The Walking Dead and the Illusion of Choice
By the way, there’s probably gonna be spoilers from The Walking Dead Season One and The Walking Dead Season Two. Read at your own risk.
Recently, I have replayed The Walking Dead Season One by Telltale Games and beaten the sequel. While I did enjoy the games thoroughly, something really bothered me while replaying season one. In my first playthrough of the game, I was always on edge knowing that any choice I made could affect the outcome of what will happen for the following episodes. Each time I would start a new episode, my adrenaline would be drained by the time I was finished and would have to call it a day. When I finished The Walking Dead Season One, I felt that it was a lovely title that I had no desire in replaying ever again.
About a year later, Best Buy was having its Black Friday sales a wee bit early for those who were Elite and Elite Plus members on their website. Out of the bunch of games I got for free (That’s a story told for a another day), The Walking Dead Season Two on the Xbox Juan was one of the titles I picked up. That same time frame, Microsoft was having their own Black Friday sales. I completely forgot that The Walking Dead Season Two read the save data from the first title until Thomas told me. Luckily, season one was on sale and I got a bunch of Microsoft Points (Yes, I know they aren’t called Microsoft Points anymore. Kill me.) for dirt cheap (Yet another story I will tell later.[Don’t worry, it ties into the one I alluded to earlier.]).
Replaying season one was an interesting experiment. There’s an option to remain silent as a dialogue choice, so as a wacky experiment for science, I decided to see how far you can get by just staying silent. Spoilers: You cannot get very far. I am sure the devs put this as an option to give players the choice of indecision or indifference, not to make Lee a mute. Choosing the silent option every time worked, but Lee still talked when the game forced him to talk. When you finally meet Clementine, that’s where things kinda get torn from the seams. You can still choose the silent option when you are talking to Clem via the walkie talkie, but the game goes into a loop; forcing you to pick one of three options because lo and behold, you actually have to talk to people to progress in a game. I chose against it. I chose to be rebellious. That game wasn’t the boss of me. I will give Clem the silent treatment…oh, wait. I am back with the same dialogue choices. How about if I remain silent again? Nope, same thing. I need to speak up or I cannot progress. I conceded and spoke to that little brat. Why would they give me that choice knowing it would not progress through the game? It felt like a choose your own adventure book where I would hit a dead end after my first choice. It kinda ruined the illusion for me but I already knew what was going to happen and I mean how many people would have stayed silent the entire time on their first playthrough?!
Now, the rest of episode one, I remained silent as much as I possibly could and if I was forced to make a non-silent choice, it was the stupidest choice out of the bunch. For example, do I help Duck or do I help what’s-his-face stuck under the tractor? Simple! Just stand there and do nothing. The game reprimands you for it verbally but was there any real punishment? No. The game moves on and you are in the pharmacy.
The biggest choice that actually changed the next following episodes was whether or not you saved Doug or Carley. My first time playing it, I thought I could save both and even if I could, the game wouldn’t allow for it. This time, however, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t save any of them. Guess what? You can’t. You have to choose one, so I chose Carley as opposed to the last time where I chose Doug.
By the end of the episode where I tried to play it like an interactive silent film, the game really showed me the seams that hold this game together. Even at the end of season two, I felt like the game was a glorified choose your own adventure novel. With that being said, I did not find it to be a terrible game. I actually enjoyed myself. Sure there were issues here and there, but both seasons were solid from start to end. Would I play those games again? Probably not for a while. I feel that game lends itself to be played just once; I mean, just look at the achievements for both games! You 100% both their achievements by playing the game how you want to play it…Assuming you weren’t playing it like me while replaying episode one of season one.
Maybe the choice given to us, the players, isn’t just limited by what the game defines as a choice? Spec Ops: The Line played with that idea and I would love to see Telltale do that should they ever make a season three.