The Walking Dead – Episode 1: Do Statistics Matter?

At this point, I’ve finished episode 1 of The Walking Dead and am now nearly done episode 2. Episode 1 ended much sooner than I was expecting, and I had to make some *big decisions* about who to save – Doug, the geeky oversharer, or Carly, the testy, entitled journalist who knows my (Lee’s) “big secret.” I saved Doug, mostly because he genuinely looked like he was in more danger than Carly in that crucial moment. Doug was being grabbed from behind by some zombies and nearly got pulled out of a hole in a wall, while Carly’s ankle was grabbed by a zombie crawling around on the floor. Oh wait, she was also *holding a gun.* She was waving it around frantically and I decided in that split second that someone who didn’t know how to use a gun while in panic mode during a zombie apocalypse is not someone I want on my team. Doug isn’t much better (at a later time he will sneakily eat some biscuits meant for kids), but he is less annoying if anything.

Interestingly, the game did something at the end of this episode that I’ve never really seen. All of your (Lee’s) decisions are recorded and compared with other player’s actions, so you get a sort of summary on what percentage of people made the same decisions as you did. For example, I chose to lie to Hershel at one point and so did 78% of players. I also chose to save Doug, which sadly only 27% of players did. I’m glad that I can see these comparisons, but here’s what I wonder: Why did Telltale decide to let us in on this? While it’s nice to know that the majority of players have acted in the same way as I did, it doesn’t really change the judgement that I place on my own actions. I don’t care that most people chose to save Carly and not Doug, and it doesn’t seem to change any part of the game, save for the fact that now he’s walking around instead of her. It also doesn’t seem to matter that I lied to the group about being a convicted criminal, as no one has been bringing it or my past up at all. I assume that once they do find out, I’ll need to do something heroic to prove that I’m a good guy all over again, and then it wouldn’t have mattered what I chose to do in this episode.

Essentially, what Telltale has tried to do here is make us feel as if our actions have a significant impact on the story. At the beginning of episode 2, there’s a caption that says something like: “This game’s story is tailored to how you play.” Is it, really? I’m not sure. For example, after Larry punched me out I was as aggressive as I could be towards him because I wanted him out of the group. Every time he was brought up in conversation I responded in the most heinous way possible, yet Lee doesn’t really follow my lead. He’s still the nice guy who wants to mitigate the situation and harmonize the group, so no matter what nasty things I select for him to say, he’s still never going to act out against Larry. In the end, no matter what dialogue I choose for Lee and what I have him do, there’s still an order to the game and certain triggers that make the plot move forward. The fact that my actions are recorded and referred to later in a statistical manner doesn’t really encourage me to question those actions, nor does it convince me that my choices have had an impact on the game in any real way. I should have been given the chance to save Carly and Doug had I moved quickly enough, not just one or the other. Or, maybe I should have tried doing nothing? Would they both have died? Would it have mattered in the grand scheme of things? Had they both died, the other characters could maybe have been shocked at my neglect or cowardice, which would have required different dialogue to be set in place.

Anyways, I look forward to seeing the next round of statistics when I finish episode 2, and I’ll have more to say on  comparative playing and agency at that point.

You can read more about the stats system on Telltale’s official site – they’ve organized it by episode. Beware of spoilers!

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