The Blessed Illusion Of Choice

In The Walking Dead, your choices don't dictate consequence. Looking through a Christian lens, can we find consequence in a preordained life?

By: Drew Dixon

Filed Under: Action Adventure Editorial Horror Life


Over the last eight months I have been having this recurring argument with a friend about Telltale’s The Walking Dead episodes. My friend keeps telling me that my choices don’t matter. I keep telling him to shut up.

As I progressed further into The Walking Dead, I became less and less certain of the decisions I was making. I promised myself that I would not reload checkpoints, I would accept the consequences of whatever decisions I made. I often regretted my actions and found myself wondering what would have happened, had I done things differently.

My friend and I bought the game around the same time and would talk about each episode after we finished it. We were both really enjoying the games, we would ask each other what decisions the other made and debate about who made the better choice. We didn’t discuss the outcome of our decisions so much as our rationale for making them. Around episode 3, my friend informed me that it did not matter.

He had gone back and played segments of the game a second time and he saw that no matter what he decided to do, the outcome was basically the same, the plot went in the same general direction. My friend had looked behind the curtain and discovered that decisions didn’t change the outcome of the game.

This is interesting to me, because my friend is a pastor who believes that God is sovereign and knows all things past, present, and future. This raises an important question not just about games like The Walking dead but of life: if the outcome for a particular decision would be the same regardless of your actions, would you still make the same decision? Does an ordained outcome make our decisions meaningless?

Christianity teaches that the ultimate destiny of the world has already been decided. Jesus died on the cross and rose again to redeem the world. This act disarmed the powers of evil in the world rendering them powerless against those who look to Christ. Of course there is still evil in the world and so Christ promises to return to finally seal the fate of the forces of evil, restore the earth, and reign in righteousness forever. In other words, the Christian’s fate is sealed as is that of the world.

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

If a Christian really believes this, does it mean that his actions in the present are meaningless? Do we not have free will with which we might impact the world?

Save Carly or Doug, it doesn’t matter. Both of them will be dead by the end of Act 3. Whether or not you object to stealing the food from the station wagon, your companions will still take it and you will still get the blame. Whether you saved Ben in Episode 4 or not, you still have to abandon Kenny to the undead. Despite all the talk of how your decisions shape the story, the majority of what happens in The Walking Dead is outside of your control.

If we took the time to consider the programming and writing that would be required to make it possible to save the Motor Inn or to stay in the RV rather than riding the train or to refuse to go to Savannah, we wouldn’t be surprised by our lack of influence on the plot. And if we are honest, we experience similar “design limitations” in life. We had hoped to work in a particular field but we settled in order to provide for our families or we made plans with loved ones only to lose them before those plans could come to fruition. There is so much in life that is outside our control. No matter our theological or philosophical views, none of us are as free as we want to be.

When my friend first started telling me everything he learned from his replay of The Walking Dead, I didn’t want to hear it. I was thoroughly enjoying the feeling that everything I did was important. I didn’t want to look behind the curtain.

Over Thanksgiving, my friend called me on the phone to talk to me about the final episode. We agreed that The Walking Dead was the best game we’d played this year. Neither of us cared about the import of our decisions because the process of making them was one we wouldn’t soon forget. This is because The Walking Dead isn’t a game about shaping the future. It’s a game about trials and how we respond to them.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor . . .  (1 Peter 1:6-7).

I may not have been able to save Lee from the turning or find Clementine’s parents, but my decisions shaped the person Lee was becoming. They gained him friends and enemies. They influenced Clementine and prepared her for life in a deadly world. I am not as free as I would like to be, but The Walking Dead reminded me that this lack of freedom does not nullify the value of my present experience.

Filed Under: Action Adventure Editorial Horror Life

About the Author:
Drew Dixon is editor-in-chief of Game Church. He also edits for Christ and Pop Culture and writes about video games for Paste Magazine and Think Christian.

8,321 Responses to “The Blessed Illusion Of Choice”

  1. Bryan Hall

    Great article, Drew. I hadn’t thought about framing the game in a sovereignty of God vs. free will argument. By the end of episode 2, I had let the language in the game overwhelm me and so I quit. Without the language, The Walking Dead would have been my game of the year. Thank you for offering a different perspective.

    • Drew Dixon

      Thanks Bryan! I don’t normally encourage people to go against conscience but if you can get past the language this a truly special game–one that I hope will change the way game makers approach storytelling.

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