Without a doubt, one of the more controversial topics of debate today is women’s reproductive rights. In the recent years, the abortion debate has become increasingly public and open; however, like all other aspects of women’s reproduction and reproductive biology, abortion remains a hugely uncomfortable topic of conversation for many, an attitude that has lead to ignorance, misunderstanding, and the continuing stigma surrounding abortion and both the pro-life and pro-choice movements. The level of stigma and controversy of the topic depends highly on the region and its general political demographic of the United States as well. This is why a game like the Indiegogo-powered online game, Choice: Texas (Kocurek & Whipple, 2014), is a relevant, important educational game in the continuing effort to bring the debate into proper public recognition––especially in a state like Texas, the setting of the game, where abortion rights can be particularly both controversial and sparsely available (Feibel).
A decidedly pro-choice game, Choice: Texas aims to educate players on not only what the “choice” part of “pro-choice” means––a pregnant person’s choice to abort or not to abort, and any other choices the person may need or/and want to make before and after––but also on the various different circumstances that might affect the making of said “choice” by the many characters the game provides to play through. On the main page of the game, Choice: Texas provides five female characters, all of different cultural, financial, domestic, occupational, marital, and generational backgrounds and dissimilar circumstances of pregnancy. All characters have one thing in common: at the beginning of their scenarios, they learn, at their surprise, that they are pregnant. After that, the game unfolds like an interactive ebook, where the player gets to “make” some of the important decisions the characters have to make in their pregnancy process. The outcomes differ based on the sequence of “choices” the player makes, although the game is arguably quite structured due to the pre-determined narratives associated with the “choices” and the limiting of choices to just the ones offered by the game. While this could be a source of frustration for players who want more control over the game, it seems to resemble and comment on the crucial fact that many real-life women facing these important reproductive decisions are likewise limited in choice and constrained during their process. It also mimics the stress of the decision-making, dismantling the misconception that being pro-choice means being pro-abortion, that it means believing abortion is an “easy way out,” or that pro-life and pro-choice are on the opposite sides of a spectrum (when, in reality, they have many common grounds!).
One potential problem with the game is how heavily text-based it is. Because of the relatively one-dimensional involvement of the player to the game––there is not a lot of agency or creative-input the player can contribute to the gameplay despite the creator calling it an “interactive” game (Kocurek)––the game lacks the immersive quality people might expect of a game. Furthermore, because of how text-oriented the game is, the player cannot play the game unless they have the patience and attention span to read throughout the game. Thus, Choice: Texas might not be widely accessible, especially to the demographic the creators should want most to play the game: people who affiliate with the pro-life ideology and/or people who don’t wish to discuss women’s reproductive rights.
Another problem with it being a text-based game is that the lack of immersion can simplify the gravity of responsibility and emotional stress a woman unsure of her pregnancy might face. The decision-making process is reduced to a series of a few lighthearted clicks, and the decisions represented by the clicks can even be reversed in the fictional setting, whereas in real-life there is the added stress of the decisions often being ultimate and irreversible. One positive take of the simplicity, however, is that it can educate the players on the different choices a person in that situation would hypothetically have to make and help increase the number of people more aware of the actual detail––the support available, the order of process, difficulty involved in the process in case of a player becoming exposed to such a situation in their own lives.
One suggestion I have in making this game more impactful is to incorporate real stories and experiences as told by real people who have had to come face-to-face with these very real conflicts. Just a disclaimer “based on extensive research” is not enough. In my slight modification of the game, the scenarios would be set up so that they:
1) were based on true stories of a real Texan women
2) tell the player off the top that the framework of the scenario is based on a true account
3) still let the players go through the decision-making process and come out with their own narrative conclusion
4) feature a video clip of an interview with the woman the story is about and what the actual outcome was for her (can be anonymous or not).
Still, while not perfect, Choice: Texas has great pedagogical potential to start an important, educated dialogue about abortion and conflicting pregnancies. And overall, I was impressed by the thoroughness of each scenario.
Feibel, C. (2016, January 19). Study Documents Difficulties In Getting Abortions For Some Texas Women. Retrieved April 02, 2017, from https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2016/01/19/134689/study-documents-difficulties-in-getting-abortions-for-some-texas-women/
Kocurek, C. (2013, August 13). Choice: Texas, a Very Serious Game. Retrieved April 02, 2017, from https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/choice-texas-a-very-serious-game#/
Whipple, A. and Kocurek, C., Choice: Texas, Online, Indiegogo. http://playchoicetexas.com/index.php