Nice guys finish first in The Wolf Among Us

When being “nice” gets a little dark

Sitting in a cab on the way to talk to the rough-and-tumble Woodsmen, Bigby and Snow White discuss their ongoing murder investigation. Snow White asks Bigby,The Big Bad Wolf in human disguise, who he thinks murdered their victim after everything they’ve learned. Several choices pop up on the screen. Do I think it’s The Woodsman? The Pimp? Bluebeard? Or do I remain silent?

The Wolf Among Us is one of the most popular narrative games from Telltale Games, with a sequel hopefully coming in 2023. Players play The Big Bad Wolf acting as Sheriff in Fabletown, a neighborhood in New York City populated by famous fable characters. The game looks like a comic book and feels like a gritty noir detective story. But with talking animals.

What really makes it amazing is the choice-based storytelling. How you decide to interact with the people around you affects how they will interact with you in the future. You aren’t starting with a blank slate though. These characters have all experienced a history together before the player takes over Bigby’s choices. As part of the narrative, Bigby is attempting to make amends for his violent past, but with the choices provided to you, it’s possible to lean into the aggressive behavior citizens expect from him. 

It occurred to me that I am playing Bigby a lot nicer than I could. With every choice, I soothe other characters, doling out compliments and empathizing whenever possible. I even managed to avoid the startling and hilarious “glass him” moment mentioned in this article about narrative choices gone awry

How we make choices

While every narrative game is unique, they all prompt the player to play in a few ways. The most obvious way to make choices is for the sake of the story. Tons of players make choices that direct them to a desired outcome or just to follow the best storyline. Often, being nice is the best way to get what you want in-game. NPCs tend to be less friendly if you punch them in the face the first chance you get. 

Also, making enemies is almost always worse than making friends. I’ll never forget getting locked out of the house by my friend as a bloodthirsty wendigo pounced in Until Dawn. I had lost her trust with several of my previous decisions, but the betrayal stung regardless. The Wolf Among Us is a little less intense in this aspect, but on a first play-through, who knows? Maybe Mr. Toad will be waiting for me in a dark alley if I push him too hard. 

Making choices that you feel will move the story in your favor makes sense, but another avenue is to play in character. In this case, you would choose replies or actions that fit the character you’re controlling as closely as possible. In the case of The Wolf Among Us, Bigby is fleshed-out just enough to guide our actions. We are told right away, Bigby is The Big Bad Wolf, and he has a temper. Smashing a bar glass into a suspect’s face right after they share their feelings seems about right for him. Honestly, playing Bigby as quiet, calm, and understanding as I do is very out of character.

Screenshot by Destructoid

On the other hand, a player could be happy to explore the mechanics of the game itself, testing out different choices to see what happens with each play-through. Trying out different combinations of choices to see different results sounds really interesting, but it also shows an emotional distance from the story.

Which brings me to how I play narrative games. I feel a compulsion to only pick nice interactions, not because of character and story, but because I have difficulty separating myself from it. There are plenty of players like me who for the life of them cannot pick the mean choice despite knowing that it’s all pretend. For us, being nice almost isn’t a choice at all. It has been conditioned into the way we navigate interpersonal communication in real life, and then it bleeds over into the game.

Why so nice?

I think the lack of curiosity and exploration is part of why I’m bothered by my play style, but it isn’t the main reason I bring it up as an issue. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with taking the nice path. It usually works out storywise, and we’ve already established that none of it is real. Why get hung up on being nice? In short, I’m tired of the dark underlying cause of why I’m unable to be anything but nice.

There are plenty of good reasons why we may insert our own friendliness into the game. Empathy with the characters is an excellent reason. While talking to Snow White, it occurred to me that I was interacting with her like a best friend or ideal boyfriend. During every interaction, I attempted to boost her confidence and support her as a good partner should. I even felt a little guilty when I answered Snow’s question about the murder suspects with silence. My silence made her feel uncertain.

Also, and obviously, it feels good to be nice! Listening to people and reasoning with them is a wonderful default. Most of us like nice people and want to be kind ourselves.

Screenshot by Destructoid

The thing that bothers me is what I said earlier about Mr. Toad. On the first play-through, knowing that my choices will have consequences, my deep-down concern is self-preservation. What if I’m rude and then I’m attacked? What if I fight and I lose? I’m sorry to say that in real life, I am always thinking about how to avoid trouble. Whether it’s when I quit a job or when I try to say no, I have been conditioned to avoid conflict.

If you will all allow me a moment to be vulnerable with you, there isn’t just a social expectation for women to be nice all the time. It’s also a necessary survival mechanism. Saying no too forcefully can be physically dangerous. Hurting the wrong man’s feelings or damaging his ego can even lead to deadly consequences on rare occasions. And lately, it isn’t just women in danger when tempers flare! The fact that people are getting shot in road rage incidents is alarming.

I’m deeply annoyed that this compulsion to protect myself by soothing tempers and guessing consequences follows me into the virtual world. Sure, I’m grateful for the survival mechanism, I guess, but I want to be able to escape it sometimes. Especially when I have the opportunity to be a tough wolf sheriff, wouldn’t it be great to let go for a while?

Sam Arthurs
Sam joined Destructoid as a Freelance Writer in December 2022. She is a fan of narrative games, like The Wolf Among US, and creepy Metroidvanias. When she isn't playing or writing about video games, she reads and writes horror stories.