Why We Need Diverse Voices
This post is about a game that contains references to baby loss. Click away if you’re not in a good mental space for that right now.
That opening gives you the warning I wish I had when I sat down to play a game over the weekend. I’m not going to name the game because this really isn’t about the game, and my point isn’t to shame the writers. My reaction was my reaction due to my life experiences.
I chose the game because it was listed as a horror mystery. Love horror, sort of fond of mystery, so it seemed like a good fit. The game came with a warning that it wasn’t suitable for children due to the nature of the content. Excellent — I am so grateful when people give you a heads up about their work.
I was about a minute into the game when I discovered that I was playing as an unborn fetus:
“Never been born? You mean that I’m dead?”
“I’m sorry, but the answer is yes … You have never lived a single day. You died while you were still in your mother’s womb.”
“And how did I die?”
“I don’t know, and in any case, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe an accident, or maybe your mother just didn’t have enough courage to let you come to life. I don’t know.”
“Oh, don’t be a fool, please. He knows what happened to you, girl. We both know. But we can’t tell.”
The point of the game is to go to earth and figure out how you died.
Once I was getting my beta number and my hCG was under 10 mlU/ml. I wrote down the number even though the nurse had already moved on to information for my next cycle. I remember scrunching down inside of myself and then scrunching down literally onto the floor because my body had a sudden need to get as low and small as possible to hold down everything welling up inside of me.
That’s how I felt sitting at the kitchen table, reading the words in the game.
I stopped the game to read a review — was it abortion, loss, or murder? It was murder, of course. I read a little more, using a walk-through because my heart wasn’t into the game. And then I finally closed it around the midway point. There was nothing wrong with the game itself — it was a horror/mystery as promised. But there was nothing in the voice that rang true to my experience with loss, and playing as an unborn fetus felt cheap. It was the sort of set-up only someone who had never lost a baby would use as a plot device.
This isn’t really a debate about whether or not you should write about something if you don’t have personal experience. I am a firm believer that people should write the story they want to write with the characters they want to bring to life. If they do it well, people will respond. If they do it poorly, well, people will respond, too.
But this is why we need games from women who have experienced loss; to counterbalance this poorly executed version. I continued playing this game because I wanted to see my experience come to life in a game; my experience reflected back at me. I didn’t find it, in the same way that billions of people don’t find their own experience in books or movies or games. It’s rare to find that verisimilitude when it doesn’t come from first-hand knowledge though I believe it can be created from very careful research.
I am grateful when infertile writers write infertility into their books. I am not quite as grateful when non-infertile writers drop infertility into their books as a plot device, especially when they only grab a cursory level of knowledge on the topic before writing. Replace “infertile” with any culture, race, gender, etc, and the same feeling holds.
We Need Diverse Books isn’t just a slogan; it’s a fact. People need to see their world come to life because reading and relating to characters and story is one way we process or understand complex emotions.
The other side of this is that the writers gave a content warning in regards to age. They knew that this wasn’t an appropriate game for a ten-year-old. But they didn’t know that this wasn’t an appropriate game for an infertile woman. They couldn’t, and I’m not blaming them for being clueless about this fact. I’m only pointing out how little they knew about loss when they decided to drop loss into their game as a plot device. The same holds true for any emotionally-charged topic — from rape to race relations. If you don’t know enough to know how it could emotionally affect another person, it probably isn’t being used well in the story.
I felt sad the rest of the night, and I woke up in the morning still feeling sad as I started my day. The game brought up all the feelings and memories from our chemical pregnancies, but gave me none of the catharsis of processing that loss since pregnancy loss was only brought up for the sake of the story. It was there to serve the plot; not the reader.
And that’s just it: Plots don’t have feelings. Readers/players do. Never mix that up.