I recently had the opportunity to acquaint myself with a wonderful little girl named Clementine. We didn’t have much time together, but what little we did share was a blessing. Clem is only eight years old and spent her entire life growing up in rural Georgia. Both smart and reliable, she thought school was a cinch. Instead of doing what other children do nowadays like play with dolls or watch television, Clem instead chose to act out fantastic make-believe stories from her tree-house. She had a pet hamster that she told me on one occasion got out of its cage and ate half a box of cookies by the time she found it the next morning. Clementine is earnest, considerate, playful, and she’s sincerely loved by both of her parents.
When I met her she was wearing a baseball cap given to her by her father as a birthday present. This seemed to be the most important thing in the world to her. I wish I could tell you every small detail about Clem, but I will save you the time and afford you the opportunity to find out for yourself. You see, Clementine isn’t real. Clem is a character from Telltale Studio’s “The Walking Dead”. Not the television series that appears on AMC, mind you, though both crop up from the same graphic novel series. What’s more, this adaptation of The Walking Dead is a videogame.
That last statement would be a turnoff to some, but I plead that you stay and listen a while. Since starting college four years ago, I haven’t really had much time for videogames, but I do still play a little bit. Until college, that was just about my only hobby, so I have had my share of experience with the activity. But here I am, one week after having completed this ‘game’ called The Walking Dead, and I feel almost obligated to share something. The following four days after completing the game, nearly 80 percent of my thoughts had been held captive by this little girl, and her relationship with a man named Lee Everett, who acts as her guardian. This has never happened before. Never have I been so emotionally enraptured by characters from any story, let alone a videogame. One might consider this obscene, perhaps a little ridiculous, but I am in a position where I am inclined to share about this. I feel responsible to do so.
IF YOU HAVE ANY FUTURE INTEREST IN PLAYING THIS GAME, PLEASE STOP NOW AS THERE WILL BE SPOILERS
I must lead by saying that no words I share with you will be able to do any sort of justice to the authentic and sympathetic nature of this game. In TWD, you play as the aforementioned ‘Lee Everett’, a man convicted of murdering a state senator who held an affair with his wife. Lee (or, rather, you) was on his way to prison when things went haywire. To save on the details, shortly after this, you become injured and find yourself in the care of a little girl that was hiding in the upstairs of her house, alone. This is Clementine.
From there you begin to bond with her. People come, people go, and the sort of grim adversity you would expect to find in a realistic zombie story sets a dark and melancholic tone for your world. All the while, you are trying to help Clem find her parents, who were out of town when the Walkers cropped up. The story forces you to make stressful psychological decisions, usually on only a couple seconds of notice. There’s one dilemma I remember well. Your party is short on food, and it’s on your shoulders which three of the eight or nine people in your group get to eat that day. You know how hard it is to choose people over one another, knowing that everybody is observing and will change their opinion of you accordingly? Even with unreal characters? It’s quite tough.
What’s more, Clementine is always watching, always looking to you as a model for behavior. Clem sees whenever you choose to spare a life or take it, she modifies her language depending on the words you say, to an extent she adopts your mindset, and so much more. On top of this, she remembers it. When the party wants to take food from an abandoned vehicle, she demonstrates that she feels it is wrong and that somebody might still come back for it. You then have to choose whether you care about what she has to say or not, and because I couldn’t bear to do wrong before her or convince her that we weren’t stealing, I stood off to the side with her, holding her hand while everybody else scavenged the vehicle.
I am empathetic by nature. For many years I have also aspired to be a father, and have entertained many dreams where that has come to pass. Looking at Lee and Clementine in this world, I became deeply absorbed into their relationship. As Lee, I’m a man that has murdered and deserve very little sympathy, despite the underlying causes of my actions. My reasons do not matter. I did this. When my route to the prison was diverted and I was left alone, without family or friends, I found a bundle of innocence worth protecting. She was not my daughter, and I was not her father, yet somehow we cared for each other in such a way. I could not lie to her, I could not hurt her. And in the end, I never had to tell her that I loved her, because I’d spent our entire time together showing her.
Clementine is a child, with childish naivety, (like when curiosity drove her to lick a cow’s salt-lick), but she’s not a fool. Clem is not snobby, she is patient, she’s not oblivious, she is intelligent. She knows that most consider me a bad man and that I’ve hurt people before, but she does not hold that against me. Clem tries to understand me, and ultimately trusts me. How could I undermine that by being anything other than the best I can be in a world that doesn’t expect you to be merciful or kind?
The final scene of the game is so powerful and emotionally connected on a personal level that I’m not even going to try and speak of it here. But the implications of it were enough to jostle me awake in the morning and keep me up at night for days after.
If even just a little bit, Clem and Lee changed my life. I can love a little better, now. I owe it to them to be inspired by their boldness and compassion. This might seem kind of unfair, but should I ever have a daughter (Lord willing), I would be a terribly blessed soul if she was half as wonderful as Clementine. My heart has been further tempered to share a father’s love, and to not withdraw it from others just because they might not be my natural-born family. When things are that bad for somebody, things like genealogies and biology don’t matter, just sharing yourself and doing all that you can to protect them are what matter. Maybe a tired notion, but only if we let it be so. I still believe in the strength of humanity and our potential to add up to something greater than ourselves. So, Telltale, thank you for sharing with me the lives of these characters and letting me take part in their story. I recommend that any inspiring father play this game, or anybody that enjoys an immersing, compelling story. Thanks for listening.
I’m going to miss you, Clementine.
- The Walking Dead (Telltale) (emshort.wordpress.com)