What I Learned From Watching My Fiancée Play The Walking Dead

At several moments, the disconnect between what was being clicked and what was coming out of Lee’s mouth might have contributed to Caitlin taking a path that I never did through the course of the game: opting for silence during conversations. Rather than take definitive stands in certain situations, Caitlin would opt out or play mediator. She told me it wasn’t her intention to take sides in some conflicts, like the squabbles between Lilly and Kenny in Episode 2. To do that, she said, wouldn’t benefit anyone in the group long-term.

“I don’t think it helps anything to pick sides — it’s better to just stay neutral,” she told me. “They’re both type-A people, and it’s worse to support one or the other.”

Despite that, Caitlin told me she sided with Lilly over Kenny, at least in Episode 2. Kenny’s hardline attitude about decision-making caused her to move away from him, while she said she felt sympathy for Lilly, who was forced into a hard situation and expected to cope with it, while also similarly forced to deal with the gender politics that went along with her leadership position.

Even after the end of Episode 3 and Lilly’s decisions, Caitlin wasn’t necessarily as hard on the character as I had been. While Caitlin chose to save Carly’s life in Episode 1 and related to that character, even after Lilly killed Carly, Caitlin didn’t force her out of the group. She later regretted the decision because of what Lilly did next, but it didn’t change her choices to show mercy.

“Just because she was a woman, it makes her a bitch (to be a tough leader), but she was clearly at wits’ end,” Caitlin said of Lilly. “She needed a timeout for a little while.” However, she still wished she’d chosen differently and left Lilly behind. “Well, she shot someone in the head.”

But hindsight is 20/20, and despite the way a player might perceive various characters — Larry, Kenny, Lilly, the St. John family, Vernon — unerringly, Caitlin opted for mercy throughout the story. It was interesting to see the way her moral compass carried her through the story’s tougher decisions, as opposed to my own: I’d backed Kenny to finish Larry in the meat locker, killed Danny St. John in a flash of anger and told off Vernon when he suggested he take Clementine.

Caitlin did none of those things. Nor did she ever take a life, or allow one to be lost, unless she was out of options.

“It’s not moral to kill someone. We need to cling on to the humanity we have,” she told me after the incident with Larry in the meat locker. “There’s a difference between people being alive on the floor and needing help, and obviously dead. I try to give all people the benefit of the doubt. Because what if it was your dad?”

But what about how Larry treats you (or Lee), I asked.

“How he treats you has nothing to do with how you treat him,” she replied.

The same was true of Caitlin’s chance to let Ben fall during Episode 4, even as he was asking to be let go.

“It’s not right to let him die; he wanted me to because of his guilt,” Caitlin said. “But at what point do you draw the line? ‘You’re useless, you’re a pain in the ass’ — but you want people to come through for you.”

But while Caitlin was unable to take life or sacrifice others, she was willing to make accommodations for the good of the group. When the group discovered the station wagon at the end of Episode 2, Caitlin opted against Clementine’s judgment and decided to take the food. She said that a lot of elements of the scene, like the car looking abandoned and the overweighing needs of the group, were what pushed her to taking the food. It also wasn’t a decision she would have changed once she knew how the story turned out, she said.

Caitlin’s decision-making in terms of what was best for Clementine extended to her final choice in the game, as well: She chose not to make Clem shoot Lee to keep him from turning into a walker.

“I felt like it could f–k her up,” Cailtin said afterward. “It seems Lee’s sole mission is taking care of that little girl. By asking Clem to just go, she’ll remember him as he was.”

The most striking thing about Caitlin’s playthrough of the game, as compared to mine, was her level of consistency in choices. Her decisions weren’t usually based on whether she particularly “liked” a character or not; she worked for the betterment of the group at all times, for the potential to save lives and create safety, and with a fairly steady hand. For the few times she said after a decision that she’d thought she made a mistake, it never changed her outlook. For my part, the circumstances had me re-evalutating certain values — my choices to side with Kenny in the meat locker and to finish Danny St. John, for example, were made in the moment when, under other circumstances, I would have probably chosen differently.

I have a feeling, after watching her play The Walking Dead, Caitlin might be better under the pressure of a “real” zombie apocalypse than I would be.


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

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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…….