Telltale’s The Walking Dead Was A Game About You, Not Zombies

Games by genre always seem to be born out of necessity. Game development is hard work, and breaking the story into smaller pieces and releasing it gradually appears, at least from the outside, as a way to manage smaller projects with a development structure rolling mat. In its heyday, none was more successful than Telltale Games, which made a name for itself on adventure games, mostly licensed, with a strong episodic structure. Its breakout success, and still remains one of the best episodic experiences of all time, was The Walking Dead, which turned 10 years old today, April 24. In particular, the first season created a sensation. Make an appointment to watch video games and in the process, one of the most emotionally charged video game stories of my life.

The idea of ​​”seeing a date” may be foreign to those who didn’t grow up in the “Must See TV” era on Thursdays, TGIF Fridays, and Sundays of The Simpsons. The term refers to the age of water cooling culture in the workplace, where it is fashionable to keep up with some important programs and chat about them at work the next day. If you didn’t catch up on the show, you missed the conversation. This persists to some extent with megahits like Game of Thrones or TV shows that premiere on a particular day, when Twitter team minds rush to share their opinions. himself about the latest plot revelations. But now it’s more fragmented. Aside from a few breakout events, such as the Super Bowl, we don’t often have a national conversation about a single TV show. Following the launch of Telltale’s Walking Dead, streaming culture became the dominant medium of entertainment and created a craving for content, in which viewers watched a new show almost immediately and moved on to the next one. according to.

That momentum goes for video games, too. Games are diverse and historically have had more niche markets than television. When it’s hugely successful, like Pokemon Go or Elden Ring, it’s notable because it reaches a level of mainstream dialogue that most other games don’t. It is often impractical to focus the attention of the gaming community on a single topic, which makes what Telltale achieved 10 years ago all the more impressive.

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Of course, The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series isn’t the first breakout hit called The Walking Dead. It builds on the success of the hit AMC series that premiered just a few years earlier, and both are based, in different ways, on the popular comic books by writer Robert Kirkman and artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. their own. But this video game series is unique in that it tells an origin story set in a world created by Kirkman. The TV series primarily focuses on Rick Grimes, which borrows heavily from the comic book character of the same name. Instead, the Telltale Series puts you in the role of an entirely new character, Lee Everett, a felon with a heart of gold who stumbles across an orphan girl named Clementine.

It’s a classic tale of wolves and cubs, a genre we’ve seen replicated countless times in other media like Sweet Tooth and The Mandalorian. The relationships in these stories are the beating heart of the audience’s emotional investment: You watch as a wise but world-weary guardian teaching a young ward how to navigate strange terrain, and relationships Their relationship brings the emotional depth that older characters think they’ d lose. What makes The Walking Dead different is that you are a wise guardian, which increases a sense of connection and instills an intense level of loyalty and protection towards Clementine.

It’s the perfect setting for a game that revolves around intense decision-making. Did you lie to Hershel? Did you steal the car? In the end, most of these choices don’t matter to the overall story. Even choices that have long-term ramifications across multiple episodes, like saving Carly or Doug, end up coming back to the same point. You are going downstream and you can steer the boat with the current, but you are always flowing towards the same point.

However, the emotional context of these choices makes them feel meaningful, because the real goal of the game is not getting to the finish line. It’s about deciding what’s important to you. In a world where most of the rules and goodness of society no longer apply or have become unrecognizable, what would you choose to remove and maintain? Why are those standards important to you? Playing The Walking Dead and making these decisions requires moments of introspection, not only about the game but also about the game itself. yourself.

This element makes the game a rich circuit for shared discussions, and Telltale has facilitated that by displaying statistics about each key decision moment at the end of each episode. I understood often with one of my oldest friends that after each episode we would talk about our decisions. Often our choices line up, but sometimes they don’t. We’ll talk about our internal reasoning and why we made the decisions we made. Sometimes, a choice that I once thought indisputable makes more sense when I hear his reasons. I didn’t consider his assumptions, or he came to conclusions about another character’s underlying motives that made him less likely to trust them. These conversations, and discovering how our different choices reflect our own ideals and personalities, helped us become closer as friends.

By the time we get to the fifth and final episode of the first season, Telltale has fully grasped the emotional connection it has made with the story of wolves and cubs. With Lee being bitten by a zombie and Clementine being kidnapped, it put the pieces in place for a perfect ticking scenario. The hero had to die, but there was one more thing he needed to do before he died. The emotional notes are preparing for a climax.

And when that peak finally came, it was devastating. The stranger who kidnapped Clementine is nobody, a reflection of the choices you’ve made along the way, whose impact has been overshadowed by the collective knowledge that he’s going to kidnap Clem. if you also give all the opposing choices. The bigger emotional impact is what we see coming: the bite, the inevitable death, the end of the Lee story.

So when we get to the end, the lone wolf has one more lesson for his cubs. This time it’s not about directing the video game line, sailing the current boat. By this point, I was fully invested in Clementine as a person. I want her to thrive in this broken world without me. I want to feel like I’m delivering something important. Lee choked on his last words – be compassionate, care about others even at risk, keep your humanity. I let Clementine go, then asked her to leave. I didn’t ask her to shoot me. I can’t imagine making her go through that.

When I met my friend this time, our decisions differed more than usual. His final words to Clementine are often more realistic, more survival-focused, less naive. Mine is more principled, trying to keep some humanity and innocence. As always, I don’t think any of us were wrong, but it was a reflection of our values. He wants her to be safe, and I want her to have parts of her humanity that are worth saving.

The Walking Dead will continue for three more seasons, and Clementine’s importance will slowly fade away. She took the lead, as an adult, in the final season – which was unfortunately overshadowed by Telltale’s Timely shutdown. Honestly, I never finished the series, failed at Season 3 at times. Or maybe it was Season 2? I understand that Clementine’s season has been exceptionally great. But for me, I don’t feel obligated to watch the rest, or make final choices for her.

As a parent, you spend your life preparing your children to face a world without you. You accept that one day they will work on their own, and maybe you will, and you just have to hope you’ve pointed them in the right direction and given them the tools they need and the understanding. know how to use them. As Lee, the surrogate parent of a fictional child, I did everything I could for Clementine. Penetrating her mind and making the final decision would devalue that experience to me. The entire catharsis of the first season of The Walking Dead is all about coming to terms with letting go. I had.

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