What I Learned From Watching My Fiancée Play The Walking Dead
Warning! This post is full of spoilers of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. If you haven’t played it yet, you should stop reading precisely now.
This is the second of a two-part feature on the way different players and gamers and non-gamers experience Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead. To read Part 2, hit this link.
Caitlin Foyt grimaces at the computer screen as the animated RV door bursts open and Lee Everett falls out onto the road beyond. The vehicle pulls a K-turn and speeds back in the other direction.
“Well,” she mutters. “That was a mistake.” It isn’t the first time.
In fact, there were a few occasions during her playthrough of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead that my fiancee thought she’d made a serious misstep with her decisions. In the game’s fourth episode, it was in her merciful treatment of the arguably irredeemable Lilly; in Episode One: A New Day, it was in opting to help the young boy Duck over the more capable Shawn.
Caitlin wouldn’t be considered a “gamer,” but she isn’t without an understanding of the medium or an interest in various titles, even if it is from a watching and story perspective over one of usually playing games. When it comes to The Walking Dead, I insisted she play, for a number of reasons: As a fan of the comic and its spin-off show, she’s already engrossed in the universe; as a writer and a woman, her take on the events of the game will likely be very different from mine; and it gives me a chance to experience the story again as a whole, but as an observer and at a distance.
She ventured into The Walking Dead with plenty of experience with Robert Kirkman’s world, but little in the way of its mechanics. She was aware only of what I’d told her — that she’d be making choices and occasionally killing zombies, but that primarily the game was about her interactions with other characters. I also tried to impart what I felt is a key bit of wisdom about the experience of The Walking Dead: There are no wrong answers.
But of course, there are — not for the game, but certainly for the player. And Caitlin’s conception of “wrong answers” put her at odds with The Walking Dead in a lot of ways that I hadn’t expected. After the first episode (and later, as well), she explained that she felt the game almost cheated on tweaking her choices to make them fit Lee’s character.
“That’s not really how I’m driving the boat,” Caitlin told me during one of our interviews, following the end of Episode 4. “I make choices, but they’re not always what Lee ends up saying.” She mentioned moments when she would pick an answer akin to “Yes” in the dialog window, but Lee’s delivery would add a level of anger or distrust she hadn’t meant to, or wanted to, convey.
That issue echoed in the game’s opening chapter, when players are asked to give answers on Lee’s behalf about his backstory. I found that bit somewhat novel at the time: You intuit what happened to Lee through his potential answers, but you also shape his perception of them. For Caitlin, the reaction was opposite — she felt disingenuous, being tasked with answering questions for which she had no answers. It didn’t feel like invention to her, but rather, a disconnect from who the character was, and how she could relate to other characters through him.