With Donald Trump as the president of the United States, women are increasingly wary about a limited access to health care, especially access to abortions. The online role-playing game Choice: Texas was released in 2013, but the message it is trying to convey still rings true today. The game operates like a Choose Your Own Adventure book that begins with one of the five characters the player can choose to be finding out news pertaining to a pregnancy, whether it is that they are pregnant or that complications have arisen in their pregnancy. Texas has garnered a lot of attention in recent years over the new, increasing restrictions they implement even though the Supreme Court ruled that no restriction can create an undue burden on the women seeking an abortion. The most common state-level abortion restrictions are “parental notification or consent requirements for minors, limitations on public funding, mandated counseling designed to dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion, a mandated waiting period before an abortion, and unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations on abortion facilities” which the game attempts to depict (“State Facts”).
The creators of the game stated that they were “really struck by the rhetoric of choice [as] it sounds like everyone’s just choosing things in a vacuum, but in fact everyone’s choices are so constrained by time and money and health and healthcare access and all kinds of things” (Fussell). They attempted to depict how new legislation and restrictions affect women seeking abortions as well as how personal problems, such as age and location. One of the biggest problems facing women who would like to pursue this procedure is access to a clinic that provides it. In 2014, 90% of U.S. counties had no clinics providing abortions and 39% of women of reproductive age lived in those counties and would have had to travel elsewhere to obtain an abortion (“State Facts”). In Texas, where the game focuses in on, “some 96% of Texas counties had no clinics that provided abortions, and 43% of Texas women lived in those counties” (“State Facts”). This is a problem that arose in most of the narratives as people had to plan their whole life around spending, in some cases, a few days in a different city hours away in order to get an abortion.
Many pro-life critics have condemned Choice: Texas for promoting abortion, claiming that the game is simply providing the player obstacles to overcome in order to successfully terminate a pregnancy. However, I believe this game has consciously made the effort not to have an abortion be the only possible happy ending the characters can achieve. An abortion is not the only option for the five women; it is simply one of choices provided to them as they are provided to women in real life. The characters—even though they are being controlled by the player—always treat the subject of abortion with the gravity that it deserves and seem genuinely conflicted over the decision they have to make as the surrounding narrative provides enough support for the player to choose any option and it still make sense to the character’s lives. If the player does not support the character getting an abortion, the character is never angry or upset about their situation; they are always positive, with a tinge of regret over the difficult and complex decision they had to make that is also present in the conclusions of the narratives in which the player pursues the abortion procedure.
The biggest flaw in Choice: Texas is that it feels more like a game that would be played in high school health classes to show young girls this side of women’s health care rather than a condemnation or critique of Texas’ continually restricting access to abortions. It is also not very realistic in that nothing ever truly holds back a person from pursuing the option of their choice, except for one instance in Maria’s narrative in which it is no longer an option to get an abortion at a certain point and it is never quite clear if it is an error in the narrative or if it is because of the financial difficulties addressed. There is always a happy ending in these designed narratives which is most likely because the creators are pro-choice and do not want to dissuade pregnant women who are considering an abortion from their decision. However, it usually rings false; after parents kick out their teenage daughter, they immediately have a change of heart and after religious relatives ice out a woman who never wanted kids for her choice, the mother is suddenly reminded of how life is too short to be angry after having a small heart attack. Everything is wrapped up too neatly for these short stories to accurately reflect real life.
I also believe that it does not critique Texas’ regulations enough, which is one of its intended goals. In the trailer, the creator’s state their goal as “ask[ing] players to consider the impact financial limitations, geographic location, and legal regulations have on women seeking reproductive healthcare.” I do not think that the game does a good enough job at this task. The issue is again that there is always a happy ending; there is no instance where, regardless of what you want to do, you are unable to do so. The closest thing that comes to repercussions is some financial strains on Maria’s family and Alex’s GPA goes down, but both women are positive about the future as Maria is happy with her family and Alex still gets accepted to Stanford University for a full ride. All of the women also have a support system of some sort, whether it is partners or friends or relatives and that is not an option afforded to all women. As previously shown, Texas has actively tried to restrict women’s access to abortions and the games reference these hindrances without making them cause any actual damage. The mandatory waiting period never permanently messes up their lives, the required lengthy discussions about other options never pressure anyone about their decision.
The game ultimately works best as an educational tool as it is more interesting and interactive than a pamphlet or a lecture could ever be. As the player has to be the person to make the decisions, they are allowed to be empathetic to these women while still remaining true to their own beliefs. The structure of Choose Your Own Adventure emphasizes the gift of having a choice in the matter and allows the player to experience different scenarios outside of their own life. Although the game does not deliver on all that it sets out to accomplish, it sends a very important reminder to everyone what being pro-choice is really about. Choice: Texas is less a game about abortion and more a game about a difficult choice that women have to, and are thankfully currently able to, make.
Campbell, Colin. “Choice: Texas brings abortion, controversy to gaming.” Polygon. Polygon, 29 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.
Fussell, Sidney. “A Q&A with the creators of ‘Choice: Texas,’ a video game about reproductive justice.” ArkTimes. Arkansas Times, 08 Aug. 2014. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.
Kocurek, C. (2013, August 13). Choice: Texas, a Very Serious Game. Retrieved April 02, 2017.
“State Facts About Abortion: Texas.” Guttmacher Institute. N.p., 23 Feb. 2017. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.