The interactive short story Pregnancy, released today on Steam, begins with 14-year-old Lilla Sandor purchasing a pregnancy test. It's a painful moment for the teen. She feels ashamed and awkward. At home, waiting for the test results, she recalls the horrific act that brought her to this point.
Developer Rodrigo Silvestre holds nothing back describing Lilla's violent rape. The music, once insightful and tinged with sorrow, is suddenly a discordant hiss, bringing to mind some dark and otherworldly thing that shouldn't exist but somehow does. The words flash on the screen: "Don't! Don't! Get off me!" It's a punch in the gut, and as the scene continues it grabs and twists.
Presented as colour saturated stills, music and text, Pregnancy is the story of a young girl dealing with discovering she is carrying a child conceived during her brutal rape. It's a harrowing journey that countless women go through every year. The difference here is that while many women deal with such situations, Lilla is not alone. She has her aunt, her sister, her friends and, most importantly, she has the player.
The player is introduced into the story as a disembodied all-seeing voice. It's strange and more than a bit shocking, both for Lilla and the player. A bond begins to form between once-spectator and subject, both surprised to find each other receptive to the other's thoughts.
Is the player Lilla's conscience? Has she suffered a mental break? As the story progresses the reasons why grow less and less important. The player is privy to her innermost thoughts and private actions. Her obsessive tooth brushing. Her taste in music and movies.
She begins asking personal questions. When was the player born? Does the player have children? Were they planned? Eventually she asks for a name, and suddenly everything feels so much more real.
While guiding Lilla through one of the most important, life-changing decisions in her life is no doubt the focal point of Pregnancy, it's these smaller, seemingly throwaway conversations that have the most impact on the player. They're the building blocks of a relationship that blossoms into something more than player and character.
Maybe the player is her conscience. Maybe the player is a trauma-induced hallucination. An imaginary friend. What the player ultimately becomes is a guiding voice in the life of a person they have come to care for -- the sort of person a 14-year-old girl dealing with a horrible situation might turn to in her time of need.
Like any 14-year-old girl, Lilla doesn't always listen to advice.
But it still feels right to give it.
There are choices to be made in Pregnancy, and these choices affect interactions with Lilla, but they also help players shape their own opinions of the situation. Presented with the option of calling her unwanted pregnancy "bad news" or "good news", I opted for the negative route -- obviously calling anything about this situation "good" was a mistake.
Slowly it dawned on me that I was not making the right decisions -- I was only making my own decisions. Perhaps another player would try to bathe Lilla's condition in a positive light to help lift her spirits. Was my negativity bringing her down? Was her reluctance to tell her aunt the result of my reaction? Suddenly I was second-guessing myself. Were I faced with similar choices in the real world, I'd likely do the same.
As I downloaded Pregnancy, I wondered what qualified me to tell anyone how to deal with a tragically forced conception. But Pregnancy isn't about telling -- it's about trying to understand the plight of a person in that position well enough to be comfortable guiding them towards their own decision.