Telltale’s The Walking Dead Asks the Hard Questions – A Review of Morality and the Human Condition that Plagues Us All
We all knew this was coming. The defining moment of a true apocalypse: food rationing.
It’s hard to decide which is more frightening between the different factors; lack of food, monstrous humanity, disease, dangerous surroundings. Nevertheless, strength is required to survive in less than ideal conditions. Strength of character, physical endurance, mental fortitude; each play a pivotal role in propelling a survivor forward or dragging the weak down to Hell.
Any way you slice it, food is important to maintain that strength. So those bastards at Telltale start the aptly titled second episode, Starved for Help, with a lose-lose. Choose whom to feed out of ten starving survivors. Oh, and in case you forgot, two of those survivors are children.
Clementine and Duck, the entire reason for this article. Up until the release of A New Day, Clementine was rumored to be many things: an escort, a hindrance, a spike in difficulty, a plot device. What she actually turned out to be far out shadows the assumptive rumors. She’s become a reason. A reason to push forward, a reason to trust and a reason to care about something as ubiquitous as humanity in a world that seems ironically void of it.
I can only speak for myself, but when I play The Walking Dead, I enter a world where I am a protector. Much more than in games like BioShock or Resident Evil 4, because I’m not just protecting a little girl from bodily harm. I’m also shielding her soul from corruption, keeping pain and reality at arm’s length; I do all of this to protect something that I know will ultimately die: her innocence.
From the moment I met that shy girl in the baseball cap, I felt connected. I saw within her eyes a familiar sight of mingling fear, misunderstanding, and reality. I saw myself.
Everyday I question the very fabric of reality that forms this tapestry of deception, greed, and malice that can be life. Everyday I ask myself if it’s worth it to push ever onward, wandering aimlessly at times in a land that’s less than hospitable. Everyday I long for an innocence that I parted with way too early.
I don’t want that for Clem. And I’m not the only one; Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez shared a similar sentiment in her article, The Walking Dead’s Brave Little Girl Taught Me How to Trust. In her article, Hernandez shares her view on video games and her trademark logical cynicism. Both of which stood no chance against the frizzy-haired Clementine.
That’s how powerful innocence is, even in its virtual form. It calls out across the divide to any and all capable of hearing it. Being without innocence, I hear it like a Siren’s call. It beckons me and enlists me as a dutiful guard without any resistance. I would do anything to protect it. I would even harm it inadvertently, all in the name of preservation.
That’s the real heart of this review: the decisions we make to protect something as ephemeral as innocence. We try anything in an attempt to pay down the debt that only innocence can dispel, from the lies that we tell to the bodies left in our wake. Even the very food I gave to Clementine and Duck is down payment, a sacrifice to the digital gods to grant them some peace.
What I didn’t realize was how profound of a mistake that act of compassion could end up being.
In my quest to protect fleeting innocence, I very well put it in harm’s way. Now you’re probably wondering how that’s possible; I did the right thing by feeding the children first; that’s what I originally told myself. In reality, all I did was stack the odds against us both.
Now this isn’t true in every instance of apocalyptic horror, but for the most part children are baggage. Heavy, bored, energy-craving, slow baggage. Worse yet, they consistently need protection or supervision. Anyone with children or who has spent five minutes alone with a child knows this. So why should I starve myself to “save” a useless child?
Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t performed a 180. I’m merely posing as the Devil’s advocate, shedding light on a particular angle that most people don’t see.
For if I am required to shelter and protect a child, my needs come first. I need all the energy I can muster to protect them, to think clearly, to adequately weigh each option with care. So if I feed our last scraps of food to Clem and Duck, I’m not only depriving myself of food, I’m putting all of our lives at risk.
If walkers attack and I lack the strength necessary to push them back, they’ll overpower me. And then Clementine is left utterly alone. Where will she go? How will she survive?
I found it hard to answer these questions optimistically. Even now, weeks after finishing Starved for Help, I don’t think they can be. So I came to a different conclusion than what’s perceived “normal”. Maybe feeding the children first is the exact opposite of what I should be doing.
Of course hindsight is 20-20, but this new development makes me question how altruistic my motives are. It also makes me take a deeper, harder look at elements like “humanity” and “morality”, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s the real disease we should be fighting.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead Episode Two: Starved for Help has begun to pick up the pace in terms of hard decisions. From the opening to the closing scenes, it’ll have you on the edge of your seat. Though it is suffering from visual and audio issues at times, (latency, skipping and unsynchronized audio) fans of the game will ultimately walk away from the experience with a mingled sense of anxiety and satisfaction.
Look for Episode 3: Long Road Ahead in August!