There are moments in the Telltale Walking Dead games that will make you sweat when you play them. Moments where the life or death of a character depends on YOUR split second decision making. Do you stop the zombie about to eat the kid or do you stop the zombie about to eat the grizzled war veteran who can help you survive longer (not an option or spoiler but a perfect example of the kind of conundrums you get placed into whilst playing these games). The game is emotionally exhausting but in the same breath, quite unlike any other game series’ out there right now. It does not come down to shooting everything and going from backdrop to backdrop. This game is awash in sickening, gut-wrenching decisions that can literally change the way you feel about yourself after you make them. Like, whoa, I had no idea I was capable of severing that person’s arm but that is how we keep them alive in this world. But at the end of the game, it is we who have to live with ourselves.
But What happens when you sit and watch someone you love deeply play the game? I won’t lie, it can straight fuck you up.
It’s All Just Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye
First off, wrong. It may be just a game (which I touch upon more later) but it rarely ever feels that way. Many people would argue that The Walking Dead seasons by Telltale are better than both the comic AND the show. The reason being, YOU walk and talk with these characters, so when YOU cause their death, it hits a helluva lot harder than it does when it is a character on TV. Even in a game, when a child dies as a result of something you did, you fucking FEEL it. It’s heavy. And THAT is exactly what the game does. It places you into the shoes of those survivors and you feel every second of it. Hell, in season two a decision as simple as which group of survivors to sit and eat dinner with becomes a battle with the self, because every decision you make in these games have lost lasting effects other characters will carry with them like virtual grudges. That, in turn, makes every decision in this game lofty. Seeing the “So and So Will remember That” icon pop up on screen after you did something fucked up always make you a little queasy, even moreso when it is someone you love making the crippling decisions. You wonder quietly, would they be that cruel to ME in the same kind of situation? Starts messing with your head.
They may have made the right decision to them, but you see it and find yourself cocking your head ever so slightly at them, wondering how much you truly know them. When you see someone in your literal, daily squad murder a dude because he has a cold and will slow the group down (again, not a spoiler, just proof Telltale should hire me to write for them) can really mess up how you see that person. One second ago they were your best friend or your brother, and now you see them hatchet a pregnant lady to get some rations and you are wondering what kind of sick shit they are truly capable of. Like I said, quite unlike any other gaming experience, to both play and witness.
But Any Telltale Game Fits Here, Right?
Yes, every single Telltale game is about tough decisions, so why pick the Walking Dead game and not Tales From the Borderlands or the current Batman game? Truth is, Borderlands places the players into insane situations that mirror no real life scenarios I would find myself in, so that makes it easier. Even some of the moral choices in Batman have been dealt with before in Batman comics, and I will never be a billionaire crime fighter so that’s a life wholly unfamiliar to me. But the idea of just regular people in an apocalyptic scenario and the horrors they would be capable of is palpably scary. Maybe not the zombies, but the do-or-die mentality of living like that is where the real threat comes from. Plus, if you truly pay attention to these seasons of this game (and the show and comic), you know, the zombies, er, walkers are not really the threat. The humans are. So seeing someone you love choose to murder an innocent to escape or kill a weak party member for survival is not something that is completely out of the question at some point. Come on, we could potentially have Trump as president in a few days. If that doesn’t scream real-life apocalypse scenario you must be sleepwalking through life, you lucky bastard.
We like to think those we love are not capable of unimaginable horrors, but you watch them play Telltale’s Walking Dead, you end up walking away feeling the opposite. You tell yourself it is just a game because it is, but somewhere buried, deep in your subconscious, those decisions you watched them make, significant to real life or not, stick with you the same way food poisoning does. You may get OVER a particular case of food poisoning, but you never fucking forget it.
Shoulda Just Watched Them Play Splatoon Instead
Just remember, Telltale thrives on this kind of storytelling. Their games are the virtual equivalent of the choose your own adventure games we used to play as kids, only the stakes are higher now because we visually are tortured for our mistakes. But it really IS just a game at the end of the day. Just because you watched one of your friends pull someone’s arms off in the God of War games does not make them immediately capable of said acts in real life, and I just needed to remind myself that while watching my queen play The Walking Dead games.
But the real key to keeping your sanity and keeping those you love in high regard is simply to never watch them playing a Telltale game. Really. There is the chance you could end up being pleasantly surprised when you watch the virtual avatar of someone you love give away some of their food to a survivor, but that feeling quickly washes away ten minutes later when they let someone fall to their death because, well, it was him or me.
Just like the real apocalypse.