Monday, December 17, 2012

Choices: Moral and Otherwise

I recently finished the Walking Dead game.  The short version of the plot would be that you play Lee Everett, a survivor who has taken an orphan girl named Clementine under his care.  The game is essentially a choose your own adventure novel, presenting you with various choices during conversations that will impact how the other characters treat you later on, as well as being given choices like which of two people to save from death or who to feed when supplies are running low.

Some choices were easy, in one chapter the cast is threatened by other survivors and you're presented with the choice of killing them or showing mercy after you've beaten them.  I chose to let them live, at least until the Walkers in the background closed in and finished the job for me.  An easy choice honestly.

But more than once I had to set the controller down and think about what I would do, what I could justify doing.  One that still stands out in my mind was when the group finds an abandoned vehicle, lights on and engine running so clearly not abandoned for long, full of supplies.  The group debates what to do but shortly, cold and hungry, decide to take everything.  You're given the choice of joining the looting or staying off to the side.  Initially I didn't join in, finishing the chapter without taking anything that didn't belong to me.  But after thinking about what I would do, the choices that I would make, I went back and replayed that scene and changed the choice I had made.

Because that's what this game is really about.  You're not playing a character named Lee Everett.  Lee is a voice for you to act through.  The choices and actions you make are not scripted by the game, they're determined by you, the player.  And it's done so in a more immersive way than any other game I have ever played.

I've played games with moral choice systems, Fallout 3 and the Infamous series.  But those use the moral choice less to impact plot and more to effect the gameplay.  Even with Infamous having alternate endings depending on your moral alignment still feels like the game is the one making the key choices and you're just telling it if you'd like to hear the good or evil story.

I've mentioned more than once how much I love the Mass Effect games, and while it often presented difficult decisions to make, those choices were either too broad and universal to effect me personally, or I could boil it down to see the impact on the characters I did have a connection with.  Either the choice was too big to relate to me, or so personal that I wasn't viewing it at the scale the game presented.

Again, in The Walking Dead you are the one making the choices, and you are the one they're effecting.  Without giving anything away, the game does not, under any circumstances, have a happy ending.  No choice you make will result in rainbows and sunshine.  This is a game about a zombie apocalypse, it's not about winning, it's about surviving.

In the last chapter the game confronts you about the choices you made at various points, and you can either apologize or justify your actions.  Each time I felt the knife twist a little deeper and realized just how guilty some of my choices had made me feel.  Could I really live with myself if I robbed that car and deprived the owner of what they needed?


After that scene Lee and Clementine reach the end of the game.  Lee, having been bitten is dying.  He talks Clementine through what she needs to know to survive.  But again, Lee is only saying what you choose to say.  I told that sweet little girl to stay safe, to learn how to hide, to always keep moving, and to never trust anyone again.

I told her to go on without me.

I did not ask her to shoot me to stop me from turning.  I refused to take that last light of hope from her.

I told her to leave and not to look back.

And then I died.

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