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Friday, January 24, 2014

Choice: Texas — We Make 'Em, They Take 'Em

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - It's your choice, but I don't recommend it.

Thanks to our best friends at Best of Cain — formerly known as CainTV — for giving us the heads-up on this story. There was a funding effort at Indiegogo for this scary game idea called Choice: Texas. It made headlines in mostly non-gaming media, but KoopaTV isn't going to shy away from this type of stuff. It's a browser-based text adventure where you abort people.

Well that's probably not a completely accurate description (like other crowdfunded games lately, there is no gameplay available), but that's the premise.

"Players will explore the game through one of several characters, each of whom reflects specific socioeconomic, geographic, and demographic factors impacting abortion access in Texas. Although billed as interactive fiction, Choice: Texas is based on extensive research into healthcare access, legal restrictions, geography, and demographics, and is reflective of the real circumstances facing women in the state.Choice: Texas is being developed by Allyson Whipple (writer, editor, and poet) and Carly Kocurek (writer and cultural historian) with the help of illustrator Grace Jennings."
So maybe you don't actually get to abort anyone because you'll be in a socioeconomic status where you'll be unable to. Or an undesirable geographic location (on top a mountain somewhere? Guadalupe Peak?).

The campaign also promises,
"We are billing Choice: Texas as “a very serious game,” and we mean that. While the game is intended to be engaging, the issues it addresses are very serious. [...] Both Allyson and Carly have a long track record of successful creative projects, ranging from poetry chapbooks to blog posts, to conferences, websites, and public programs. We know we can complete this project."
Hey, ladies. As someone who is both a blog poster and a game developer, I can tell y'all with high confidence that the project management process for something like KoopaTV and something like Trayvon Tyson's Punch-Out!! (have you played it yet? It's FREE!) are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

The project says it will "represent the diversity of Texas women" (I guess not representing those Texas women who would never want to have an abortion, though) and that by donating, you'll receive some "perks" featuring these hideously-designed cast of characters. Hell, for $500 you can get "an original digital illustration by Grace Jennings of your favorite pet or person." See below for a sample of Grace's work.
For $50 I can get a tote bag with this girl on it! So compelling.

You know what other prize I can get (or could've gotten) for $500? A signed original sketch from Keiji Inafune. And no hideous tote bag either. Or a sketch from Matt Bozon of WayForward of actually attractive-looking Shantae characters. And you get a CD with music composed by Jake Kaufman, one of the best Western videogame composers. There's a reason his works got nominated for KoopaTV's 2013 GOTY Best OST.

I've written before on the flaws of these "serious games", turning concepts that really aren't fun into a game designed to get you to understand that concept in the developer's perspective. Notice how this one is referred to as "a Very Serious" game. If seriousness sucks, what's very seriousness? It bears repeating: This genre is existing solely for confirmation bias. Allyson Whipple says,
"Even if they don't maybe change their mind in the political sense, they come away with an understanding of what's it's like to be in a pretty desperate situation, and why you might make some of these really difficult decisions,"
No, no one is going to play this game who doesn't already agree with you. It looks like shit, it will not be fun (if you want to play a fun text-based adventure game, I highly recommend the Ace Attorney series!), and it's so obvious what its bias is. "Hey, you should play my boring game which challenges your closely-held beliefs made by people who don't know a thing about games development!"

The game needs to be compelling by itself independent of its message. Just like how Mighty No. 9 needs to have an identity outside of "screw you Capcom", and exactly how Trayvon Tyson's Punch-Out!! is both a compelling Punch-Out!! parody with compelling gameplay mechanics and (spoilers!) a compelling story of the evils of race-baiters and ambulance-chasers.

Since Choice: Texas will be free using an Internet browser, I'll play it when it comes out in 2014. And I'll write a review on it. Stay tuned.

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