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This post contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Episode 1.
Your party members are the most important part of surviving a zombie apocalypse. The right travel companions could be the difference between life and death…I assume. Since zombies don't actually exist — and all of my attempts at making them have left little more than a pile of rotting corpses in my basement — the need for a crew could all just be a way to create dramatic tension and not actually be necessary. Still, almost all living-dead-related media have taken this approach.
Telltale's newly released video game adaptation of The Walking Dead is no different, but it actually gives you some say in the matter. In the first episode, the developers give you the choice of which of your post-apocalyptic vacation buddies gets to continue his sight-seeing tour: Carley, the eager reporter with a good shot, or Doug, the out-of-shape dork with a wealth of technical know-how. At the end of the episode, the game presented me with statistics regarding my moral dilemmas, and I found that a mere 26 percent of players joined me in choosing to save poor, schlubby Doug. So, I'm going to defend Doug's right to live against a pervert who likes tight skirts, Bitmob's own Jeff Grubb, one of the 74 percent.
Honestly, when forced to make the decision in the heat of the moment, I instinctively chose Carley — probably just because I've got a thing for girls in office attire. But I couldn't actually figure out what I was supposed to click on to prevent her from dying, and found myself staring at a game over screen. As the game was loading, I had a chance for reflection and came to the realization that Doug was the correct choice.
Jeff, you know that Carley isn't even aware that a radio requires either a plug or some batteries to function, right? Not only that but she doesn't know the names of the different battery types or how to insert them correctly when the label clearly shows her. Why on Earth did you think she'd help you survive the end of the world?
Carley, pictured here not understanding the most basic of technology while Doug keeps watch. You know, doing something useful.
Jeff: In my defense, I didn't have a long, luxurious game-over screen to consider this life-and-death choice. The walkers were bearing down on us, and I went with my gut.
That small window of time gave me opportunity enough to think of two primal justifications for my decision to save Carley: Lady good at gun. Lady is pretty.
Alex: Are you sure it was your gut you went with?
But you agree with me, then, that Doug was the better choice? I mean, it'll probably be pretty hard to come across anyone else who has memorized all the codes for programming a universal remote in the zombie apocalypse. I'm sure he has other useful skills as well, though. An electrician or a mechanic would probably be better, but I'll take whatever I can get. I'm more likely to find another person who can competently aim a gun in these hickvilles we're travelling through than I am a tech guy.
J: I don't know. Carley's killer aim is best suited to keeping me alive in the near term. Our biggest threat in the next few weeks is still going to be things we need to shoot. Down the line, Doug's net worth probably outweighs Carley's, but that line of reasoning would have required more time (or brain power) to process than I had.
Besides, Carley knew who I was and still trusted me. That's got to be worth something.
Carley, still trying to figure out why that battery-less radio won't work.
A: Yeah, she said she wasn't going to tattle on you for now, but you know she'll let that information out some time down the road. Another reason it was convenient to let her get eaten by zombies before that ever happens.
Either way, both of them have their advantages and disadvantages, yet for every four people to beat the first episode, three of them chose Carley. That's a pretty big difference. Do you think they were all thinking about her aiming skills, or are gamers inherently built to rescue the girl? Like, some sort of deeply rooted — possibly misogynistic — habit that comes from decades of being tasked with saving princesses.
J: I doubt they were thinking about her aiming skills.
It's the most basic instinct of the species, isn't it? To reproduce. You said it yourself: Before you had the time to think, you were ready to white knight as hard as the rest of us. I won't speak for anyone else, but I often require an extra second to remove gender from my snap judgements. I don't feel good about it, but it's true.
And this is where The Walking Dead — or at least this first installment — fully succeeds. The immediacy of these no-win scenarios reveals interesting wrinkles in a player's character in a way that only well-written fiction can.
You know that each future episode is going to end with a huge choice comparable to this one.
A: Couldn't agree with you more on that point.
I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens to me on the path I've chosen and then replaying it to see how the other paths go. I just hope Doug makes himself useful somehow because he certainly isn't much to look at.