Trolls, Good samaritans, Tweedledum, and a mustard seed all have one important commonality: they can be used to communicate meaningful truths in fictional stories.
Much of Jesus’ most famous teaching was passed down through parables. The prodigal son, for example, illustrates God’s unconditional acceptance of those who want to be with him, the mustard seed demonstrates the mysterious growth of God’s Kingdom, and the workers in the vineyard display the even playing field of God’s grace.
The characters in The Wolf Among Us are deep, flawed, and interesting, and the mystery is both tense and compelling. And like any good parable, the strength of the story serves to draw the player to think in a fresh way about social and ethical questions.
Take Bigby (short for “Big Bad”) Wolf, the protagonist of the story and the sheriff of Fabletown. At first, his goals seem straightforward: figure out the identity of the killer and solve the mystery. But as the situation inevitably grows in complexity and the fractures in the Fabletown justice system become increasingly obvious, Bigby must deal with difficult questions which eventually cloud those initially clear objectives.
For example, how can he gain the trust of the poorer Fables, the ones who seem to hold the information he needs, but who also deeply distrust the very legal system that Bigby represents, which has never adequately protected them? How can he look past the situations of those forgotten Fables who have become entrapped by prostitution, or increasingly dependent on the black market, while involving them in the search for this murderer?
As you take direct control of Bigby, you are also forced to confront these questions, and at times you need to make gut-wrenching decisions that will have a lasting impact on the narrative. Through pursuing the mystery while balancing the demands and motivations of the characters around you, you come to realize that the reason the tensions are so palpable, even uncomfortable, is because they are rooted in real-world problems. Even when talking to made-up characters like Snow White, Ichabod Crane or Grendel (from Beowulf), you are faced with socioeconomic disparity, gender inequality, and racial injustice, all extremely relevant issues in our own society.
Thousands of years ago, it was through hearing the parable of the poor lamb-owner from the lips of Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel that David, the greatest King of the ancient nation of Israel, was made aware of true nature of his illicit affair with a woman and his conspiracy to have her husband killed. David was angry at the man in the story, but saw his own sin in the man’s actions, and was moved to repentance.
Experiences like The Wolf Among Us can create similar moments for us, in which we realize there is significant brokenness which we may actually be a part of, that we have become blinded to. I know there are plenty of non-profit organizations working to end human trafficking around the globe, and I am marginally aware of the work they do and how important it is, though I have never donated money or time to those causes. But when I am drawn into a narrative in which I emotionally connect with a female character who is helplessly trapped by trafficking, and I realize that I am powerless to change her situation, I have become personally impacted and think more deeply about how I might be part of a solution to this in our world.
When I realize that the character I am controlling is on the receiving end of privilege that other characters do not have access to, simply because of their race, status, or gender, I am given the opportunity to deal with that reality on a personal level. As a white, middle-class man, I am not frequently put into positions to think about the privilege that comes with my identity, and, apparently, neither is Bigby Wolf. But as conversations with the overlooked, lower-class members of Fabletown continue to reveal, disparities in privilege do exist, whether or not I actually acknowledge it.
There is a time and place for directly confronting societal ills, and loudly demanding change. There is also a time and place for parables, stories and characters which draw us in and shock us by revealing the problems that we are part of. Realistically speaking, I do not anticipate sweeping social change in the wake of Telltale’s new product, but I can certainly say that over the past few weeks I have been re-engaged with the brokenness in our world. This brokenness is something that I could easily continue to insulate myself from and ignore, were it not for parables like “The Wolf Among Us”, which sneak in and shake me out of my stupor. That cannot be a bad thing.