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Note: Major spoilers for Telltale's The Walking Dead series below
I don’t get to play video games with my girlfriend, Amanda, often enough. She doesn’t like too many of the ones that I do, so when I found out she was interested in Telltale Games' episodic The Walking Dead series, I absolutely had to play it with her. Each installment is short and simple enough that we can take turns playing through in one sitting. No health bars, ammo, or pesky resource management to deal with. Instead, the games put players in impossible situations without easy solutions and asks a simple questions: What do you do?
Amanda’s answer to that question is very simple: Eliminate any threat.
I played through the first two episodes while she watched. Toward the end of Episode 1, protagonist Lee Everett and his crew meet a woman who's been bitten by a zombie, or “walker.” The desperate woman notices the survivors’ weapons, and asks if she can borrow one to kill herself. I denied her request. Sure, she was going to become a flesh-eating ghoul, but we had three armed survivors to her one zombie. I didn’t see any need to kill her while she was still human.
“I would’ve done it,” said Amanda. “She’s going to become a zombie soon anyway.”
I disagreed, but her choice didn't raise any suspicions. After all, in some ways, killing the lady would put her out of her misery. But on her playthough, Amanda also spared the young lady. When I asked why she didn’t go through with it, Amanda had a practical explaination. "When you played, I thought she wanted them to kill her with the axe, not shoot herself and make a bunch of noise.”
I started slowly backing away from her.
In Amanda’s mind, suicide wasn’t the answer. Murder was. She had no moral qualms about killing that woman. She just didn’t like the logistics of it.
Later on, in Episode 2, creepy farmers force Lee and some of his crew into a small meat locker. Larry, a tall, heavy-set man in the group who tried to kill Lee earlier, has a heart attack in that small, locked room. That's a problem, because in The Walking Dead, everyone is “infected.” It doesn't matter whether a walker bites someone or if someone gets shot or passes away quietly in his sleep. So long as the head is intact, everyone reanimates as a zombie after death.
Players can side with Larry’s daughter, Lilly, who tries to resuscitate her father, or support former fisherman Kenny, who wants to kill him before he transforms into one huge zombie.
I tried to help Larry. Amanda said she would’ve made the executive decision. “He’s a really big guy, and you’re in a small room. If he became a zombie, he’d kill everyone.”
Except once again, Amanda reversed herself when it was her turn, siding with Lilly. After witnessing what happened through the rest of the episode, Amanda didn’t trust Kenny anymore.
So for Episode 3, I made a choice of my own. I decided to remove Amanda's ability to use hindsight to her advantage by making her play the episode first, just to see if her ruthlessness held up in the heat of the moment or whether she was just being a contrarian.
This might've been a mistake on my part.
Episode 3 opens with Lee and Kenny encountering a woman screaming for help as a horde of undead close in. After a walker bites her ankle, you must choose between using her as live bait for the walkers while Lee and Kenny escape or euthanizing her with a shot to her head. Sure enough, in a move that would make Hannibal Lecter blush, Amanda let the zombies maul the girl while her crew fled the area. Personally, I wanted to spare that lady the agony of getting ripped to shreds.
After a bandit raid leaves everyone a traitor in their midst, Lilly goes nuts and accidentally kills a member of the group. Amanda responded by removing Lilly from the crew and drives away without looking back, leaving her to deal with a large group of walkers on her own. “Damn, that was kind of rough,” I said.
Not missing a beat, Amanda replied, “She was crazy and didn’t want to listen to us. She deserved to die.”
We got quiet for a while.
Episode 3’s final decision has players choose whether Kenny or Lee should euthanize Duck, Kenny’s 10-year-old son, bitten when walkers interupted the bandit raid. Without hesitation, Amanda prompted Lee to grab the pistol and shoot Duck. Not even a twitch of remorse. Total poker face the whole time.
So maybe I owe Telltale Games a big one. Now that I’ve watched Amanda play The Walking Dead, I’m convinced she’ll do what it takes to survive in a post-apocalyptic environment, and should it come to that, I now know better than to get in her way.
Have you ever been been surprised by someone's decisions in The Walking Dead or any other game? Feel free to comment below!