Walking Dead Proves Gamers Want Deep, Adult Stories

Warning! This post includes MASSIVE spoilers for Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. DO NOT READ IT IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED IT. I don’t want to be responsible for ruining that game for you.


You know what doesn’t happen in The Walking Dead?

You don’t need to save the world.

You’re not the last hope of humanity.

You’re not battling some ultimate evil.

You don’t play a rugged but plucky hero who spouts one-liners.

In fact, Telltale’s adventure title pretty much defies every gaming stereotype available. Even its zombie “combat” is minimal, and I imagine the number of zombies I’ve killed through the course of playing the game could be counted on both hands (certainly on both hands and feet). And it was the most rewarding, reverberating, emotional video game experience of the year — easily, and by far.

The Walking Dead illustrates a lot of things about game stories, characterization, and interactive entertainment that many bigger games, developers and publishers seem to be missing. Namely, and to sum up: Tell stories adults want to see, and players will respond.

Obviously, that’s not to say that, after the success of Telltale’s title, I want to shut down production on Call of Duty One Million, Mass Effect 4, Tomb Raider, Dead Space, any number of shooters in which I kill whole countries’ worth of enemies, any number of action-adventure titles that are could have been big-budget films from the 1990s, or anything else, for that matter. I want my gaming universe as big and diverse as possible. And that’s what this is all about: diversity. Games like The Walking Dead are criminally underrepresented.

It can be tough to avoid the discussion that video games remain mired in the adolescent power fantasies of young men, even given the forward strides that the medium has made in recent years and continues to make every day. The fact is that hulking, ‘roided-out space marines outnumber thoughtful, realistic protagonists 100 to one. Of course, there’s partially a reason for that — video games have the opportunity to make players feel like bad asses, and players respond to the ability to feel bad ass. But I think The Walking Dead proves that lugging around a huge gun that’s also a chainsaw is not the only way to feel like a bad ass.

Through the course of The Walking Dead, I was often forced to make tough decisions, and I always had to live with my failures. But I also lived with my successes. Protagonist Lee’s devotion and dedication to caring for Clementine, a child character I felt a real connection with — that was a success. In Lee and Clementine’s final moments together, in which Lee basically teaches Clem how to go on without him, I felt like an entirely different, altogether underrepresented kind of bad ass. I felt like a genuinely good guy, and not because I had bravely faced down alien hordes or shot a lot of guys who looked different than me in the face. I felt like a good guy because I made choices for Clementine’s benefit, not my own.

There’s a moment at the end of The Walking Dead in which Lee’s death is imminent, and not only is he facing down death, he’s stuck, alone with a fearful Clementine, and he’s most definitely about to become a zombie. Once the immediate danger to Clementine has passed through the course of the scene, the player has a very basic choice: Ask Clementine to put Lee down, or don’t.

This may well be The Walking Dead’s defining moment. Here we have the two characters with whom we, the player, have identified with most and been around the longest. Most players, I’d imagine, share Lee’s commitment to Clementine, but that’s to say nothing of the player’s commitment to Lee, who has been not only our proxy in The Walking Dead’s world but also a character with whom we relate most and shape most through our actions. I, for one, had no desire to see Lee suffer. If it were me (and to a degree, it was), I’d never want to return as a shambling, soulless monster.

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5 Comments on Walking Dead Proves Gamers Want Deep, Adult Stories

Jonah Dupuis

On November 29, 2012 at 5:26 am

So right, this game gave me a connection I have never felt before! I was in tears while Lee was saying his last words to Clementine! One other good point is brought up; this is any adult story! It’s not like most games where there appealing to all ages, but it’s heavily appealed to teens! This game has a serious story and has some really messed up scene in it! So this game will hopefully change the way developers look at there game! Also it’s $5.00 a episode unlike you $59.9@ cost for most games

If you have not got this game you have to, everyone will be talking about until season two hits! Be in the know; also you can play what I think is a game that will change the way we of stories in video games!

Patches

On November 29, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Since its a topic with spoiler…

*** Spoiler ***

(my 1st Episode 5 playthrough)
Did you put the handcuffs on Lee or the Zombie?…

Got to admit I thought long and hard about this one… I was so sure the Zombie would unstuck himself somehow, but I was so sure, especially with the yellow eyes and the failed ‘W’ mashing that Lee would turn before the end…

Another great thinking moment of this game…

I finally decided to put it on Lee… he was the free zombie-to-be in the room, and frankly, I wasn’t sure at the time that Clem may be able to shoot him, being his friend and caretaker… And even when the option was possible, could she really do it, or aim right?…

Got to admit I’m curious to try the handcuffs on the zombie and not asking Clem to shoot Lee, to see how it turns out…

R.J.

On December 2, 2012 at 1:24 am

I just started playing this, and it’s pretty amazing. I love that there are so many time where I’m confronted with decisions where neither is clearly superior. And knowing that the game has placed me in the position of caretaker has made some choices even harder since I have to balance what someone else needs or wants along with my own needs and wants.

Rigo

On December 3, 2012 at 11:01 pm

I Really LOVE the show. Total fan, but I wouldn’t call this a ‘game.’ It’s more of a motion comic where you get to choose to go left or right. As far as it’s gaming value, I’d rate it the same as a game of solitare. Making a radio work, by installing batteries, or beating off a zombie by hitting one key over and over, is not really a game. That beings said, if you’d like to watch a somewhat lengthy motion comic of the Walking Dead, you’ll like this.

Dynamite

On December 4, 2012 at 6:26 am

The first thing that needs to be done is to ignore the stupid industry nonsense about Heavy Rain and other lazy, manipulative writing (such as Mass Effect 3′s ridiculous ending) being “mature” and “artistic.” These things aim for the lowest common denominator of pretentious egotists who think that true storytelling is focusing only on the most superficial elements and leaving the actual narrative to the audience’s interpretation. We need less of that type of junk and more stuff like Red Dead Redemption, Walking Dead, Resistance 3, Enslaved, and ACTUAL interpretive/artistic stuff like Limbo, Journey, Unfinished Swan and so forth that deliberately stimulate the audience’s obscure/abstract side to create unique experiences instead of writing half-arsed, hole-filled nonsense and using ‘creative integrity’ as the go-to excuse when they realise their audience wasn’t as stupid or inattentive as they thought they’d be.