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.

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3 Comments on What I Learned From Watching My Fiancée Play The Walking Dead

Loveless

On December 15, 2012 at 8:02 am

Good article, I would love to be able to see more peoples reactions and decisions in this game. It is always fun to see how one person makes a “moral” decision and how another makes a different one. Careful though……

a writer and a woman, her take on the events of the game will likely be very different from mine;

^if Ross Lincoln sees this he is going to write another long winded article about sexism and you will be the focus and the dead horse he beats.

Phil Hornshaw

On December 15, 2012 at 3:20 pm

@Loveless

Haha, I was wondering if that was going to come up. I’ve been trying really hard to toe the line on gender politics here, because I definitely think there’s something to Caitlin’s reading of the game, and her experiences up to it, that separate her from me. Gender has something to do with it — and in fact, there might be a second part of this that discusses video game protagonists and gender and how we relate to them (the fact was, she just didn’t connect with Lee at all — while I definitely did, and I wonder if there’s a greater discussion of video game characters and players and how we associate with our in-game avatars through things like those specific characteristics).

But chiefly what I was afraid of was that this might play as, “Girl who doesn’t play games plays a game: a case study.” And I definitely didn’t want that. I think The Walking Dead is an interesting game to explore from a variety of viewpoints — and I think gender creates some specific points of view, as does being a gamer or not, being a Walking Dead fan or not, and so on. So I really, really hope the thing didn’t come off as sexist. I more wanted to discuss coming at the same game from different points of view.

Loveless

On December 16, 2012 at 9:52 am

@Phil

I think you did a fantastic job. It was an incredible article that actually made me want to go back and replay the game and try and look at it from another perspective. In just the few examples you gave here of why she made decisions and how she came to that conclusion were so far off from my own that it made me look back and wonder if I missed something by looking at it only from my own perspective. I liked Lee, he became me in that story with the way I played. It is very challenging and engrossing to go back and try and find that other perspective and make wither the same choice or others but based not on what I think but on how someone else might look at the situation. It is almost like playing a different game.

As for the sexism thing, I think you did fine. This was a perspective article and was very well written and thought out. I only take the jab @Ross in fun, It would take a bit of a leap or some serious misinterpretation to take an experience of you playing a game with a loved one and call it sexist. I for one would like to see more articles like this. It might even help out with a bit of the sexism gap (I don’t personally see it in my gaming life but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist) when you can look at someone of the opposite sex and see and hear why they made that “Renegade/Paragon” decision in Mass Effect or something similar and why you didn’t. Communication is the key to any human relationship, let’s talk a little more, point fingers a little less, and play together. We all might learn a thing or two if we stop and listen to someone’s opinion about something without dismissing it because its not the way we do things. I k.ow I did just by reading an article about a females perspective on a Video Game we have both played…….