Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Walking Dead

I don't know how many people haven't finished Telltale's The Walking Dead yet who aren't totally disinterested in it, but to be safe I'm going to drop this behind a cut. Big spoilers for the end of the fifth episode within.

Seriously, if you've not finished playing The Walking Dead but intend to at some point, go away.

First things first: there's no way that TWD wasn't my favourite game last year, and despite its status as more "interactive experience" than "game" (a distinction only made by idiots, but that's another entry entirely) I think it's got a very good shot at being the best game ever made. It's certainly the best-told story in gaming's history, and I will fight anybody who says otherwise.

There's a lot of question about how much impact your choices have on the story, but if you get hung up on that then you're missing the point. The player's decisions are only supposed to affect the player; they're about setting an example or giving hope to the other characters - especially Clementine. It's about choosing hope, pragmatism or despair in the face of a utterly bleak world, and being able to justify the choices you made to yourself. Approaching it as "just a game", where all you care about is the mechanics and logic behind the curtain, is categorically Doing It Wrong: if you don't enjoy the game because of that, the problem is you, not The Walking Dead.

A couple of people on The Society mentioned that they'd completed the season recently, which had me thinking back to the various decisions I'd made across the five episodes, and then ended up fixating on the very last one. And then I started doubting what I'd done - thanks to, of all things, the Walking Dead TV show (that's also another entry).

For seriously real now, major spoilers.

I made Clem leave Lee behind, without shooting him. At the time, and in the three months since, I'd justified it as not wanting her last memory of Lee being having to kill him; I wanted her to remember him alive. But something in last weekend's TV episode, when I thought about it in the context of the game, worried me. Without going into detail, Rick meets a character from the very first episode whose son died because he wasn't able to shoot his mother. Now I'm worried - entirely irrationally, I know - that denying Clem the learning experience of killing someone she knows and loves is going to leave her weaker in the long run. She might be unprepared to deal with betrayals or turned friends in the future.

Everything I'd done in the fourth and fifth episodes - teaching Clem to shoot, bringing her to Crawford - was to give her the skills she'd need to survive. Making her leave Lee behind might have been the kind thing to do, but it's also a protective gesture that could do more harm than good.

I'm obviously overthinking things, considering none of the people mentioned in this post actually exist. But I think it's a testament to the brilliance of Telltale's writing that they've created characters that I'm genuinely worried about screwing up.

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