This Online Game Shows How Hard It Is to Get an Abortion in America

"Trapped" illustrates the numerous, compounding obstacles that many abortion seekers are forced to face.

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Jan 12 2018, 7:45pm

A scene from Trapped.

You are a woman in the US, and thus—thanks to Roe v. Wade—you have the right to an abortion. But because of how far along you are, you have to get a surgical abortion and your primary physician won’t give you a referral, so you must travel to a clinic in another county. That may involve borrowing a car, staying overnight in a hotel, getting your work shift covered, and getting a babysitter for your existing child. If you don’t read English, you’ll need to find a translator as well. Meanwhile, the days are racking up—and because procedures are pricier in later gestation periods, so is the cost.

That is just one possible scenario in Trapped, a new, free online browser-based game that simulates the process of receiving an abortion from the moment you wake up and realize you may be pregnant to the day you walk out of the clinic and breathe a sigh of relief. Created by Kate Bertash, the game intends to illustrate the numerous, often compounding obstacles to accessing abortion in the US.

“We think of the concept of pro-choice but we don’t always think about the fact that that choice is not even a possibility—even where it’s super legal like where I live in San Francisco—if you can’t afford it,” Bertash tells Broadly. “Choice is relative to your financial situation. I think it’s important for people to understand that that’s a reality for people, even before you get to the point of whether legislation has blocked access.”

According to the National Abortion Federation, abortions can cost between $350 and $500 before ten weeks of pregnancy but can rise to over $1,000 after 20 weeks—and that’s not including additional costs of transportation, accommodation, child support, and so on. Some women are able to get abortions covered through their health insurance, but according to the Guttmacher Institute, 53 percent of abortion patients paid out of pocket for their procedure in 2014.

Trapped began as a card game created by the outreach team at Women's Health Specialists in Redding, California and was expanded on by teams at the Abortion Access Hackathon—a convention in which creative technologists come together to produce abortion-access related projects—which Bertash organized. After the hackathon, Bertash decided to fully realize it as a video game that could provide a more atmospheric sense of the stories. In the new version, the player steps into the shoes of a woman with a set of randomized factors—age, job, primary language, insurance, time into pregnancy—affecting her abortion and follows along with her process. Throughout, a ticker in the top right corner counts how many days have passed and how much the woman’s abortion is projected to cost based on information learned so far. Each time you play, the scenario is different.

All of the costs, wait times, regulations, and scenarios presented in the game are based on real research of regulations that affect access, statistics about people seeking abortions, and anecdotes from friends who work in abortion clinics about what scenarios are most common. Bertash says she was especially determined to accurately portray how costs rise precipitously after certain gestation periods because it often takes abortion seekers by surprise. In addition, cut screens throughout the game offer facts and statistics about why scenarios are the way they are—such as laws that make running abortion clinics extremely difficult and the fact that in 2008 61 percent of women who received abortions were already mothers, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The current iteration of the game is quite simple—without any decision-making elements. But Bertash says she hopes to add in features in the future that will allow players to toggle aspects of the identity and location of the protagonist—inputting their zip code in order to create scenarios specific to their local regulations, for instance. For now, though, the experience still gets the point across: As time, cost, and complications accrue, it’s difficult not to feel trapped.