March 26th, 2006

Abortion Game Examines Issue, Sparks Controversy

What could be more controversial than a computer game based on abortion?

Not much...

At last week's Game Developers Conference (GDC), Ian Bogost (left), founder of Persuasive Games and a professor at Georgia Tech, unveiled work on a game which examines both sides of the abortion issue, challenges biases, and educates players about opposing views. Bogost explained the reasoning behind the game to Stephen Totilo of MTV News.

"Let's take on the most complicated, difficult problem that we could possible take on in contemporary American political discourse. We'll make an abortion game," he said.

While the underlying philosophical right-to-life question is not addressed within the parameters of the game, other aspects of the abortion debate are. The current build features mini-games in which the player guides a teen mother through pregnancy, explores a city in which all forms of birth control are outlawed, and rummages through the house in search of a condom.

Future plans could allow the game to tweak its presentation based on the responses of the player. For example, if the player was pro-choice, the teen pregnancy mini-game would emphasize discussion of personal responsibility and suggest alternatives such as adoption in order to help the player understand the other side's perspective.

Bogost doesn't expect a working prototype until the fall. He explained to MTV that the purpose of the game isn't to push a particular agenda.

"This isn't a game that changes your opinion, but tells you why people have the opinion they do."

LifeSite, an anti-abortion website run by the Campaign Life Coalition, wasted no time in criticizing Bogost's early prototype sketches, claiming they displayed an "incomplete understanding of arguments for protecting the unborn." The site also protested that arguments against abortion are "rarely, if ever understood by the casual observer of the abortion battle."

CM: The abortion debate has been marred by misinformation and rhetoric from both sides. Rather than criticize a game in the early stages of development, perhaps abortion opponents such as the Campaign Life Coalition could offer their talking points to Ian Bogost and Persuasive Games for possible inclusion in the final product.

-reporting from Saskatchewan, North American GP correspondent Colin McInnes (aka Jabrwock)

EDITORIAL ROUNDUP: Columnist Slams Hillary on Video Games

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) took one on the chin today, courtesy of conservative syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum.

Sullum, a social contrarian who has taken on the war on drugs in Saying Yes and anti-smoking forces in For Your Own Good: The Anti Smoking Crusade And The Tyranny of Public Health clearly dislikes the "nanny state" implications in Sen. Clinton's approach to video game content issues.

Sullum zings Mrs. Clinton as a "Video Game Warrior," criticizing what he sees as political maneuvering. He notes that while the Democratic Senator has called for a massive study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on the effects of video games, her proposed legislation, the Family Entertainment Protection Act (FEPA) appears to be based on an assumption that violent games are harmful to children.

Sullum writes, in part:

"Before a single CDC grantee has begun research to confirm there's a problem, Mrs. Clinton already has proposed a solution: ...FEPA... would make it a federal crime to sell anyone under age 17 video games with 'mature' or 'adults only' ratings... Although FEPA's provisions may sound mild, it's a big step toward government regulation of video-game content, which would raise serious constitutional issues. Mrs. Clinton's legislation could sabotage a private rating system that, while imperfect, provides parents with the information they need to monitor the video games their children play."

"As with sex and violence on television, which the mandatory but rarely used 'V chip' was supposed to block, Mrs. Clinton's real complaint is not that parents lack the power they need. It's that they're not using it as she thinks they should."