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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.

14 comments

1 a { 03.08.17 at 8:27 am }

Ugh – It’s clearly a novel concept, but I would bet it was written strictly for the shock value and emotional reaction that people have to children/babies. Which, really…is cheap. But not everyone can write good stories, so that’s what happens, I guess.

2 Beth { 03.08.17 at 8:47 am }

Wow. I’m sorry this happened to you.

This is the reason the end of Gone Girl ruined the story for me – the author so clearly didn’t represent the way actual cycles operate. And why Liane Moriarty’s work rings true – she clearly has knowledge of loss, whether her own or someone else’s. I appreciate the way infertility is woven into some of her characters in an authentic way, though my first experience with it shook me because it was so unexpectedly real.

3 Charlotte { 03.08.17 at 9:07 am }

I can’t even fathom how a game with where your character is a fetus would be entertaining at all. I’m incredibly sad and disgusted on your behalf. I am disgusted a game like this even exists. WTF is wrong with people.

4 Turia { 03.08.17 at 9:30 am }

Oh wow that would blindside me too. And the line about the mother not having enough courage to let the fetus come to life (which I read as a crack at abortion) fills me with rage. I’m so sorry you had that experience.

5 Working mom of 2 { 03.08.17 at 10:09 am }

This brings to mind Fuller House.i wasn’t a huge fan of Full House back in the day or anything, but I did watch it. I started watching Fuller House last fall on my phone during cardio–I was curious and it’s kind of comforting in these times. So at some point Stephanie reveals she’s infertile. Wow, I thought, maybe they’ll explore that further (hasn’t happened yet). Then there’s a subplot where uncle Jessie and Becky want to adopt a baby. Ok, I thought, they’ll realize how hard it is to get a baby, especially at their ages, then they’ll either give up or adopt an older child or something. Ha ha ha. I mean it’s a lighthearted comedy but still. Even under the most generous math they’re at least 50. And magically shortly after Jessie agrees to adopt, a baby is available!

6 Jill A. { 03.08.17 at 11:10 am }

I don’t have a problem finding my worldview reflected in writing or movies or the various media forms. I tend to project my view on everything and do it good and hard. It is getting out of my head, out of my experience, that I struggle with. You say “unborn fetus” and I immediately turn it into my unborn fetuses. Say, “teenage boys” and I see them as the kids I grew up with. I struggle to get my brain out of the rut of my own life.

7 Ana { 03.08.17 at 1:49 pm }

Wow. That sounds super distasteful on many levels. It definitely seems like a gimmick for shock. I haven’t even had a pregnancy loss and it makes me sad. And nice little anti-choice dig, there.

8 Click { 03.08.17 at 1:58 pm }

This was my issue with The Shop on Blossom Street. One of the characters is undergoing fertility treatment, it’s their last shot and they finally get pregnant so she immediately goes out and buys a whole nursery worth of furniture. I think she’s experienced losses in the past and that just didn’t sit right with me (even before I lost my twins).

Later in the book a baby was adopted under questionable circumstances by a character who had just experienced a loss. It just sucked me out of the story and made be feel uncomfortable because things do not work that way.

9 Raven { 03.08.17 at 2:27 pm }

Wow. Just wow.

I will never understand why anyone chooses to write about a topic they have very limited knowledge of, and yet doesn’t take the time to research. That is bad journalism, not very credible and leaves a poor taste in my mouth.

Sounds like a marketing ploy that was poorly thought out.

10 Jamie { 03.09.17 at 3:43 am }

Sorry to hear that something that you thought would bring you fun brought you deep sadness. It sounds like it really hit hard, especially with having lingering feelings of grief the next day. Be kind to yourself. Hugs for you.

11 Jess { 03.09.17 at 8:28 pm }

Ugh. Distasteful, and I’m so sorry it brought you back to that moment in time. That bit about a mother not having courage to bring you to life? What the (insert favorite expletive here)? I don’t know who could possibly think that wouldn’t be extraordinarily hurtful to people who have experienced baby loss. I hope that the opening of the wound meshes and heals soon. For shame, game.

12 Mali { 03.10.17 at 4:47 am }

I totally understand your reaction. It’s why I couldn’t read beyond the first few pages of Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It starts with the narrator’s conception – at the precise point of her parents’ orgasms. Argh!

13 loribeth { 03.11.17 at 3:21 pm }

Ugh. Reminds me of a horror movie ad I saw on TV a few years back… I think the movie title was actually “Stillborn.” Pregnancy loss is enough of a horror story in itself, thankyouverymuch… no need to remind us or turn in into an entertainment (??) vehicle. You just know that whoever comes up with these ideas has zero life experience with the subject matter. :p 🙁

14 Amber { 03.14.17 at 2:13 am }

I’m appalled that this is even a thing. I can’t believe that somebody would come up with putting that in a game in the first place. I’m sorry that you experienced all the hard emotions that brought up.

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