You sit and watch. Yell at the perceived stupidity of the characters. Tell yourself that you would do things differently. Because you know better than them, right? You, like millions like you in the world, are a Walking Dead fan and pass on your criticism to your television and friends all the time. What’s interesting about being a critic of a zombie apocalypse show is that your opinion could mean less than you think it does. After all, how well do you know yourself in regards to what actions you would take in the characters’ shoes?
See, I found that I asked myself this question a lot when playing Telltale Games’ award-winning The Walking Dead title recently. I used to sit with friends and watch every Sunday what Rick Grimes and the other survivors did, and we all used to exclaim our distaste for their choices and vowed that we could do better. But, it’s not easy once you have the choice and about 5 seconds to make it. I think that’s what made this game so good to so many people. It turned a mirror onto the player and forced them to consider what exactly holds weight with them.
In the 5 episodes of the game, I did things I was not proud of, and I can say that with complete sincerity. I saved a boy at the expense of another’s life. Would I do it again? Yes. In the face of an impossible choice, you have to decide who deserves to live more. No one wins, but at least someone gets a choice. I let a lot of others die too. Some deserved death when I let them live, and vice versa. It’s a matter of choosing what kind of person you are and letting the river run, so to speak.
I also upset people, a lot. Taking sides in an argument is never easy, and sometimes it can lead to drastic consequences. And in hindsight, I regretted not being more forceful in making up my mind. But that’s what this game does to you: it makes you realize the futility of regret when it comes down to a choice.
Now, you may be reading this and thinking that I’m taking it way too seriously. It’s just a game, right? Well, yes and no. Video games are no substitution for real life, and just because I stabbed a man in the gut in the game doesn’t mean I necessarily have the guts to do it for real. (It should be noted that I have no murderous intentions on anyone, at the moment.) However, I am a believer of practicing for when you have to do the real thing, and I think this game really does that in terms of morality and ethics.
What roles do right and wrong play when the world has collapsed? That’s kind of a hard question to answer. Last year, I wrote a similar article about doing what it takes to survive in an apocalypse, based off of what I saw in The Last of Us. (Check out that one here.) Ideally, we would all like to think we’d retain some of our humanity in the face of annihilation. But, can that be done? Does God or human love exist in this setting? Honestly, who knows? As I mentioned before, you can’t really be 100% sure until you have the choice in front of you. Speculation is the best course of action. But, that may be something for you to really think about. How moral can you be when it’s you or the man next to you?
I’d like to think that I’d still be willing to help those who really needed it, whatever that help may be. Of course, as I’m writing this I remember a choice I made in the game where I let a living person die so that I can live to take care of me and mine. I don’t even remember if I felt bad about that at the time. I didn’t know her. I knew what I needed to do. Choice made, move on. But still, I would hope that I can lend aid to those who have none. I guess when it’s all said and done, you either chose to be ruthless or you choose to be more than the survival instinct.
So, I said all that just to prove how good this game was for me. There is no happy ending when the world is in hell. All you can do is make the best of what you have in front of you. In playing The Walking Dead, I felt like I made wrong decisions all the time. That’s life though, isn’t it? You are your own worst critic, especially when you’re looking at the road you’ve walked. So take some time, play through the first season, and try not to get everyone killed, ok?