-By Rachel Nevers
The game I chose to analyze was Choice: Texas, a sort of “choose your own adventure,” interactive fiction type game where you make decisions for your chosen character after she encounters the possibility of undergoing an abortion. There are five female characters to choose from, each with their own unique socio-economic background and set of beliefs. Created in December 2014, the game is set in Texas, where abortions laws are some of the strictest in the United States. The process of the game includes making decisions of who your character talks to about her pregnancy, and eventually, whether the character has an abortion, keeps the baby, or in the majority of options, give her baby up for adoption. Each option has its own unique outcome with consequences for the character. No option is perfect.
This lack of a perfect ending sums up the struggles that women and couples face in a world where abortions are a controversial but valid option. In each scenario, there is a problem with the pregnancy that causes the character to consider having an abortion: being unsure if she would rather work than be a parent, being impregnated through sexual assault, being a teenager trying to go to college, having dangerous medical problems with the fetus, and not having enough money to fully take on the responsibility of another child. Likewise, each character receives backlash for considering having an abortion: Latrice’s mother stops talking to her for a while, Leah faces getting fired from work due to the time she needed to take off in order to recover, Alex is bullied by a healthcare professional and is briefly kicked out of her parents’ home, Jess faces the emotional trauma of giving up a child that she desperately wants, and Maria must face a conflict with her and her family’s Catholic religious beliefs. These are all real threats that real women have faced when confronted with the prospect of having an abortion.
One of the most disturbing parts of the game is the length that other characters, even well meaning ones, will go to in order to project their own opinions and beliefs onto the main character. It seems as though each character already has a basic opinion of what they want to do about the pregnancy, but these opinions can be easily swayed by peer pressure or even the pressure of the player. As someone who is staunchly pro-choice and has seen the impact teenage pregnancy can have on the lives of intelligent, hardworking college-bound girls, Alex’s story seemed very clear cut to me; she should have an abortion. However, each time I chose the abortion option for her, some type of obstacle would arise: she would have to sit through biased information that overexaggerated the dangers surrounding the procedure, the mentor she confided in knowingly confessed the pregnancy secret to Alex’s unsupportive parents, she had a difficult time being able to afford the abortion without parental support, and even had to go through an extensive legal process to even be granted the right to an abortion – which she had to miss school in order to attend.
The media often makes it seem as though giving a baby up for adoption is the moral, middle ground choice between abortion and keeping the baby. However, in each scenario where I chose for the character to give up her child, it was exceptionally draining for the character. Giving up a child after carrying him or her to full term is full of emotional turmoil, especially when it is still blurry if that is definitely what your character wants to do or not. With each character, the adoption scenario ends with the character wondering what would have happened if she had chosen to raise her baby – the character must live with this question for the rest of her life.
Choice: Texas is a perfect example of how games can act as procedural rhetoric, using “rules and systems that dictate behavior and chains of action to make a point” (Bogost). By putting yourself into the characters’ shoes, the game creators force players to make difficult moral decisions that help enlighten what real women going through the difficulties of being unsure about a pregnancy endure. Since the decisions that the player makes are meaningful in terms of consequences for the character, the game is effective in persuading players of the complexity of the right to choose.
Additionally, when analyzing Choice: Texas through Calleja’s player involvement model, the game creates most impact through shared involvement, narrative involvement, affective involvement, and obviously ludic involvement. The shared involvement comes into play as the character interacts with computerized agents that influence the thoughts of the character by pressuring her to either keep the baby or to get an abortion. The narrative involvement occurs as the timeline of the pregnancy continues and changes based on different events that the player responds to, becoming intertwined with ludic involvement as the player must make consequential, meaningful decisions. For me, the most effective tool for player immersion was affective involvement, especially in Leah and Jess’s situations where Leah’s pregnancy comes from sexual assault and Jess wants nothing more than to have her baby but must decide whether it is moral to create a life that may or may not be worth living. I felt this involvement on both the micro and macro level as I continued to think about what I would do in these scenarios even after finishing the game and genuinely felt bad for the in-game characters because I know there are countless real life women who have gone through these exact scenarios.
Ultimately, Choice: Texas is not a fun game, but it is effective in that it raises awareness of the hardships and complications faced by women, especially in Texas, who are considering getting an abortion, giving up their child for adoption, or keeping their baby. I think this game would also help male players to better understand what is going on in a woman’s mind as she is considering the decision since it often seems easier for men to disconnect; after all, they are not the ones who have to carry the baby for nine months.
Kocurek, Carly and Whipple, Allyson 2017, Choice: Texas, video game, computer, Choice: Texas
Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge: MIT, 2008. 28-46. Print.
Calleja, G. In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation. Cambridge: MIT, 2011. 35-46. Print.