Performance and Survival in The Walking Dead Game

Posted: March 22, 2013 in Criticism, Video Games
Tags: , , ,

“This game is bullshit!”

I said that about twenty minutes into the game, when I met my first real moral quandary. Because it absolutely was. That’s also when I realized that I’m a bad person.

Okay, so here was the scenario: I had to choose to save one of two people. One was a healthy adult man who had already saved me and who was also the son of the farmer who had taken us in (Hershel, who was much closer to the character in the books than the character in the show). The other was a dumb kid (his father’s words, not mine) who didn’t know enough not to run the other guy down with a tractor and pin him in place as the walkers reached for him through a fence.

I realized I’m a bad person because I did not immediately choose the poor, defenseless kid.

But hear me out.

First of all, the man would be a valuable asset against the walkers—he’d already proved as much. And, I owed my life to him getting me out of that first neighborhood. AND, if I let him die, I would also lose Hershel as an ally, no doubt. On top of all that, the kid is stupid (again, his dad’s words) and will very like cause more trouble in addition to being a drag.

On the other hand, if I let the kid die and saved the man, I would lose the kid’s dad as an ally and would likely have no means of transportation off the farm.

It was not until pretty far into this line of reasoning that I thought, “Oh, and the kid is defenseless, so maybe I should help him.” I’m pretty sure a good person wouldn’t have hesitated to help the kid first, right?

So, I helped the kid, the other guy died (even though I had the opportunity to save him too, but the controls are absolutely atrocious), Hershel kicked us off his farm, and the kid’s dad offered me a ride. What’d I tell ya?

This whole interaction—and all the rest that come after it—made me start to think a great deal about how it is the game directs your performance. And by “performance,” I mean the acting on a stage kind, not the quality of my ability or skill level kind. In games like Dragon Age or Mass Effect, you can make choices that affect the later parts of the game, including how people talk to or about you. You can choose to be a good person, or you can choose to be a bad person (relatively speaking). Most importantly, you can choose these performances at your leisure. You could leave those games on their decision scenes for days if you really wanted to just really think through all your options and strategize.

Not in The Walking Dead.

Nope. You have to make all your decisions right now.

I noticed that having a time limit placed on making my decisions made me jumpy at first. Eventually, as I got a hang of the controls and the flow of the game, I learned to let my decisions come easier. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I made all the decisions I would’ve made for myself. I made decisions based on how I wanted the game to go—in other words, I was aware of the game environment as opposed to a real life-and-death situation.

However, I do think that the Venn diagram of decisions I would’ve made for myself and decision I made based on how I wanted the game to go has significant overlap. Because I couldn’t figure out at my leisure what my version of Lee would do, I think I necessarily had to pull from a personal decision-making paradigm. Which is, of course, how I learned I’m a bad person.

In summary: It’s a fun survivor-horror game with a neat twist on the free-will game. The artwork has a unique graphic-novel style, and the dialogue is solid. If the controls weren’t so terrible, I’d be happy as a clam with this game.

A happy bad clam.

A happy clam with red tide.

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