(Note: Spoilers below.)
It was impossible for me to play the finale to the second season of Telltale Games' "The Walking Dead" without being reminded of the similarly calamitous #GamerGate.
The final stretch of the fantastic "No Going Back" situates young Clementine in the middle of a conflict so combustible, so quick to ignite, that the only solution is the most drastic: One of them's gotta die. Will it be Kenny, your longtime running partner whose personal losses have poisoned his compassion? Or will you pick Jane, the gritty big-sister type ... whose personal losses have poisoned her compassion?
Of course, being a game, Telltale aspires to balance. So it doesn't make one side more sympathetic than the other. By the time you have to choose, as Kenny and Jane fight to the death in a blizzard whose whiteout conditions externalize Clem's blurry path ahead, you just want it to be over. Sure, you'll think about whose side to take — maybe you'll even pause the game to do so, head in your palms, like I did. I wondered whether Kenny's fuse had gotten so short as to be altogether gone. I wondered whether Jane would suddenly abandon me again. Ultimately, though, it didn't matter to me how it ended — just that it did, finally, end.
I've felt the same about #GamerGate almost since the day the online movement began. A vague call for sturdier ethics in game journalism drowned out by the coordinated harassment of female developers and other voices, #GamerGate has gone nowhere fast. I've taken a side, sure, but more than seeing any particular outcome, I just want the whole toxic mess to dissipate. Like Clem listening to Kenny and Jane volley crude straw mans and low blows, all I see today on Twitter and online forums about #GamerGate is looping, caustic noise.
Clearly, there are differences between a massive, decentralized social media campaign and a two-hour point-and-click adventure game. #GamerGate is unlikely to result in more than a lot of hurt feelings and the adoption of a disclosure policy or two — in addition to the handful of talented voices it's prompted to leave the self-lacerating culture behind.
On the other hand, there are many possible outcomes in "No Going Back." The finale turns a wildly frayed fourth episode into melodrama that strengthens as it snips away the more far-gone threads. From a random gunfight with a band of Russians to a nail-biting shimmy over a frozen river, Telltale gradually settles back into the gut-punching rhythm of "The Walking Dead's" first season and early second. The calming intermission is a group campfire that finds much humor in the adults being adults, talking sex and slugging booze, as Clem, usually their peer when it comes to braining zombies, tries to play it cool.
It's later, when you discover Mike and Bonnie absconding into the night with Russian hostage Arvo — and the group's supplies — that "No Going Back" delivers the series' first jaw-dropping moment in a few episodes. It makes sense — they're afraid of Kenny. And it's out of your hands — they're going to leave no matter what. But their treachery is a bitter, leaden pill regardless, the kind that makes you ask yourself, "What did I do? How could I have stopped this?" Even its silver lining — galvanizing the ever-warring Kenny and Jane as they drive with Clem and baby AJ into a snowstorm to find the fabled sanctuary of Wellington — soon fades in the harsh light of the grownups' incendiary bickering.
When the powder keg blew, like #GamerGate, I listened. I tried to be sensible. I even indulged my own animus and snapped once or twice. It didn't matter. Whatever minor footing Kenny or Jane enjoyed in their squabbles didn't matter. Whatever affinity I felt for either person didn't matter. When I made my fatal choice, all I felt was relief. #GamerGate will not end so spectacularly, nor has it been nearly the pleasure to experience, but I'm sure I'll be just as relieved when it's all over, too.