You think you’re a good person. You think you know yourself — until you’re confronted with self-preservation and having to make decisions whose outcomes mean life or death for someone else.
It’s in these moments you realize you aren’t afforded the luxury of principles and that your philosophical ideals mean nothing. And once you’ve made a decision, your conscience interrogates your heart and mind, questioning whether or not it was the right one. You have to do what takes to live, but can you live with what it takes to survive? You don’t always have time to weigh the pros and cons, and you just have to react. And when someone suffers because of the decision you were forced to make, some will hold it against you, even knowing they’d have done the same thing.
In Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, your words and actions are never forgotten by those around you, and they’ll remind you of this often. Everything you do affects other people and how the story progresses, and in many cases, you won’t have time to contemplate how to handle a situation. You just have to go with your gut, but you may be surprised by your instincts. After each episode, the game displays the decisions you made and the percentage of players who did the same.
Like the television show of the same name, the focus here is not on the zombies themselves, but rather, the human response to the outbreak, how people cope (or don’t), and the struggle to survive. It is a character-driven narrative in the form of a game. And each player will have a dramatically different experience, as each decision you make drives the story in a different direction.
The one constant throughout the game is your devotion to protecting eight-year-old Clementine. Or at least that’s how it was for me. I spent the entire journey wanting nothing more than to give sweet little Clementine a great big bear hug to protect from her the living hell and collapsing world around her.
The Walking Dead is not a difficult game, because it’s really not predicated on player skill. You don’t have to be “good at games” in order to play this, but it can be difficult on a psychological level, and often emotionally draining. The mark of a good story is that it makes you forget it’s not real, and The Walking Dead does just that. It didn’t take long before I began to view the game world through the eyes of its main character, Lee Everett. And by that, I mean I didn’t view myself as a player controlling the main character. I viewed Lee’s situation and predicament as my own. I worried about the fate of my friends and family in such a crisis.
And while a zombie apocalypse is impossible — at least according to all known scientific facts — you can easily identify with the characters you encounter throughout the game, and the heartbreaking dilemmas they face.
Every corpse, walking or still — every soulless husk of a human being — every rotted face — is but a ghost from a time that seems more like a fairy tale with each passing day. And you wonder who they were — you know, when they were still people. What kind of lives were they living when the world went to hell? Did they have families who loved them?
They say the eyes are the window to the soul, but when you look into the pupil-less eyes of a walker, it’s painfully clear no one’s home.
To anyone who doubts the legitimacy of video games as an art form, you need look no further than Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. I have never in my life been so emotionally invested in a game. And until now, I can’t recall a game having ever made me cry. But I bawled. Like a baby. I can say with confidence that I’ll never play this game again. Not because it was bad, but because it was too good. I don’t need to experience that again. It’s embedded in my memory, the way my particular story played out. And when you play this game, you’ll have taken some emotional gut punches, and a different story of your own to tell.