Interactive Computer Games Give Women Choices

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 4.24.16 PMAccess to reproductive health care and family planning services in the U.S. has diminished considerably during the last several years. While national debates regarding abortion and contraception insurance soared, many states drastically reduced their funding for family planning. This budget cut hit particularly hard in Texas, where lawmakers slashed funds by nearly two-thirds, forcing half of its state-supported family planning clinics to close.

Now, thousands of women in Texas and other states are faced with a much more limited scope of options when it comes to family planning and contraception. The laws governing reproductive healthcare are stringent and confusing, and this can prove very challenging for women in need of services.

The creators of Choice: Texas and Fertile Ground have taken these problems and used them to construct informative, interactive “games” in which the player faces challenges to access healthcare in her state.

As its name implies, Choice: Texas focuses on reproductive care around the state of Texas, while Fertile Ground takes place in rural South Dakota. Both games are based on extensive research into reproductive healthcare access and legal limitations in each state. The games accomplish two crucial tasks: They illustrate the pain suffered by women in states where reproductive health care is not easily accessible, and they provide extensive information regarding complicated laws, clinic locations and costs of services.

Choice: Texas is centered on the stories of five fictional women of different ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds and marital status. Each woman faces an unplanned pregnancy (or an unplanned obstacle during pregnancy) and must explore her options within state guidelines regarding abortion, adoption, etc. The user plays the game as one of the five characters, but each character’s journey is not predetermined; the purpose of the game is to make choices on the character’s behalf during each step of her journey (i.e. to confide in a boyfriend or a sister, or to have an abortion or contact an adoption agency).

Fertile Ground operates under the same parameters but only showcases one fictional woman’s story. It still makes clear how difficult—and sometimes almost impossible—it can be to receive reproductive care, especially for single and low-income women.

Because so many abortion clinics have shut down due to lack of funding, a woman living in a small town in Texas might have to drive six hours to reach the nearest clinic in, say, Austin. A woman in South Dakota might even have to travel to a nearby state. And assuming she arrives at an establishment that will offer her services, she’ll find that some states (like Texas) require her to provide consent from the father of the fetus before she’s permitted to undergo an abortion—even if she was raped.

The best thing about the games is that they offer insights into how to make the hurdles to access seem a bit more manageable. They teach users how to maneuver through convoluted policies, how to decipher the pros and cons of seeking service at Planned Parenthood (which offers more comprehensive health services) versus other emergency medical centers, and how to reach out to organizations that will lawfully help underage girls receive abortion services without parental consent. Choice: Texas additionally outlines the adoption process and explores open versus closed adoptions.

Most importantly, by fueling women with information, the games provide something that state funding cuts took away: more choices.

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Image of Choice: Texas character, Leah. Courtesy of Choice: Texas.


Emily Mae Czachor is a print & digital journalism student at the University of Southern California and the senior culture editor of Neon Tommy. She is currently an editorial intern at Ms.