So, as I mentioned in my last article, Video Game the Storyteller: How Metal Gear Solid 4 is the Perfect Example of the Best and Worst of Video Game Storytelling, that was written months before I had the chance to experience The Walking Dead by Telltale Games.
That game definitely deserves a quick mention as it is probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in terms of storytelling in a game. I debated whether or not to continue this series of blog entries… but… I just had to say this piece to get it out of my system.
Most people are already aware of what The Walking Dead series is about. It’s the zombie apocalypse and instead of focusing on the zombies, the series focuses on the people. We quickly learn that the dead is not what we need to be concerned about but rather the living.
Originally a graphic novel by Robert Kirkman, the series blew up when it was turned into a popular TV-Show on AMC. Now there are novels, games, and bobble heads as we ride through this zombie-mania.
As a game, The Walking Dead is a very evolved form of visual novel games. It’s different than games like Heavy Rain where I’d say that’s more of an interactive movie than a visual novel (for me the differentiation comes from that biggest and majority of game decisions in games like The Walking Dead happens in static, paused moments while in Heavy Rain lot of it happens in dynamic, ongoing moments. There are other differentiation as well but that’s for another day).
To those unfamiliar, visual novel games are games where you spend most of your time soaking in the story. In the olden days, visual novels games were generally you sitting and reading through bunch of dialogues, watch the pictures change (scenery, characters, etc.), and sometimes make choices and play minigames.
In many sense, visual novel style of games seems to be the “easy” way of using video games as a medium for storytelling. There’s less gameplay than RPGs and a lot more of reading/listening.
So was The Walking Dead really innovative in terms of innovating the storytelling in video games? I’m not sure. I’m inclined to say that it’s not.
Wait, WAIT, put down the pitchforks for a second.
I’ll publicly admit that The Walking Dead by Telltale Games has to be in the Top 5 Video Game experiences I’ve had in my life. There’s no other word than “masterful” to describe the writing and the utilization of using video game as a medium to present a story.
By that in and of itself, even if the game didn’t innovate it definitely advanced and reinforced the video games’ credibility as a storytelling medium. It gives you an experience that can’t be replicated in any of the other current formats.
As an aspiring career writer, I was more than excited to try out this game after hearing so many good things about the plot. I prepared myself to take notes as I slowly became sucked into the world of The Walking Dead. I immediately found myself filling in the shoes and the mind of Lee Everett, the protagonist.
The way the game begins like a TV show (episodic and even having previews and reviews at the end and the beginning of each episodes) already prepares the players minds to absorb the story. But the choices given, turns of events, camera angles, music, and even the moments of gameplay really works altogether to immerse you not just into the world but into the circumstances and stakes of this apocalypse.
But it also didn’t take long to realize that anything I learned while playing this game would be… fairly useless as someone who’s currently not a writer for video games.
And that, to me, is a one of the best evidence of how well they took advantage of their format as a video game.
All the powerful moments in the game have such an impact because… it’s a game. Because you’re the one making the decisions and making the connections with the characters and the events. There’s no barrier of having to relate to a character experiencing these things as in books and movies.
This is also why The Walking Dead by Telltale Games is the best experience of The Walking Dead that you can have.
As I mentioned before, The Walking Dead is less about the undead and more about the living. It’s about the people re-evaluating the meaning of humanity when the civilization that shielded it and gave it a definition is gone. For some it’s reaffirmation, for some it’s redefinition, and for some it’s defending its old definition in the changing, trying times.
The trials of making tough decisions of life or death, the anguish of realizing how what seemed like a minuscule decision had led to devastating consequences, and overflowing joy of small victories and crushing sorrow from great defeats only truly ring with the audience when they can feel it’s themselves facing those tribulations.
Though the game makes the players play a character (e.g. Lee Everette), you acting as their moral and mental compass makes you feel like you’re the one in this world and you’re just borrowing Lee’s body and tongue for it.
The novel and the show, although great on their own merits, ultimately cannot do what the game offers its audience. What makes the original premise so interesting and compelling is the moral dilemma it poses on the readers and the viewers. With the game, now you can actually have those moral dilemmas and see where you stand in this bleak world. You have the chance to learn about yourself.
You don’t have to watch Rick and his friends make the decisions. It’s you. All you.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s not without its flaws. At times the choices feel misleading or limited. It is a game after all. There are definitely forced moments in plots that makes you slightly disappointed that you only had the illusion of freedom. And the plot itself can sometimes be predictable. But its masterful presentation and unique experience of really putting you in this virtual simulation of moral philosophy makes you easily forgive the game for its flaws and still love every second of it.
(I specifically remember in Season 1 there were events unfolding at a farmhouse that to almost everyone should have seemed blatantly obvious of what’s to come but I never felt the game became dull because of it. Even though I knew what was coming… I was eager to see how the game was going to make those events happen)
There’s really no need for me to praise this game more. It already has a slew of accolades and acclaims. But still, nevertheless, I’ll recommend this game to any gamers out there and even non-gamers who just dig good stories and good demonstration of the art of storytelling.
Don’t feel like you’re too late to jump on the train. You have the fortune of not having to wait for new episodes as Season 1 and Season 2 have already finished. And by the time you’re done, you can get excited for Season 3 which is supposed to start sometime this… year?
I’m too lazy to Google.
I’m no game news reporter.
If you’re reading this you have internet. Google it.
P.S. Oh! Another mention of memorable moments in the game! “Final Boss” of S1 and even S2 were spectacular moments of really testing all the decisions you’ve made until the final moments of the game. It really gives you a chance to have an introspection of where your moral compass lie.
Also, at the end of each episode the game gives you a comparison of your decisions to other players’ decisions. It’s an interesting experience to see how you compare to others in terms of the moral choices you’ve made.
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