The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series

What started as a comic book, and more recently a show, has been adapted to the media of video games.  The Walking Dead is an action adventure game by the developer Telltale Games.  What they have created is, in my opinion, one of the best adventure games you’ll ever play with a story that will keep you entertained from start to finish.

The Walking Dead

In The Walking Dead you play as Lee Everett, a man convicted of killing his wife.  The story starts in a police car as a chatty officer drives Lee to jail.  The game quickly acclimatizes the player to the game’s controls and reveals a few details about the protagonist before the car crashes and Lee is thrown into the dangerous world of a zombie apocalypse.  After awaking from the crash, and surviving his first few zombies, he meets Clementine, a young girl who lost her parents.  Everett takes her in and, together, the story continues on.

For an adventure game, the pacing is quick and dirty.  The feel you get as you’re playing is that of split second decisions and sometime even panic.  Almost every choice is timed, from conversations, to panicked zombie encounters.  It’s all structured to keep you on your feet and force you to make snap decisions.  Decisions which matter.

That’s where this game shines, the decisions.  While each decision may not affect the story in massive plot determining ways, they do follow you throughout your journey.  And most of these decisions aren’t black and white.  Instead, they are morally gray, and while you can stay morally clean for awhile, at some point you will need to get your hands dirty.  This is where Clementine comes in.  She helps serve as a moral compass, a harsh world seen through the naive eyes of a child, and sometimes it can be hard to explain to her why you needed to do what you did.  In videogames, when a character is put into your charge, it’s rare that they become anything more than an annoyance.  You will care about Clementine, I know it didn’t take long for me to grow to like her.

Lee and Clementine

While many decisions are moral, some are just error prone.  Near the end of episode 2 I failed a decision that had nothing to do with morality and every to do with just failing what I was trying to accomplish.  And when I failed, the game didn’t show me a game over screen, it just moved on, leaving me to deal with the consequences down the road.

These consequences come from of each of your decisions, customizing your story in very personal ways.  Characters will remember if you saved them at an earlier point, or if you let their family members get eaten.  They remember if you badmouthed them, or if you supported a decision they make.  Even things said in benign conversations can crop up later on.  In my play through I had a grumpy old man attempt to leave me for dead because I’d argued with him earlier, only to be saved moments later by a guy who’s son I’d saved.  It’s these moments that, though they might not alter the big picture, make the story feel very personal to you.

In the end, with The Walking Dead, Telltale Games has created a game where everyone will know the same plot points, but everyone will also experience a completely different story.

I Could/Couldn’t Care Less

Not that long ago I saw some grammar snobs get mad at the use of a phrase they believed was incorrect.  Tyler Wasieleski used the phrase “I could care less what you think” in a tweet and people tried to correct him.  They were saying the correct phrasing was “I couldn’t care less” instead.

They’re wrong.  Both forms of the phase make complete sense, one permutation is just less common than the other.  Of course, you can use the phrases incorrectly, but the only way you can be sure that it was incorrect is if you know the current situation and mindset of the speaker.

But what exactly do the two phrases mean?  Let’s quickly go over each one.

“I couldn’t care less.”

The more common of the two permutations of this phrase, “I couldn’t care less” is what most people think of and use.  It’s equivalent to saying that you don’t care at all.  That is, on the scale of caring, you are currently at zero and the scale of caring does not go lower than zero.

In common speech it is used to indicate no interest in what another person has to say.  It’s usually a brush off or a shut up.

Simple really.  As compared to…

“I could care less.”

This one takes a bit more thought to understand.  Let’s say you’re at a certain level of caring.  You could care a lot or a little, but you do care at least some.  What this phrase is saying is that your level of care could be lower.  On the scale of caring you are at one or higher, and it can still go down at least one notch.  It is currently here, but it could be here.

It’s harder to find this phrase in common speech, but one example of its use is as a minor threat.  For instance, if you give someone an opinion or critique, and they don’t take it seriously, you could respond with “I could care less”.  You’re tell them that you care, therefore you gave them a critique, but next time you might not care as much, and therefore won’t give any feedback at all.  It’s like saying, “keep this up and I won’t even bother with you.”

As you can see, two letters and an apostrophe can change the whole meaning of a phrase.  And contrary to what some people think, both permutations are correct if properly used.

