How The Walking Dead and Other Games Let You Off the Hook

Instead, we’re let off the hook because there’s no one else. The Stranger holds us to task for what we’ve done, but he’s crazy, so don’t worry about it. Mass Effect asks us what we think about the krogan, the geth, the Collectors, even the Reapers — but it never holds you accountable for any number of genocides. Deus Ex: Human Revolution gives you the chance to shape the next phase of human existence and you’re never made to question whether you’re equipped to make that choice. Even Far Cry 3 implies you should wonder why you’re so damn good at killing without holding you accountable for the thousands of carbon-copy accented pirates you mow down — to say nothing of animals or the friendlies you can leave to die, like, all the time.

It seems as if most games are unwilling to really put the question to players. After all, who wants to be asked what kind of person they are in their escapist pastime, right? But then, isn’t art meant to ask us the hard questions, to make its statements, and occasionally make us uncomfortable?

It’s a real failing of video game storytelling to put so much emphasis on interactivity and choice, and then never bother to hold players accountable for those choices. They let you off the hook in one way or another. I stole the food and supplies that ultimately cost a family their lives; I led a child into danger, killed a man in front of her, and sent her to fend for herself.

If The Stranger hadn’t been crazy, isn’t it a fair question whether Clementine would have been better off with him than Lee? Unfortunately, we’ll never know the answer until video games start being ballsy enough to ask.

Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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2 Comments on How The Walking Dead and Other Games Let You Off the Hook


On December 18, 2012 at 3:59 pm

It’s why KOTOR2 was a flawed masterpiece. When you played the game multiple times, you came to the conclusion that Kreia was always going to “disagree” with what you did, and constantly challenge the assumptions behind your actions.

When you are forced into a philosophical debate with yourself after an incident on the Nar Shadaa docks for the next 15 minutes, you know the game was capable of something. It is also why I liked Witcher 2: almost everything in that game was defensible from a certain point of view. There was never a “right” or “wrong” decision.

We really need more RPG’s like KOTOR2 and Planescape, BG2, etc. Character centric with a wide variety of choices, but meaningful choices and the willingness to call people out on their failures. That is one thing I liked about the old school Baldur’s gate style games. If you played evil, good companions would leave. Companions would even fight each other! This made you actually have to consider your actions. Nowdays people whine, but rarely if ever take action.


On December 18, 2012 at 4:49 pm

The Walking Dead could be a milestone in the evolution of ‘moral decisions’…

At the beginning, Games started with fixed Good vs Evil roles… Most of the time you’re playing the side of Good, but sometimes you’re playing Evil (Dungeon Keeper, Overlord, etc…)

Then came choices (sometimes less than successfully implemented… Think Jedi Academy…) that makes you go toward Good or Evil, Jedi or Sith, Order or Chaos, Blue or Red, etc… But it was ultimately a Black or White affair that gave you corresponding bonuses or different endings, mostly…

Only recently, can we see less polarized roles… More shades of gray… And The Walking Dead is a good example of that tendancy…

Sure, we’ll continue to see, play and like polarized roles but we’ll see more shades of gray as game makers are better and bolder at making them… Indies gives me high hopes of seeing more of these kind of games…