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Lessons in empathy from The Walking Dead

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I just finished The Walking Dead episode two. My mind is reeling, my emotions are in turmoil and I cannot wait for episode three. From the get go this game throws you mercilessly into the most bizarre circumstances and it doesn’t let up right till the end. The fascinating thing about The Walking Dead is that although the game plays out in a setting that the player can hardly identify with or even imagine as a reality (I mean, when have you ever seen the dead walking), the decisions you are confronted with feel shockingly real.

The game explores the most fundamental and simplest of human needs; the need to survive. Every confrontation, every decision and every interaction seeks to strip the player of the layers of morality that coats the mind with decency.  It hits you right in the gut with, “How far are you willing to go to live?”

Have you ever been so hungry that you’d be willing to steal in order to survive? How about murder? The Walking Dead takes the question of survival and escalates it to the point of complete insanity. Now, here is the catch. The game also succeeds in justifying the most outrageous and despicable of deeds in the name of living. It does this by eliciting empathy for the various characters you meet throughout the game. With simple, yet profound dialogue, it masterfully takes you through the thought processes of your fellow survivors. Empathy is the ability to understand and enter into another’s feelings. By placing all the characters into the same catastrophic situation, the game levels the playing field of emotion into a singular thought,” I want to live”. Through that unifying need, the game provides a platform for understanding the horrifying decisions the various characters make.

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What would be the moral compass in a world where there are no governance, almost no resources and a fractured community? What would you base your decisions on? How do you choose who should live or die? Who would you give food to? The children, the women or the men who need the energy to protect the camp? Do you waste resources on someone who would most likely die (and of course if he dies he will return as a zombie and try to eat you), or do you give him a quick death? Do you make decisions based on what would ensure your survival, or do you consider the survival of the weak above your own? These are but a few examples of the hard decisions you will face as you play The Walking Dead. Every choice you make leaves a seed of doubt in your mind. The most profound element of this game is that it allows the player to express him or herself in a world where every decision you make has a consequence.  It uses the need we all have to discover what we are truly made of when we are faced with decisions that shake us to our very core. 

You play as Lee, a convict who finds that his unexpected freedom was the result of a zombie apocalypse. Lee meets up with other survivors and together they have to navigate through a world filled with horror and insanity. The game is hardly challenging in terms of combat or puzzle solving, but it is immensely engaging. The Walking Dead is a point-and-click adventure game with mature content. Each episode is between two to three hours long. I recommend that you play the episodes in one sitting. True to the comic universe of its other games, Telltale Games delivers characters with extraordinarily expressive faces and an environment that is well drawn. The game is available on pc, mac, PS3, Xbox 360, iPhone and iPad. You can download the game from steam.

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