Choice Texas: Exploring Its Procedural Rhetoric & Its Affordance As A Women’s Reproductive Health Educational Simulation

Choice Texas is an interactive storytelling game that examines the spectrum of obstacles that pregnant women from all walks of life face when accessing abortion in Texas. The game offers options to play characters with specific socioeconomic, geographic, and demographic factors ranging from a successful lawyer to a high school cross country captain. Each of these characters has an unique environmentally situated support group that affects options that are offered in game. Texas legislation ties these narrative together as each character must confront the striking regulations that limit their choices and have resulted in clinic closures. As of 2008, 92% of Texas counties had no abortion provider (Kocurek). Through the years, Texas has passed bills that indirectly restrict abortions by increasing the obstacles women must face with the process. In 2011, Texas Legislature passed a law that required women to receive an extra ultrasound 24 hours before her abortion. This is medically unnecessary and requiring multiple visits to the clinic becomes inconvenient and stressful (Planned Parenthood). Today this accessibility question remains increasingly relevant as women’s reproductive choice is continually in the hands of government officials who are overwhelmingly men. Legislators fail to recognize the consequences of collective micro aggressions and the day to day realities of women who encounter these bills. Choice Texas utilizes the choose your adventure format to engage players to identify as the characters and experience both the big and small obstacles in full, fleshed out narratives while offering optimistic, solution driven resources interweaved into the gameplay. Choice Texas aims to educate and add perspective to the abortion debate by inviting players to explore the experiences of others, acting as procedural rhetoric.

By dissecting the multifaceted aspects of abortion, players must anticipate the impact financial limitations, geographical location, and legal regulations that women seeking reproductive healthcare must face. This is in part executed through the variety in the choice of stories and characters themselves. Choice Texas recognizes the varying circumstances that women may encounter that force them to consider abortion. Latrice is successful career wise but has economic responsibilities while looking over her family and must balance work and pregnancy all the while never especially wanting to be a mother. Jess is a pro life advocate who is forced to consider abortion as her baby would suffer if it had come to term. Leah must consider abortion as she was drugged at her shift as a bartender and sexually assaulted. These storylines themselves diverge from the stereotypical teenage pregnancy. The game even inspects teenage pregnancy and counters these stereotypes with Alex, a responsible student character that practiced safe sex but now faces unexpected consequences.

The unique situation of each of these characters affect the choices available which becomes the system that dictates behavior and chains of action in terms of procedural rhetoric (Bogost). This becomes the means to express the multifaceted nature of abortion. Both Alex and Leah must consider geographical limitations of receiving treatment as both reside in rural towns. Scheduling time between work and school then becomes a constant obstacle throughout the storyline and the player must choose what to prioritize (often having to skip school or work entirely). The player must also consider financial limitations as choices offered change when you play as Alex, a student with a savings account under her parent’s name and when you play as Latrice who is financially able to consider abortion. In Alex’s case, the player actively considers adoption as adoptive parents often cover medical expenses of the pregnancy. The player must also confront her ex-boyfriend to help pay for the procedure and reach out to the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity. In terms of choices available as result of specific legislation that characters face, Leah and Latrice are drastically different. In order to proceed with adoption, Texas requires the paternal father to sign documents. The player must navigate Leah through this obstacle as she has no proof to hold her rapist legally accountable and cannot confront him due to trauma. The player’s choices even diverge between Leah and Alex as Alex faces additional legislation in terms of age. The player must navigate Alex through Judicial Bypass and reach out to Jane’s Due Process. Another factor that affects the choices the player is given is the immediate support circle of the character. Alex and Latrice vary here as Alex consults Coach Landon who recommends Pregnancy Help Medical Center that persuades her that abortion is extremely dangerous while Latrice can approach her well educated, trusted colleague at work. This selection of choices continue as consequences throughout the storyline as the player must anticipate the reactions of the loved ones and careers of your character.

This format of interactive fiction where the game designer’s systems and chains of actions become procedural rhetoric creates moments for the the player to immerse themselves in the identity of the character. When given the responsibility to maneuver obstacles and make pivotal decisions, the player is placed in the center of the process where logical decision making grows into a personal connection. The format welcomes players to wonder “What would I do?” The detail orientated narrative of the format carries the player through every emotional wave of frustration come with every moment of complication and microaggression that players most often removed from these narratives had never had to encounter or consider. Details include the considerations and possible consequences of open and closed adoption, descriptions of physical effects like exhaustion and intense cramps and its effects on many details in the storyline, the experience of being banned from your own graduation despite your efforts, and the thought process and awareness felt while under anesthesia for a surgical abortion.

Outside of the system of choices available for player selection, this rhetoric is built into the very mechanics of the game through its solution driven choices. The graphic layout of illustrations that depict a variety of racial and age representations contributes to procedural rhetoric of the variety of ways demographic can affect experience. The game mechanics demonstrate who you choose to consult affects your reproductive health planning and process as whoever the player chooses to consult will affect the player’s choice of buttons and available information to make the following decisions. For example, Alex’s support circle including her coach. The mechanics also actively engage the player to follow the consequences as past decisions force the player to face a strict set of future choices. For example, because the player chooses that Leah keep her baby, the player is now forced to confront her manager at work with no other choice buttons.

Choice Texas not only allows players to experience the obstacles and provide perspective to players, its purpose is also to educate and in some forms, intentionally or not, acts as a reassuring women’s reproductive health procedure simulation. The educational format resembles the NYU Alcohol Safety and Sexual Assault online courses where students read scenarios, make decisions and learn from the direct consequences of their hypothetical actions. The colors used on the website signal a medical experience visually with its soft blue and green that resemble colors used in doctor’s offices. The choices provided to the player illustrate the options and resources available that mimic the real world experience. The detailed narrative follows the step by step procedure with steps of gestation, a Woman’s Right to Know brochure, introducing the Lilith Fund, and details of the judicial bypass process. The button options themselves are very realistic, offering the player “unsure” buttons along with many moments to change your mind even when the player is deep along the adventure on a certain path. The simulation is reassuring in the way that with each decision, whether it be abortion, keeping the baby or adoption, the character is proactive and strong and social workers, support groups, friends and family are available options to confide in. It can slightly romanticize the process as families reunite after disowning the characters or when Latrice’s partner is incredibly willing to cooperate. But, this aspect helps contribute to the narrative satisfaction of the game, and affords the player to recognize the game as a reassuring simulation by demonstrating that no matter the course of action, every character is a hero stronger than they believe to be and is capable of adapting and moving on in some form or another.

 

References

Bogost, I. 2008. Persuasive Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (pp. 28-46) ISBN: 978026202614-7.

Choice Texas 2013, Choice Texas, video game, PC.

Kocurek, Carly. “Choice: Texas, a Very Serious Game.” Indiegogo. N.p., 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

“Texas Abortion Laws.” Planned Parenthood Center for Choice. N.p., 25 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

 

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