Considering the political state of the United States, Choice:Texas offers an interesting exploration of the access women have to reproductive healthcare in Texas. This game allows players to choose one of five women to follow in a choose your own adventure narrative. Each woman has an unplanned pregnancy (except for Jess, whose pregnancy was planned but the complications were not) and must make decisions in regards to remaining pregnant or having an abortion. Naturally, each character faces different things to consider and must make unique choices based off of these considerations. Ultimately, the storylines of the characters exhibit the stress and anxieties women must face when they are doubting their pregnancy and considering abortion. It lays forth the various obstacles they have to deal with and the repercussions of their decisions.
As Bogost discussed in “Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games,” this game employs the use of procedural rhetoric to persuade players to sympathize with the women in the situation in favor of being pro-choice. The procedure in which users partake is learning of the character’s pregnancy and making life-changing decisions ranging from who to speak with to having the baby or not. By doing this, players are meant to recognize the hardship the women of Texas must go through when facing reproductive healthcare issues. Players must actively make difficult decisions that women have to make in real life when they have an unplanned pregnancy or unplanned complications. Altogether, this game works as a persuasive and educational form of media.
The game begins when you choose one of the five female characters: Latrice, Leah, Alex, Jess, or Maria. After choosing the character, you are introduced to the situation the character is in, being given the context of their socioeconomic standing, marital status, age, and so forth. After reading the first page, you hit “next” to go on with the story. Though this part is relatively passive, players must make the choice to continue onward with the narrative. After reading through a few screens and selecting “next,” players are confronted with options on how to continue the story. Depending on the character, the choice may ask who the character should talk to, what clinic they should look into or whether or not to prioritize work or their pregnancy. Eventually the story tends to boil down to the following choices: abort the baby, have the baby and put it up for adoption, or have the baby and keep it. The choices that are made affect the rest of the story; in the end, the matter at hand comes to a conclusion but the repercussions are made clear.
The choice to make Choice:Texas a game has significance. It could have been created on another platform but by using the element of interactivity that video games employ, it uses procedural rhetoric. When using the word “game” though, I would like to abide to the definition of Sid Meier: “a game is a series of interesting choices” (Egenfeldt-Nielsen) Choice:Texas is exactly that. Players make “interesting” decisions for the characters. These decisions can completely disrupt the character’s perceived or expected future. Players must use their reason to make these decisions though there is no obvious course of action. This allows users to understand the significance of choice in relation to pregnancy.
As I mentioned earlier, the game does an excellent job at offering players a range of perspectives. The five female characters have different factors that come into play when making the decision what to do about their pregnancy. Following is an introduction to each character.
Latrice: Latrice and her boyfriend have always agreed that they don’t want kids. Both of them are very successful in their careers and think that having a child is not for them. However, when Latrice finds out she is pregnant, she reasons that she must have forgotten to take her birth control. Latrice offers a perspective from a financially sound position. However, the pregnancy affects her career and her relationship with her boyfriend.
Leah: Leah is a bartender living with her parents and trying to save money. When she is raped, she tries to ignore it until she finds out she is pregnant. From then on, she must decide what to do with the child. Does she want a child that is the product of rape? Is she in a financially sound position to have the child?
Alex: Alex is at the beginning of her senior year and is the captain of the cross-country team. She is also on track. These accomplishments make her future look promising for college and scholarships. However, her boyfriend Eric got her pregnant even though they used a condom. Alex has to navigate her relationship with her boyfriend, family, and coach to determine what to do about her pregnancy. As a youth, she must have parental consent for an abortion.
Jess: Jess and her husband have been trying to have a baby and when things went as planned, issues arose with the pregnancy. Jess was bearing a child that would have major health complications and faced a tough decision of whether to have the child or not. She has to consider abortion in relation to the health concerns, putting her in a place of deep anxiety.
Maria: Maria is a part-time licensed vocational nurse taking care of her three children. She wants to go back to school but has too much responsibility as a mother and a wife. In addition to this, she must carefully calculate the money she spends to pay for the needs and wants of her family. When Maria finds out she is pregnant, she must consider all of these concerns and if she has the child, she would need to delay going to school for even more time as she would need to raise the child.
The various stories of these women express the many different struggles and considerations that must be thought about when having an unplanned child.
According to the game’s website, the full version of Choice:Texas became available towards the end of 2014. During this time, the debate over abortion was fervent, and today it still is. As an American living primarily in New York City, supporting the pro-choice movement is popular in my geographic area. However, southern states, including Texas, are often understood as having a conservative majority that supports pro-life. Therefore, reproductive healthcare in the area is not as accessible and faces legal disruption. An article from the Huffington Post highlights the impact of an anti-abortion law passed in Texas in November of 2013 that shut down 19 of the 41 clinics in the state, making it harder for women to undergo abortion (Bassett). These limitations have only gotten worse as there are even more preventative measures in place now. Pro-life supporters continue to try and place restrictions on abortions and have even proposed bills that would label abortion as a felony (Guarecuco). With such a discourse surrounding abortion in the area, the public stress and anxiety associated with having one acts as a barrier for the women considering it.
Furthermore, according to the crowdfunding page the creators of this game used, the healthcare in place has various legal barriers in place to dissuade women from having an abortion. This ranges from mandatory ultrasounds to minors needing parental consent. One of the more upsetting obstacles is bias counseling in which women are discouraged from having an abortion. In addition to this, long clinic waiting times make the process timely and difficult. Altogether, this game was created in the socio-cultural context of pro-life Texas. It educates players of the various legislative restrictions that play out in clinics and the legal changes that force clinics to close. On top of this, the game explores life for diverse demographics of women that live in Texas and confronts the socioeconomic, geographic, and financial barriers that make getting an abortion so difficult for women in different situations. In doing so, the creators stress the different incomes these women have, their job flexibility, and their options for transport, expressing how they must be considered while handling their pregnancy.
Overall, the pro-choice agenda of this game is effective for me, a firm believer in a women’s right to choose. However, the effectiveness on me seems irrelevant as the purpose is to persuade an audience who has not chosen to be pro-choice. As the game covers a diverse range of women, it has different channels open for empathy. This affords flexibility in audience and perhaps is effective for those who were not pro-choice prior to playing. Conclusively, the use of procedural rhetoric in the gameplay of Choice:Texas serves as a useful device in the pro-choice movement. Considering the most recent election in the U.S. and the stress women must undergo in relation to abortion, this game approaches the topic in a persuasive and educational manner.
Bogost, I. 2008. Persuasive Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (pp. 28-46).
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S., Smith, J. H., & Tosca, S. P. (2008). Understanding video games: the essential introduction. New York: Routledge (pp. 32-44).
Kocurek, C., Whipple, A., (2014). Choice:Texas. http://playchoicetexas.com/index.php