Last October I got the chance to play the first episode of Tell Tale Games' adaptation of Bill Willingham's Fables. Or as I like to call it, what Once Upon a Time would have been if Disney hadn't farted pixie dust all over someone's mommy issues. It was the first of Tell Tale's interactive stories I'd tried, and it's simply amazing in how true to the comic it managed to be. Frankly, I think it's the best adaptation of any comic ever done in any format save perhaps The Maxx.
Also, brief aside... had anyone noticed that the movie Big has totally come true? Seriously. Remember how at the end Tom Hanks is pitching an interactive comic book where you make choices and it's never the same stories, and the asshole executive he humiliated earlier turns the tables and calls the whole idea ludicrous, showing us how out of touch Tom Hanks has become with being a kid? This is that idea, and here I am a 33-year-old manchild loving every minute of it. That movie had it all backwards.
After I tried the first episode I sort of abandoned the game because I have a really short attention span. But now that the final chapter, "Cry Wolf," has been released this week I've managed to play it in more or less one big gulp. In doing so I've discovered that The Wolf Among Us is probably one of the greatest political statements in art this century so far.
In this prequel to Fables, the government of Fabletown is weak, inefficient, and broken. Social services are all but non-existent, and Fables that need help are often left to starve or seek other means.
Those means are usually such occupations as prostitution, black market magic, and other dirty deals. All these fall under the control of The Crooked Man, a deformed, charming, and ruthless racketeer that, to quote Snow White, "takes your weakness and adds it to his strength."
Under his clandestine rule over many citizens, he operates a brutal shadow government that even has Deputy Mayor Ichabod Crane in his pocket. All that's left is for Snow White and Sheriff Bigby Wolf to try and seek justice.
What's truly amazing about the game is its subtlety. Take something like the Bioshock series. Each game is about a type of extremism taken to its logical outcome. Rapture is an unregulated hellhole of pure laissez-faire capitalism, while its two sequels deal with religious and nationalist fundamentalism. Are they great games that make solid points about the dangers of radicalism in ideology? Yep, but subtle they ain't.
The Wolf Among Us takes it one step at a time. Here's Beauty and Beast, who can't pay for the rent on their apartment because they're accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and with the government uninterested in helping them they fall into The Crooked Man's racket.
Or Faith from the Donkeyskin fairytale. Her and her prince just barely eke out a living on the edge of Fabletown until Faith becomes a kept woman in The Crooked Man's sex ring. Or Mr. Toad, who's only crime is basically being unable to afford expensive glamours to hide his animal nature to the mundane world.
Does the game say that the government should step in and take care of all these people? No, but they do point out that where the social safety net breaks down there is and will always be crooked men ready to profit off of pain and mistakes. Until someone with a power above money, such as law, steps in there will exist an equal, hidden, and by nature parasitic power.
Ultimately, the game is about Bigby Wolf's desire to reform himself as a monster, and to learn what it means to protect and serve something. To do that he roots through every weak, cruel, and mean aspect of the power he serves. He cuts out the rotten until all that's left is (mostly) good intentions.
In doing so, he seeks to break the backs of those who would trample on the downtrodden, be they either Crane in office or The Crooked Man in the streets. He recognizes both as threats, and by turning the whole thing into a video game Tell Tale makes you an active part in how bloody confusing and difficult that process must be.
There are three works of art every politician should be forced to experience before assuming office. They should be made to read To Kill a Mockingbird, they should be forced to watch Grave of the Fireflies, and they should play this game.
We'd all be better off.