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Friday, January 16, 2015

A Review Of Choice: Texas — Should You Choose It?

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - It's a "very serious game", so I'll write a very serious review.

Choice: Texas is an "indie" game that has gotten a lot of press on KoopaTV; more than some MAJOR console games have. (This will now be the sixth article dedicated to it.) This month, we were finally able to announce that it is fully playable after more than a year of development. As such, this Best PC Game Of 2014 nominee will be the first PC game reviewed by KoopaTV! Congrats to the developers.

As a bonus, I'll even try not to let my personal biases about abortion and the developers themselves (or their biases against KoopaTV, such as blocking our Twitter account) get in the way of the review. Enjoy.

Choice: Texas logo
The game's logo, which omits the colon in the name.

Fast Facts:

This game does not have any audio component, so there will be no Music section. You are free to play with your own music, though. Feel free to pick something fitting.

As for graphics...

There also isn't really any concept of Graphics. The text is in a readable font and is dark on a white background, and the choose-your-own-options are within those green boxes that are distinct from the rest of the text. The character art is still not something I would want on a coffee mug, but the character art of the story you chose will be with you as you play it and you get desensitised to it rather quick.

All the art and visual style choices in the project encapsulated in one screenshot.

As for playing the game, the "gameplay" involves reading and picking choices (hence the name of the game). Your choices determine the next block of text and you keep going from there. You get second, sometimes third or fourth chances to reconsider your decisions in light of new information. For example, you may decide early on in the story that you don't want to abort the pregnancy. The woman will talk with her family or the baby's father or a friend or whatever and a new wrinkle might form: They might lose their scholarship, their job, whatever. With few exceptions (namely Maria's story), there really are no totally happy endings. This teaches you that having an unplanned pregnancy has consequences in life. Note that I have not gotten every single ending possible for all stories.

Jess's story changes the "usual" because it actually is planned. She has to deal with a miscarriage situation.

The wide range in circumstances (the woman's affluence/access to quality healthcare services versus not having those circumstances, the woman's age, job status, family status, etc.) is good not only from a gameplay perspective in terms of keeping the player interested and engaged, but it also is good from a narrative perspective. After all, the Choice: Texas developers have an agenda, which is to "ask players to seriously consider the plight of Texas women." The hardship of having to decide on whether or not to have an abortion is something every Texas woman apparently has to (or could) face. Hell, one of the stories features a defective condom. That could happen to anyone, and the only real way to avoid this is to not have sex at all. Unfortunately, that's apparently unrealistic according to Choice: Texas developers and a large part of society.

Alex's story in Choice: Texas starts with a broken, defective condom
This situation happening is actually why I don't want to have sex unless I want to father a baby.

Despite the emotion that the composite characters must be feeling, none of them are really memorable a few days after playing. I certainly don't remember Latrice or Leah from when I played the game in May. I can remember what each story was about after a brief review of my screenshots, but the characters themselves? Not so much. That's why none of them were nominated for Best New Character of 2014.

The narratives here are purpose-driven, not character-driven. The characters are a mean to an end, and every story except Maria's is pretty much in medias res.

There are some typos in the narrative, which is acceptable given the large amount of text. There aren't enough that it's distracting, like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies.

Less acceptable are some of the logic errors you can get, depending on your path.

I already had Leah choose to quit her job before this point in the story.

These logic errors are avoidable, at least.

On the subject for the characters being a mean to an end, the Choice: Texas developers take digs at Texas state law whenever possible, and also organised religion, as if the characters are merely mouthpieces. Of course, the only religions represented are various forms of Christianity. I guess it's more accurate that way because, chances are, any five women randomly picked in Texas are going to be some sort of Christian. But imagine how interesting it would be if there was a Muslim thrown in. Religion is to blame for there existing family member or community backlash against the idea of aborting a baby, and Texas law is there for restricting a woman's ability to have a safe and legal abortion whenever possible, whether it be through consent forms or ultrasound images or not fully funding your abortion for you.

Not every problem in Choice: Texas is solved by choosing the abortion option. In the case of Maria's happy ending mentioned earlier, she actually has a better ending if she does not abort.

Aborting caused her husband to be injured for some reason.
...Well, her son also got injured in the "give the baby to a family member" option.

Still, in some instances they are comparatively better off in their lives if they abort. In a world where every option is morally equivalent or acceptable like the world of the developers, this is expected. At no point is responsible sex conduct ever talked about, but if it was, we wouldn't have a game to play. You gotta think that this game can satisfy some sadist's itch for people's lives to be miserable.

There are five stories, and these take a few (it depends on your reading speed and your chosen paths, so 10-20?) minutes each to complete. Since there are multiple paths, if you want to maximise your learning experience, you'll go on each path for each story, which dramatically increases the time spent with the game. Since it's also free, there is no necessary dollar-per-content calculation here, besides, "Could I spend my time doing something else?"

If your goal is to have fun, then yes, you could be doing something else. There are all sorts of fun things you can do for free, like read random KoopaTV articles (or even ones that specifically interest you).

If your goal is to learn about abortion law in Texas and the struggles that women go through, then, yeah, this is a good way to do that and you will want to read everything Choice: Texas has to offer. The top Google searches for further research involve Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, and the Lilith Fund. These are all cited as data sources for the game's development, or actually appear in the game when the characters try to seek information on abortion. A pro-life resource you can use is Americans United for Life, which ranks Texas as the 10th most "protective" state in the United States. From this perspective, Choice: Texas's preoccupation with objecting to letting women know about the possible dangers of having an abortion and needing parental consent if you're a minor before undergoing a life-changing operation is ridiculous and pointed. But if you don't want to learn and you are in a situation much like the characters in the game, the developers have included a Resources page with practical places to go for help.

Choice: Texas is pretty accessible to everyone. They even tried to include a lesson plan as a stretch goal on their campaign, but they missed it by a few hundred dollars.
"We are also excited to announce that we are adding a stretch goal of $10,500. If we reach this level, we’ll be working with an established sex educator to produce a collection of lesson plans for high school and college teachers interested in using Choice: Texas in the classroom. These lesson plans will be included as part of the Choice: Texas site and will be freely available for anyone who wants to use them."
Since those lesson plans are not included and probably never will be, we can't assess those. There is one thing I encountered that assumes prior knowledge, however, which isn't told in-game or referenced later on.

You are supposed to know that Dr. Miller is misinforming Alexandra and that what she is saying is incorrect.

Otherwise, the writing style is fine and approachable across the stories, so props for that.

For what it sets out to accomplish, Choice: Texas does a good job. It's a shame that its development history was spotty, but that doesn't have any influence on the final product. It's... fine.

And I'll admit, I actually seriously thought about the plights of Texas women!

Even after serious thought, Ludwig continues to be a hard-line pro-lifer. He's happy to finally be done writing articles about Choice: Texas, unless there is a sequel or something. What "serious game" should KoopaTV cover next, and what did you think about Choice: Texas? Give your thoughts.


  1. "The game's logo, which omits the colon in the name." Colon? I don't see one.


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