In an early interview about The Wolf Among Us, Telltale described what makes this new series different from previous Telltale outings. One of the biggest keys was the main protagonist that the player takes control of, Bigby, a personified rendition of the Big Bad Wolf portrayed as a hardened sheriff. As a threatening and immediate authority figure with a reputation, Bigby represents something rather unusual to the adventure game genre– a power figure.
For years, I’ve been used to playing the role of more vulnerable characters in adventure games. Admittedly usually this is played to comedic effect; Guybrush Threepwood is a sniveling buffoon who finds himself stumbling into great adventure, for example. Telltale provided us with an incredible avatar with last year’s The Walking Dead. Lee Everett is a character that is meant to represent the player, like most adventure game protagonists, but still acts as a bit more of a tabula rasa than most established characters. He is constantly fighting for the respect and approval of his peers in the new apocalyptic world, helping to give context and levity to every single one of the choices the player makes.
On these grounds, I think it is no coincidence that Telltale portrayed Lee as an African-American. As a black gamer myself, this especially helped both to endear me to Lee as well as relate to him. In the past, I’ve found myself relating to characters like Guybrush or Sam and Max just due to their driving motives, but Lee was one of the first times I could see myself in such a role. Though his race only occasionally plays a part over the course of the game, it’s still a very large part of that experience. The player encounters some racism and prejudice through various interactions with characters, both blatant and subtle. These conflicts along with many others definitely help towards the feeling of vulnerability throughout The Walking Dead and perhaps conveys it better than any adventure has before, Instead of making a hero who is caricature of the atypical nerd, Telltale developed a three-dimensional character who has to fight for his place in the virtual world.
One year later, enter Bigby.
When I first started playing The Wolf Among Us last week, I had a hard time initially getting used to my new avatar. Going in, I knew that he was no Guybrush or Lee, but I still had a hard time ignoring my inner Threepwood instincts. The only other experience I’ve ever had with a “powerful” character in an adventure game would have to be Ben from Full Throttle, and even then he took just more shit from other characters than he doled out over the course of the game. Just from the very first fifteen minute of The Wolf Among Us, Bigby is given the option to be more than just a little rough with three characters. Much how playing neutrally in early parts of The Walking Dead resulted in harsh reminders that players needed to have conviction, so too does being the “nice guy” as Bigby. Even choosing to remain silent in some conversations results in sterner responses than Bigby’s nicer responses.
Having been given the reigns to a such a power figure resulted in a different mood of a game for me. Instead of having to use ingenuity to make up for a lack of confidence or social standing, I simply could get exactly what I wanted as Bigby. There’s less of a need for an inventory, as Bigby is his own greatest tool. Whereas as Lee, I found myself struggling to make as many strong allies as I could through my diplomacy, Bigby afforded me an opportunity to play the role of the bad boy without any remorse.
At one point in the seminal episode based on player choices, Bigby must interrogate a character who is blatantly trying to lie and hide something. There was something satisfying about asserting myself to intimidate someone within the game and coax out exactly the information I needed. In most other adventure games, this would be achieved by searching for a loop in logic, or trying to trick the person in question, but the moment the afforded me the opportunity to strike the character to get him to talk, I barely hesitated at the chance. That for me, was the moment I had become Bigby.
Now, I know that for a lot of people reading this, this barely seems unusual. When given the choice of moral roads within games, a lot of players will immediately default to the pure decadence of the malicious side. Hell, I’ve dabbled before in games centered around playing the villain or the asshole and loved it– the Saints Row and No More Heroes franchises are two of my favorite of the past generation. But when it comes time to play a game and make choice that go beyond simply binary good and evil, I always try to put myself into the situation and play the game as myself. The Walking Dead did an excellent job of affording me this opportunity, but The Wolf Among Us asked something very bizarre of me and its players.
Bigby still acts as an avatar for the player, and the choices the player makes are their choices, but he’s much more of an established character than Guybrush or Lee. Not that he’s a better character or anything of the sort, but his drives and moral alignment is already out on the table– it’s in his name, he’s the Big BAD Wolf. Bigby becomes a stange amalgamation of both the player and Bigby himself. And it boils down to way more than choosing one of two Bigbys to be, unlike the binary predestined characters we see in games like GTA IV or inFamous.
For some players, it may be weird to play a truly menacing version of themselves, especially those like me who don’t usually experience that in their avatars or real life. By the end of Episode One, I had completely bought into being Bigby. In the games final choice scenario, I picked an option I knew I would’ve regretted being Lee and fighting for the approval of others. But as Bigby, and having my own goals and already possessing the respect I so desperately crave otherwise, I felt confidence in my choice, no matter the outcome. I know a lot of players won’t feel what I did playing the game, and may revel in the prospect of yelling at other characters and dismembering them when the chance arises, but for me, Telltale was able to let me put on the shoes of a role I never get to play in real life; not as an empowerment fantasy and not as some parallel to a goody-two-shoes storylines, but as a hybrid of a no-nonsense authority and my own impressionable and rational self.