Book Review: Voices from Chernobyl

Voices from Chernobyl written by Svetlana Alexievich and translated into English by Keith Gessen

On April 26, 1986, reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station exploded and caught fire, setting into motion one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history.  It’s been decades since the events of Chernobyl and the details of what happened that day are documented for all to read in history books.  However, what is harder to find is information on a more personal level about those who experienced the event first hand, and those who are still suffering from it.  That is what Voices from Chernobyl is about.

Voices from Chernobyl, written by Svetlana Alexievech and translated into English by Keith Gessen, is a compilation of monologues compiled from interviews conducted by Alexievech herself.  These monologues touch on an element missing from most literature written about Chernobyl.  That element is the human element.  It accounts everything from the government’s and people’s reactions to what was left behind in the now contaminated land around Chernobyl.

The book covers personal stories told by those who were actually there.  It is broken into three sections titled The Land of the Dead, The Land of the Living, and Amazed by Sadness.  Much of it can be hard to read at times, such as Lyudmilla Ignatenko watching her husband die from radiation sickness, but it is the horrendously sad stories that often need to be recorded the most.

And for each sad story accounted by an individual there is another that will help restore your faith in your fellow human beings.  For instance, Vasily Nesterenko, former director of the Institute for Nuclear Energy at the Belarussian Academy of Sciences, fought tooth and nail to try to convince his government to help protect its population from the radiation.  He didn’t stop until they dragged him to court and he had a heart attack.

What’s even more shocking is that for each of these stories of extreme hardship, there are many more about normalcy and how life continued to carry on in the face of such a huge disaster.  It is these numerous accounts that make you truly understand that the people who were involved with Chernobyl were just ordinary people, like you and me.  When reading history books, it’s hard to remember that.

You see, when historical events happen and are recorded into the history books to be taught to our children, something tends to be left behind.  Everything becomes factual, sterile.  Feelings, emotions, and personal experience falls to the wayside.  What’s so very sad is that these pieces of history, the personal human histories, are just as important as the cold hard facts.  What people went through on a personal level, as well as on a societal level, needs to be preserved.

And that’s what Voices from Chernobyl is about, the personal histories of Chernobyl.

Kim Harrison Books Are Like Self Torture Devices That Leave You Wanting More

Pale Demon by Kim Harrison

I mentioned a while back in my first blog post on this site that I was stuck on the book Pale Demon by Kim Harrison.  Whatever it was about that book, I just couldn’t bring myself to read it.  It was just so slow with nothing happening.  I found myself wishing I was done with it so I could move on.  Even going as far as to swear I would never read another Kim Harrison book ever again.

This past week, I was finally able to sit down and finish the darn thing.  To my surprise, the last quarter of the book totally and completely hooked me and never let go.  I even rescinded my threat to never read any more of her books.  I wanted more!

This made me realize something.  I don’t hate Kim Harrison books.  I hate the middle of Kim Harrison books, and Pale Demon showed this in a starker contrast than any of her other books that I have read.

Kim Harrison books always follow the same pattern.  They begin with a premise and drop a few tidbits to really intrigue you.  You get sucked in.  From there, the story flows into the middle section, where very little happens.  Plot points are few and far between.  Characters move around and interact, but these interactions usually have little consequence to anything grander than the immediate future.  The middle section is just there to shuffle all the characters into their places to prepare them for the conclusion.  It’s there to torture you, and just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the conclusion happens.  And the conclusion is always one major universe altering plot point after another, all in very quick succession.  It’s one big exciting plot explosion of enjoyment that’s there to leave you wanting more.

Pale Demon shows this very well.  It starts where the last book left off, reintroducing the fact the main character has to get to the west coast in time to meet a deadline.  Unexpectedly, she has to bring another unlikely character with her and protect them, and herself, along the way.  From this unexpected twist, we move into the middle section of the book where they drive across the country for two-thirds of the book.  During this drive across the country I can only think of one major plot point that happens (which I won’t go into detail about to avoid spoilers).  All they do is drive!  Once they make it to the west coast plot points happen in quick succession, forever changing the main character’s life in a multitude of ways.  By the end of it all, I was ready and willing to read the next book.

Essentially, for two-thirds of the book, nothing of interest happened.  However, the conclusion to the book was so good (with a cliffhanger nonetheless) that I am seriously thinking of reading the next book in the series soon.  I can’t help but think that this pattern equates to self inflicted torture.  Self inflicted torture that I keep coming back for.