Very few people probably associate the fundamental human rights of abortion and reproductive justice with video games. But the efforts to challenge patriarchal norms in gaming are rooted in the same principles. For example, marginalized gamers, like people who identify as pro-choice, seek equality and an end to identity-based discrimination.
Game developers, however, have yet to fully understand how to meet these basic needs. When it comes to reproductive autonomy, few games, especially among the big-budget titles, show sexual acts with tact, and the ones that attempt to address pregnancy and abortion do so irresponsibly.
Thankfully, the gaming podcast SpawnOnMe, which highlights people of color within the community, is working to change that. This year, it paired reproductive justice with gaming activism to create its second annual charity, titled #Spawn4Good, to help raise money for the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF). (Full disclosure: SpawnOnMe’s producer Kahlief Adams reached out to me prior to this year’s event for insight about the different ways in which women, particularly women of color, are affected by anti-choice attacks. During our brief email conversation I suggested he connect with NNAF about this event.)
Last year’s fundraiser, which sought to “provide a deliberate space for [gamers] to have fun with the community, and to reflect on the unequal way people of color, and specifically African-American people, are treated by law enforcement,” raised more than $5,000 for the Eric Garner Fund and the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild to continue supporting activists fighting against police violence.
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As of this writing, the 2016 #Spawn4Good gaming fundraiser has raised $2,155 for abortions. Raising money to help those who cannot afford to pay for their own abortions means more than paying for the procedure itself. For many people, particularly people of color, the cost of an abortion can include transportation, lodging, child care, or even staff time if the person is incarcerated. As more abortion restrictions are implemented, the cost of the procedure increases. And, as more clinics close, the distance it takes to get there increases as well (which can increase the number of hours or days a patient might need child care, lodging, and so on).
Abortion funds contributed in 2014 alone $3.5 million to assist 28,000 people nationwide, according to the NNAF.
#Spawn4Good happened a week before the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision by the Supreme Court to legalize abortion, which falls on January 22. Under the hashtag #ReclaimRoe, #Spawn4Good sought to educate gamers on the battle for abortion rights happening all across the United States.
I watched last year’s #Spawn4Good event and was inspired by the work that went into trying to educate uninformed gamers on the realities of being Black. Held during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, from January 16 to January 17, this year’s event felt no different. Gamers of color banded together to help raise awareness of the current abortion care crisis. The live stream, like last year’s, featured multiple people playing different, mostly nonviolent games. Streamers also shared videos from the 1 in 3 Campaign, a movement seeking “to start a new conversation about abortion,” led by women who have had an abortion.
SpawnOnMe wanted the fundraiser to help women of color in particular, who are disproportionately affected by restrictive abortion regulations, including the Hyde Amendment, the federal ban on Medicaid coverage of abortion. Not only will some of the funds raised support women of color, but I imagine the event helped raise awareness for gamers of color, who can share or use this information in their own lives.
Yamani Hernandez, the executive director of NNAF, spoke highly of #Spawn4Good and the gamers who worked to broadcast the need for reproductive rights to a different audience. “Both the gaming community and people supporting abortion rights are a broad, multi-racial and intergenerational group that are often not given the credit for being so diverse, both in terms of demographics and interests,” Hernandez said over email. “For some this may have seemed an unlikely pairing, but it was a reminder of how intersections come together in real life.”
Many gaming fundraisers tend to focus on highlighting medical issues, such as providing donations to cancer research or children’s hospitals. While these causes certainly need attention and support, social issues also affect many gamers and should not be overlooked.
Though the fundraiser did not reach its goal of $5,000, Adams celebrated the platform’s success on Twitter.
— Kahlief Adams (@Kahjahkins) January 18, 2016
As successful as this fundraiser might have been, don’t expect any big-budget titles to tackle reproductive justice anytime soon. While movies and television shows have depicted stories with abortion plots, popular games seem to be too timid to break from the status quo.
Games may be lauded for their escapism, but the reality many people, including many players, must face is that abortion care is not accessible for all. Sometimes it feels so tiring to have to repeat the fact that games are not in a vacuum, or that all people have a right to reproductive health, over and over. That repetition, however, is crucial in showing that these issues should never be ignored, not in a real nor virtual space.
Gaming for societal good is a new norm, and SpawnOnMe is guiding that path.