WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
I have a very large body count on my hands.
I’m 38 years old. I’ve been gaming since my days as a lanky, shy kid at P.S. 244 elementary school in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I’ve slaughtered many a human, alien, augmented human, and creature of the night in those 20+ years, but their deaths meant nothing to me. My victims were a collection of exploding pixels and bleeding polygons that eventually faded from view. Notches on the belt, really. Achievements waiting to happen.
Then I played The Walking Dead: Episode II – Starved for Help.
Starved For Help, the second entry in Telltale Games’s five-part licensed adventure game, demands that you make even more heart-tugging, gut-wrecking choices than in Episode I – A New Day. The first game asked you to save either young Duck or Shawn on the Hershel’s Farm, and then either gun-toting news reporter Carly, or meek IT guy Doug when the undead attacked. Neither choice lent itself to emotional impact. They were pressured events where I had to quickly choose a survivor as zombies attacked. I was more concerned with the immediacy of making a choice of who should live than balancing the implications of taking a human life.
Starved For Help, on the other hand, presents you with a choice from hell–one that’s perfectly set up by both this episode and the one before it. Protagonist Lee Everett, your avatar in The Walking Dead world, is trapped in a meat locker with several characters. One of which is Larry, the extremely large, angry man with a heart problem who has a deep hatred for our hero. Larry, due to the stress of the situation, enters cardiac arrest, passes out, and stops breathing. This is significant as Starved For Help establishes that anyone who dies turns into a zombie (you don’t have to be bit!) and only destroying the brain puts them down permanently. As such, I had to make a decision: Assist Kenny in a preemptive Larry kill by taking a salt block to his head or hope that he recovers.
I opted to bash his face in.
Despite hating Larry (both for being a tool and an extremely one-dimensional character), I felt like absolute trash. Not just Lee, but me as well. Larry wasn’t a random enemy soldier or monster. He was a human being enduring the same insanity as the other survivors…and I opted to take him out before he turned. Larry’s corpse didn’t fade out of existence, out of view. It lay there, in a puddle of blood, with a block embedded in the place where its face used to be. And Clementine, my young ward who is the hope and light of this decaying world, witnessed me help Kenny put it there. Then I needed to loot the corpse in order to escape–after asking his daughter for permission to do so. My soul, Telltale, my soul.
That’s where Telltale Games succeeds. It presents you with the difficult decision and, more importantly, the ramifications. More games need such emotional impact.
Later, I had the opportunity to kill two other people who had threatened my makeshift family–and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want the blood on my hands. I walked away clean, but with a small sense of dread that I’ll be tasked with another “Larry situation” when the third episode, Long Road Ahead, appears in digital marketplaces next month. It’s amazing that this little $5 game carries such weight.
I think I’ll play again to see what happens when I make the opposite decision. The goal isn’t to rewrite the history, but to simply see how events unfold. I wouldn’t dare change the experience, and emotion, that Telltale gave me this week.