Note: Minor Spoilers follow for The Wolf Among Us. All plot and character details have been omitted, but end game choices are mentioned.
Not often enough today do I play a game where I truly become completely invested. I feel like many of the selling points of big games today are lost somewhere between “lifelike graphics” and “polished gameplay.” And while these can certainly help in immersion, there’s something more that so many games are lacking. After recently finishing Telltale Games’ amazing hit, The Wolf Among Us, I realized just exactly what that thing is: emotion. Think of anything you really remember in life, and it’s likely that you remember it because of some strong emotions that the experience evoked. The same thing goes for games. When a game makes an emotional impact on you, no matter the reason, you are likely to remember it as one of your personal favourites.
I find this to be especially true with The Wolf Among Us. It’s a game with barely any gameplay, most of which is just simple point and click and button prompts. Although its counter intuitive to think that a lack of gameplay would make a game better, this minimalistic approach is part of what makes The Wolf Among Us so great. You see, where other games may have smooth free running or realistic gunplay as core game mechanics, Telltale opted to do something very different, implementing one very simple major mechanic: decisions. And this is where The Wolf Among Us truly shines. I always felt every decision mattered. Even if there were no clear results for choosing to, for example, reason with someone instead of swearing at them, I truly felt that every decision further defined not only my version of the main protagonist, but a part of myself as well. This is what really elevates the game to something truly amazing. In most games, the main protagonist is an already defined character, who you may or may not like, but despite your feelings towards them, they are never you. Although you may be controlling the main character, you inevitably feel like you are just guiding them through their own story, not shaping one of your own. The Wolf Among Us changes this feeling. Although the story is generally linear, your decisions decide the outcomes of various situations, both subtle and large. Constant reminders that characters will remember your kind words, or that they noticed your attempt at comforting them, make you aware that you are creating your own version of the story. In the end, every decision is your own. The game is not just a game; it is a complete experience. And Bigby Wolf is not just a protagonist; he is a reflection of you, the player. You end up defining how the many characters of the game see Bigby in the end, and you have to live with all your decisions.
Bigby is a reflection of you.
The emotional impact of owning up to every decision really hit me in the final major decision of the game. To avoid large spoilers, I will simply say that at the end of the game you have the chance to decide the fate of the perpetrator behind many devastating crimes. Throughout the story, I had chosen to make Bigby a good guy, being kind to people and giving them a chance, while still being pretty badass. I never resorted to violence unless my hand was forced, and always played it cool. But in the end, instead of choosing the most humane option which was to simply lock up the criminal forever, I suddenly remembered all the hate and evil he had spread. I remembered the tragedy of the crimes he had committed. I didn't want to take the chance that he would break out of prison or any magical spells placed on him, and I wanted him to be dealt with forever. So in a moment of emotion, I decided to tear his head off. It was only until afterwards that I realized the brutality of my decision. When I saw the looks on the crowd’s faces, and read that now “Fabletown is afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” what flowed through me were not feelings of satisfaction or closure. I had only one, very strong emotion.
Fabletown is afraid of the big bad wolf.
What had I done? I had tried my best throughout the story to do what was right for people and keep everyone happy, earning their trust. But in the end, I forgot all I had worked for and lost it with one despicable decision. I had physically just torn a man’s head off. This made me think on my own morals. I don’t believe in the death penalty, and I don’t believe in murder either. I've always thought Batman was cool because despite the immense crime he has to deal with, he could always restrain himself from killing the people responsible. But despite my own ethics and my own beliefs, I still killed that man.
But why should any of this matter? I have killed several men before in countless games, stabbing them in the throat, putting a bullet in their head, you name it. So why was this time any different? It’s still just a video game right?
The reason boils down to one simply word: decisions. It was my decision to brutally decapitate that man. I could have simply confined him to a cell for life, or even chosen a more humane way to end his life. But I still chose to rip his head off. Knowing this, and knowing that I made the choice to do something completely out of line with what I believe, is what somewhat scares me. Was it the right decision? I couldn’t say. Maybe if I had sent him to prison, he would have gotten out, and end up just committing more murders. Maybe if I had chosen to simply throw him down the well to his death, he would’ve somehow survived the fall. I don’t know if what I chose was right. But I do know that at the end of the game, nobody met my eyes as I walked through the halls, and I could see whatever love I had earned was lost to fear.
The fact that The Wolf Among Us is a video game is unquestionably true. But I can’t say there are many games which call us to question our own moral code and the actions we perform. I can’t say that I have felt such real emotion because of a game, and I don’t know if I ever will again. But I do know one thing: that the sense of guilt and uncertainty I felt after killing that man still haunts me to this day.
And for that I will always regard The Wolf Among Us as a true masterpiece.