The Average Gamer

The Walking Dead: A Parent’s Perspective

Warning: This article contains major spoilers for The Walking Dead: Season One. If you haven’t finished the game yet, bookmark the post and come back when you have. Seriously. Spoilers.

Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series is a shining example of episodic video gaming at its best. Forget the simple mechanics for a moment; I’m more referring to the hype and euphoria surrounding it, escalating episode by episode, culminating with ‘Game of the Year’ cries by many.

The fabulous storytelling Telltale has provided equals that of the comic book and TV show, which is based directly on the comic and its characters. Whether it is the comic TV show or video game, The Walking Dead is a universe that is tinged with tragedy, which is often unrelenting. After all, what is there to look forward to during a zombie apocalypse?

Another common theme is children. With the TV and comic series, you have Rick Grimes and his son Carl, a boy who is soon mentally forced into adulthood by the zombie apocalypse and its dangers.

Telltale’s incarnation presents Lee and Clementine, a father/daughter but-not-really daughter relationship in the most forced of circumstances. Among the many characters that come and go in The Walking Dead, Lee and Clementine’s relationship is the bedrock of game. It’s how it starts and how it ends, regardless of the decisions you choose along the way.

It’s a relationship that I was certainly drawn into, being a father of two myself. It toyed with my emotions during any moments where Clementine was missing; I found myself actually dreading what I would find from room to room. Not only does protecting Clem get Lee through the experience, it got me through it also. If ever she was not around, danger or not, I would ask myself ‘where’s Clem?’

I tried to make choices based around what I would do if I was in Lee’s actual position, but in fact I was making the exact choices that I would make, not Lee. If ever I decided to lie to save Clem’s feelings, I felt bad for doing so, but this is life. I think it’s fair to say we all tell a little porky here and there to stop a child’s train of thought. 

Video games don’t answer back, of course. My eldest is nearly twelve years old, and I would say he is as close to a real life Duck as is possible. Part of a family that Lee and Clem meet along the way, Duck is a child whose awareness of The Walking Dead’s dangers is hidden amongst, well, being a child.

In chapter 3, while attempting to search for clues regarding the missing supplies, Duck’s relentless attempts to help as a ‘sidekick’ is exactly how I would expect my son to behave in the same situation, and I would let him help out also.

My son is an excitable, ‘full of beans’ young man who gets rather hyper at times, but is also equally affectionate. So like Duck, the potential is there for him to get into trouble, or not be fully aware of the dangers around him until it’s too late. In a Walking Dead scenario, I would be overly protective of him but since becoming a father, that protective nature has become just that: nature.

Just the other day, whilst monitoring my son and his friends at a local Wacky Warehouse, a young girl, a stranger to me, hit her arm quite badly. Naturally my instincts were to ensure she was okay and got back to her family. If not for these instincts, I would have most likely frozen on the spot. Fat lot of good that would be in a zombie-ridden world!

When Duck meets his end after being bitten in chapter 3, I took the mantle of putting him down before he returned as a zombie. This is a decision that 1) I hope to never ever have to make in real life with my own kids, and 2) I would also be the one to pull the trigger. I have no idea how I would cope with that level of loss. In fact the thought makes me physically sick.

This brings us poignantly onto the final scenes of the final episode. People’s accounts have detailed being visibly upset or distressed at what is the ‘parent’s’ final moments of the game. It truly is a heart-wrenching scene of which I felt distinct sadness for, unlike any other in a video game before. All I kept hoping for was for Clem not to die, with the feeling of dread rapidly increasing at the prospect that it could happen. Despite this, it was also incredibly touching to see how Lee and Clem’s rapport had built up to this point.

I’d like to think it’s a similar rapport I have with my own son. Although I’m only his stepdad, I’m as much as part of his life as any father would be, but there is also an element of brotherhood about it too. Like the strongest of friends, with the exceptions of providing food, clothing and living for him.

He would do anything for me (in a willing way, not behavioural way), so I believe in this scenario he would be the same as Clem. So kind of a hybrid of Clem and Duck, if you will; likely to rush into trouble, but clever enough to learn from it.

Despite the above making me sound like a cry-baby parent, I can only stress it did so in the most positive manner. I don’t scare easy or get panicked, but when it comes to kids, parents or not, we all have the natural instinct to protect them above ourselves.

Video games give us all a parenting lesson. Who knew?