Monday, 30 December 2013

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #9: The Walking Dead: Season One

The Walking Dead: Season One Telltale Games/Telltale Games (2012)

The zombie apocalypse is probably the most over-used of video game settings because it provides an excuse for players to gun down thousands of enemies in morally unambiguous abandon. They're zombies! They don't even feel pain. The mechanics of ripping thorugh mindless bodies are so seductive that the devastation such an infection might cause to individuals and society as a whole has been left largely unexplored.

Thank goodness then, for The Walking Dead, which uses player choice to bring Robert Kirkman's comic book series to life and throw the player into the midst of the emotional fallout from the apocalypse. By limiting gameplay to pointing and clicking, The Walking Dead renders the player (as escaped convict Lee) relatively helpless, or at least as helpless as any normal person would be in the face of such horror.

As a consequence, the "action" concentrates on the choices Lee must make in order to keep himself and Clementine, a small girl he meets at the beginning of the story, alive. The characters they encounter throughout Season One's five episodes run the gamut from disturbingly opportunistic to hopelessly traumatised, and it's in the dilemmas that Lee faces in order to keep the peace between them that the game's "conflict" lies.

When they aren't trying to decide which of five starving people are most deserving of two morsels of food, the player must use their ingenuity to solve puzzles using found objects in much the same way that they might were the scenario real. 

Its horror is existential, not visceral, which gives it far more in common with the player's daily life than an action game might. Still, the oppressive bleakness of the narrative and the apparent hopelessness of Lee and Clementine's situation - even the best-case scenario is grim - makes the game more compelling, not less, because every moment of levity sparkles in comparison.

I was completely devastated by the ending The Walking Dead (and wrote a spolier-filled piece about why for GodisaGeek), but as ever I would rather be shaken to the core and feel alive then enjoy a good ride but ultimately feel nothing.

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