For this assignment, I have decided to discuss the text-based choose-your-own-story game, Choice: Texas. Carly Kocurek, a game history scholar and professor, and Allyson Whipple, a writer, poet, and feminist activist (Campbell), developed the game using $10,000 of funding collected from various donations via IndieGoGo (Fussell). In this game, players are able to enter the realities of five different fictional women who are attempting to navigate through the various hurdles presented by the Texas healthcare and government system in an effort to, if the player makes the choice, get an abortion, or otherwise put the child up for adoption, or keep it. The women in this game are from many different walks of life. Latrice is a lawyer with a stable boyfriend, and neither had children in their plans. Leah is a young bartender living at home, and was a victim of rape after a man claimed he could drive her back from work. Alex is a high school track star working to get a scholarship while dealing with an undependable boyfriend. Jess is a woman trying to become a mother, but is faced with her future child’s severe health complications. Lastly, Maria is a Catholic, wife, and mother of three, who is working just to get by and give her kids a decent life. As it might be apparent already, all of these women face very different, yet equally challenging obstacles involving the healthcare system, their peers, their coworkers, and the people that they once believed they could count on for anything (Choice: Texas, 2014). These hurdles aren’t necessarily based on fiction either. In fact, the game was developed using “…extensive research into healthcare access, legal restrictions, geography, and demographics, and is reflective of the real circumstances facing women in the state,” according to the game’s main page (Choice: Texas, 2014). And the research shows; the stories contain extensive detail about everything from the specific information discussed during legally-mandated pre-procedure counseling sessions, to the discussion of the under-supported abortion assistance funds, and even a walk through of the judicial bypass process used by teenagers to get abortions without parental consent (Choice: Texas, 2014).
Colin Campbell, writing for Polygon, captures the importance of this game, and similar ones, within a few sentences:
“Games are increasingly being used to deliver serious messages about complex issues, by seeking to place players in the shoes of individuals most affected…[Games like this] feature protagonists who live in a place of suffering and whose options are limited by their own circumstances…They deliver a valuable opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes.”
In the case of Choice: Texas, this was especially the situation I found myself in. As a man, I know I will never have to experience the sorts of situations that the fictional women in this game, and the real women in restrictive areas like Texas, have to face and endure. However, in recognizing my male privilege, I also have to recognize that learning about the sorts of struggle women face every day is vital. Firstly, if I ever want to make informed statements about this topic, I feel it is my obligation as a human being to call upon factual information in these discussions. I also have to primarily consider the experiences and perspectives of women that actually have to deal with these issues and face systems that want to limit their choices. Along with this, I understand that I may very well be in a situation with my future partner or spouse, where we are faced with a poorly timed pregnancy, or some other issue in our efforts to start or grow our family. I have to gain that sort of knowledge so that I can understand what my partner is going through, and so that I may be the most supportive partner to them that I can possibly be.
The fact that this game deals with such a controversial topic, however, means that not everyone would be as pleased with its existence as I was. Of course, the lion’s share of the criticism has come from proponents of the Texas abortions restriction laws, especially those involved with pro-life organizations. Emily Horne of Texas Right to Life, for instance, claimed that the game “…reduces abortion to a dry, simplistic view and…completely ignores the voice of the unborn baby…” (Campbell). Of course, as one could see from playing the game, the situations are anything but dry and simplistic; in fact, everything from emotions, to faith, to family strife, is all factored in, and abortion isn’t even the only offered option (Choice: Texas, 2014). Another article, which goes out of it’s way to criticize the game before further details, and the game itself, were even released, claims that the game “…misleads kids into thinking pro-life legislators are the villains and abortions are the worthy cause..” and that “…Choice: Texas does not provide gamers…the option to guide characters to crisis pregnancy centers…” (Townhall). While the former is a matter of personal opinion, albeit an opinion that couldn’t have been made with actual evidence given the time frame, the latter purely serves to demonize the game and turn people against it before it debuts. This point is also made questionable by the fact that visiting a crisis pregnancy center is indeed an option offered for one of the characters, although this visit only serves to torture the character as she is subject to a condescending and un-empathetic doctor, and this might not be the case with all crisis pregnancy centers (Choice: Texas, 2014).
Overall, I believe that the game does an excellent job of opening player perspectives in the way that it induces absorption through its text (Calleja). By weaving detailed stories and forming the personal lives of these characters down to the small details, it creates a vision within the mind of the player that would not have been possible to actually render onto a screen, given their limited budget and lack of professional design & development resources. Furthermore, it’s implementation of affective involvement through the emotional nature of many of the stories serves to draw players further into the story, and at least give a glimpse of the difficulty behind these decisions (Calleja).
Calleja, G. In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation. Cambridge: MIT, 2011. 35-46. Print.
Campbell, Colin. “Choice: Texas Brings Abortion, Controversy to Gaming.” Polygon. Polygon, 29 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.
Fussel, Sidney. “A Q&A with the Creators of ‘Choice: Texas,’ a Video Game about Reproductive Justice.” Arkansas Times. Arkansas Times, 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Apr. 2017.
Kocurek, Carly and Whipple, Allyson 2017, Choice: Texas, video game, computer, Choice: Texas
O’Brien, Cortney. “Cortney O’Brien – Get Ready for ‘Choice:Texas’ — The Abortion Video Game.” Townhall. Townhall.com, 03 Sept. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.