Yesterday, Kotaku reported on a short, text-driven game called Pregnancy, newly stocked on Steam. The title is, in the words of its maker Rodrigo Silvestre, "an interactive short story where the player tries to influence the decisions of a 14-year-old girl about the future of her pregnancy." The girl in question is named Lilla and is Hungarian. You act as her conscience. She's pregnant from being raped.
Kotaku writer Mike Fahey has uploaded the moment in the game when it's revealed that Lilla's pregnancy is the result of a (very graphically recalled) rape. The video's below, with the scene beginning just after the two-minute mark.
Obviously, watch the video at your own discretion.
Pregnancy follows a great many other text games, several of which have come under considerable scrutiny from commenters questioning whether the "interactive fiction" genre of the market should qualify as gaming at all. I personally have no problem counting these words-alone affairs as video games—I relate to them, physically, in the same way I would Grand Theft Auto or Tetris, by controlling the action and affecting its flow. The Sailor's Dream and 80 Days are as much games as BioShock and Bulletstorm.
A handful of the Twine games I've played have left an impression deeper than some big-budget console blaster, among them Pierre Chevalier's orchestrate-your-own-apocalypse Destroy/Wait and Michael Lutz's blood-chilling The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo. Perhaps the most infamous Twine game is Depression Quest by Zoe Quinn, which found itself caught up in the roots of 2014's Gamergate shitshow. And these games have explored rape before, too—Emma Fearon's Calories is absolutely unflinching in its violent denouement.
If you've enjoyed playing "bigger" games where choice is a core mechanic, be that the Mass Effect series, something from Telltale Games, or even a title from as far back as the BBC Micro's Granny's Garden (still pretty scary), there's no reason not to explore the ever-expanding array of (often free to play) Twine titles. All the same, high-profile knockers have crawled out from beneath their rocks to give their blinkered opinions on these interactive stories. He might not have meant it as a deliberate attack on Twine's creative community, but YouTube personality TotalBiscuit (aka John Bain) certainly caused a Twitter storm with the following micro-missive in December last year:
I should check out this new version of Twine. The idea of being able to make a game of sorts without any talent or skills is tempting.
— TotalBiscuit (@Totalbiscuit) December 23, 2014
Bain subsequently explained that he wasn't intentionally looking to provoke, to actively troll Twine fans and more besides. But a couple of weeks later he put his curiosity into practice by releasing a Twine-built "ethics adventure," an entirely pointless project as a game but nonetheless a politically charged comment on the persistent Gamergate agenda of corruption in the gaming press. He stands as a vanguard in this "consumer movement" and is, in his own way, a white knight to the vocal minority.
There are those who would call for politics to have no place in gaming, but games can do so much more than simply entertain, and we've seen this for years. There is nothing pleasant about playing through the later stages of 2012's Spec Ops: The Line, for example, as paranoia and personal pain pervades and twists the typical trappings of the third-person shooter genre. Pregnancy is not marketed as "fun," something to pass the time with a smile, and it arrives with rape in the news for a number of reasons.
From Indian public transport to US college campuses and right here in Great Britain, rape is a shockingly common crime that requires combating wherever it happens, however possible. And video games offer a way to experience things that, if we encountered them for real, would leave us irreversibly scarred. One in six American women will experience rape in their lifetime, and more than 22,000 Brits were raped in a 12-month period from June 2013. Who knows: Games like Pregnancy might just help more women, more girls, come forward and report such attacks.
I'm repeatedly told TV isn't the most viable way for kids to get their fix of what's going on in the world—that interactive mediums are where they're turning. So video games should trade in themes that matter. They need to. If Pregnancy changes its player's perception of teenage pregnancy and their attitude to rape for the better, then it's succeeded. Likewise if it plays a part, however peripheral, to an accusation becoming a conviction. There is value in its content, and it warrants its place on Steam.
Inevitably, not everyone thinks so.
Comments on Steam run from advice about the game's value for money – it retails for under two dollars/pounds, but Steam user "Raylorne" suggests you spend that cash at Starbucks instead—to a series of comedy thumbs-up reviews recommending Pregnancy to fans of Call of Duty and rating it "5/5—would abort again." Classy (and it only gets worse on the game's Greenlight listing). Criticism on its quality of writing is fair enough, and a personal opinion that's as valid as any other. But it's on Kotaku's US site where a clutch of the net's finest fuckwits have come out to play.
"This is lame, disappointing, and totally not a game."
"This guy wants to make a quick buck off rape."
"Getting tired of these games that are more about force feeding you a message and less about fun."
"I see now everyone can call himself a developer if the bar is this low."
There's more on Kotaku's Facebook, where such gems as these have been posted for public consumption: "im sorry if im being mean but This is fuckin retarded;" "this is a cash grab for the shock value and will appeal to SJWs;" and "The people who buy this game will already be aware that rape is bad, and only buy it to jerk off about how they are holier than the rest of us." It's OK to criticize any game, even one with morally sound intentions—and Pregnancy sure isn't The Walking Dead. But these predictable, puerile responses are just depressing. Anyone who wants gaming to be appreciated as a medium for thought-provoking narratives and genuine cultural resonance will read such words and just sigh. In the words of one indie developer, Gamergate already pushed the reputation of gamers back a decade. We can do better than this.
And if you can't, and you seriously think that someone trying to raise awareness of rape is "retarded," it might just be you who's got the real problem.
Follow Mike Diver on Twitter.