Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Walking Dead Interaction

I was never much a fan of The Walking Dead comic book series or the television series (although I heard it improved over time). Too often I found the writing outlandish and cliche. In both the comic and the show, character behaved irrationally, as though they suddenly forgot they were living in a post-apocalyptic world. Yes, people act crazy when the world is over, but still, it was happening with too much frequency to believe.

Now, after quite a bit of praise from the critical community, I have turned to The Walking Dead episodic game series by Telltale Games and I am hooked. I have played the first two of the five announced episodes and it has salvaged the world when I had almost given it up for lost.

My appreciation of the game stems from sharp writing, not incredibly evocative gameplay. Most interaction involves picking one of a variety of choices. Save the geeky nerd or the sharpshooting heroine? Side with the paranoid zealot or the family-focused yokel? This is not new or particularly inspired forms of interactive. When action does take place, it usually asks you to move the point over a well-marked location on the screen. How quickly can you push a button?

Even so, this minimal interaction enlivens the personality of Lee, the titular character, in a way the comic books cannot. Some characters still act irrationally, and maddeningly so, but the game is about my reactions to that environment. Minor decisions, particularly when they have lasting effects on those I care about, are important because they bring the destruction of the world with all its quiet tragedy back down to human scale. The protagonist of the comic book series is out to protect his son, I get that, but I never found that story compelling until Clementine, voiced by Melissa Hutchison who pulls off a great rendition of a vulnerable but brave child, was threatened and I, by my decisions or inaction, allowed it to happen.

Even when some characters behave erratically (I'm looking at you Kenny),  I feel isolated from their madness. It genuinely helps to embody an individual in this story because it both isolates me from the others characters and binds me to them. My decisions effect those around, but they are also my own.

I know that compared to other survival horror games, The Walking Dead closer to being a television spin-off than a game. Yet that little bit of interaction helps. I eagerly await the next episode. When the series wraps up, I am sure I will have more to say on the game. In the meantime, if you have been playing it, let me know what you think? Is the game as compelling as I seem to think?


  1. I love, love, love this game. The characters are so well done that the big choices genuinely stress me out. I feel like the narrative is everything Heavy Rain was trying to be.

    In episode 1 I was all calm and rational, but by the end of episode 2, I was starting to panic a bit. Let's just say Lilly and I don't get along any more. I haven't been tempted to restart any part of the game yet, but if anything happens to Clem down the road -- and considering how dark the game is, I have to assume something will -- I will completely lose it.

  2. I think one of the things I enjoyed most about the Walking Dead games is the time limit imposed on making choices. After playing Mass Effect 3 and having the ability to sit and think about a choice before I make, WD is forcing me to go with my gut reaction (which, honestly, normally leads to someone dying).

  3. I'm so glad! I have the same tension with Clem. The achieve some of their best relationship material with Lee and Clem in episode 2. Let me know what you think.

  4. I agree. The time limit fits really naturally in this space. I particularly like that some decisions have shorter time than others. It's not even something I can get used to. I see that ticking white bar and I panic and try to make a moral decision in a rush - which, as you point out, rarely leads to measured decisions.