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.

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.