Two Years After The Wolf Among Us.

The Wolf Among Us is a remarkably dense game, even by Telltale standards. By the end of the game, ideas of community, identity, storytelling and even more have been dealt […]

The Wolf Among Us is a remarkably dense game, even by Telltale standards. By the end of the game, ideas of community, identity, storytelling and even more have been dealt with and examined in ways that other games aspire to. More than any other video game out there, it takes a huge advantage over the idea that videogames are more akin to TV than film. As we approach two years since its release, I can’t help but miss its presence on a monthly basis on my console/PC, in a way that a lot of games simply can’t fulfill.

Once you get down to it, massive video game releases don’t really focus a lot on writing. By this I mean, dialogue and structure. This isn’t to say that video games are not good at story (atmosphere and tone complement dialogue and structure, and good story games, such as MGS or Silent Hill manage to compensate for clunky dialogue and messy structure with those)  but rather that games often treat writing, as in the creation of dialogue and structure that help convey powerful characterization, as secondary to the world building. Execution vs. concept, essentially.

TWAU, on the other hand, prioritizes writing and execution because it doesn’t need to do a lot of work on the concept and world building, since Willingham and Buckingham had already done most of the work. Granted, TWAU is still a substantially different outing than any Fables comic aesthetically and tonally speaking. But it still fulfills its duty as a prequel and it belongs exactly in the Fables universe before this was concerned with Fabletown’s feud with the Homelands’ Adversary and his attempts to destroy and subjugate the New York exiles. In a very real way, this is the origin story of Fabletown as the Fables comics finds it; a community of refugees desperately trying to survive while being stuck in between two worlds.

At its best, Wolf Among Us manages to go one step further than most video games with morality choices by virtue of not positing the typical questions of morality in video games. The questions that plague Bigby are not as loaded as they are in other video games. Games like Bioware’s Mass Effect or Bethesda’s Fallout  essentially pitch their choices in a binary system that players must classify their character into. In other words, the morality of these games is predetermined. Admittedly, Telltale’s games pitch choices as [Gruesome Action] vs [Compassionate Action], but the big difference is that the game does not judge you for either and it allows you to justify yourself via roleplaying.

TWAU understands more than anything, that building a community is hard. It requires hard passionate work and an actual understanding of politics and how we influence people. The government of Fabletown is corrupt and has shortchanged the wide population of Fabletown to the point that they have come to rely on an outside force that’s willing to hurt them in order to perpetuate its power. The only  way that the government of Fabletown can regain its people is through an understanding that there’s a difference between what’s moral and what’s the law. And which one to enforce when. This is the conflict at the core of Bigby’s crusade. While he must enforce the law, he must shape a society that has lost its way, so the question becomes, “do we still believe in the rules we wrote or do we create new rules?”

A lot of the conflict that’s posited in the game comes in the shape of Snow White, of all places. One of TWAU’s biggest advantages is that it avoids the Dad Simulator dynamic, where you must play alongside a pre-scripted companion while instructing her in how to survive this world while being a supporting character in her story, not unlike The Last of Us or Bioshock Infinite. Snow White is not your daughter or your Wife-To-Be (that comes much later in the comics themselves), even. She’s someone with her own, rather harsh moral view, who all the same has nothing but the best intentions for Fabletown. TWAU has a deep understanding of politics as well, and it understands that in politics, we don’t choose our rulers because they’re perfect or their views align with ours perfectly, but because they’re capable and they’re willing to fight out the long war in order to help a community progress. Snow White is a character whose views can be limited and often misses the difference between what’s moral and what’s right. But she’s still a capable political figure because her vision for Fabletown is of a community where the Fables have found the home they lost to The Adversary. The difference is that she’s just ignorant to certain parts of how Fabletown works, like the Crooked Man’s empire or how the Farm actually treats its fables.

More than that, Snow White is not placed into the role of the nagging moralist. She isn’t the heart and moral soul of the game. She can be contradicted and while her judgment can be harsh considering how close she is to the player’s avatar, the game does not force Bigby and Snow White’s relationship to be friendly. The player in fact can take an antagonistic approach to Snow White if he feels she’s in the wrong consistently. Wolf is a story that’s truly shaped by the player’s interpretation of the world and ethics. For sure, your decisions can have ruinous consequences but if the player can live with them, Bigby can find the words to justify them. Every single aspect of the game is based around this very idea.

It also comes up in the way Bigby handles money. As Bigby, you can indeed steal money from other characters whenever it comes up and provide it to other characters when they demand payment or simply ask for it. What’s fascinating is that this wealth distribution is never treated as immoral even though video games often treat stealing as a Bad Thing that one must not engage with. Bigby can take money from corrupt public officials or pimps and use it to help families in need and the game doesn’t judge you for it because it thinks that morality in a story with an interactive element must be left to the player.

At the core of the game, it’s that idea. While the story will always position certain characters in certain positions, you are free to choose the moral of the story. You are free to indulge in the brutality inside Bigby’s heart. You are free to enforce the laws of Fabletown to the point you destroy more than one life. You are free to fight for what you believe to be right against the laws, even though the town will never recognize how much of a reform advocate are you because they still see you as the embodiment of the establishment. But the game will never judge you for these decisions. The game will never look at you and tell you that hurting others is wrong because it’s letting you decide that if you feel that hurting others is right, you can justify yourself. TWAU understands that morality is a construct, but it also doesn’t pretend that because of that, it doesn’t matter.