sessions got called, we realized that this game needed to take way more importance in our creative lives and it became our focus," Whipple said. The two have launched a campaign via indiegogo with the goal of raising $9,250 to help pay for web developing and hosting costs, illustrations by artist Grace Jennings and promotion.

"It is a game about awareness and also a game about empathy," said Whipple, describing the game as "sort of like a choose-your-own adventure novel." Still under development, the game will allow players to choose between pursuing abortion, adoption or becoming a parent. The process aims to show how state laws make abortion or adoption extremely difficult, and disproportionately affect women in different geographic and socioeconomic groups.

"In theory, any woman can choose adoption or parenting or abortion. But quite frankly, that's really not the case," said Whipple. "We'll have characters who live in very rural areas who are going to have to deal with getting time off from their jobs to travel to Austin or Houston or Dallas to get to a clinic. That's definitely a reality that a lot of women are facing now."

While most video games are meant to deliver thrills, Choice: Texas is one of a growing number of independent games addressing political and social issues. The game Papers, Please places the player in the role of an immigration agent faced with difficult moral choices. Another entitled Depression Quest is a text-based game confronting the challenges of living with clinical depression.

"Unlike an article where it's maybe a writer talking at you or just some pulled quotes, you're in someone's head," explained Whipple. "You're making the decisions for them based on the various barriers that they face, and the point of this is to generate empathy."

The game has generated outspoken applause among abortion rights supporters, as well as outraged headlines from opponents. Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, told KVUE the game's subject material raises some questions.

"Abortion's not a game," said Pojman. "It's a very serious matter, and we hope that however this game comes out, that it really addresses all the issues, shows that abortion is not a simple thing and that there are compassionate alternatives to abortion. Right here in Austin there are at least 15 wonderful agencies that provide compassionate alternatives to abortion, including adoption."

Pojman says the sweeping laws passed during the second special session of the 83rd Texas Legislature will lead to safer abortions, and suggests websites such the Texas Women's Health Program, which includes an online search tool for women's health care providers (that do not peform abortions), are a better resource than a game. Whipple contends that the legislation, which threatens to shutter all but five abortion clinics across the state, does little to improve women's access to needed procedures.

"A lot of people call this 'Abortion: The Video Game,' and that's a real simplification," Whipple said, responding to criticism leveled by anti-abortion rights groups. "Abortion is a big part of it and access to abortion is a big part of it, especially with the legislation in place, but we are covering all three options."

So what do the game's creators hope players take away?

"Even if they don't maybe change their mind in the political sense, they come away with an understanding of what's it's like to be in a pretty desperate situation, and why you might make some of these really difficult decisions," said Whipple.

Both Whipple and Kocurek are scheduled to debut the game's first two playable characters late September at the 2013 Future and Reality of Gaming (FROG) conference in Vienna, Austria. The pair hope to release the game, which will be free to play, in February 2014.

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