I love the Walking Dead but Telltale has caused itself some serious PR issues later on. I’m sure you all know about the critical reception it came with last year, I cannot deny the game was not a profound experience for me at the time also. Sadly upon retrospect I have come to the conclusion the successes of the game have diminished with time. The personalization of video games – games where the story adapts to player choice have gargantuan pitfalls which are much easier to fall into and I think Telltale may taken have that fall.
Those who believe we need to be empower players with more agency through how story unfolds and damn linear stories need a wakeup call. After last year’s The Walking Dead much of the gaming press been worshiping the ways in which gaming has taken another step in the right direction from a narrative standpoint. Let me offer a disclaimer – this is not a crusade against Telltale’s game, I am here to simply state we mustn’t allow one form of video game to take to take precedence and highlight the issues non-linear stories presents, especially long form ones.
Let’s not understate the fact that in The Walking Dead, choices do not matter in an existential sense. This should be clear to anyone who has played the game as (spoiler) characters that can die in one episode but don’t will definitively die in another. With the series to continue succeeding it would need to bear on its shoulders the persistent need to juggle two or more versions of the story consistently and well to validate any real meaning coming from those specific player decisions. If Telltale where to pull it off they would need fully fleshed out playthroughs which showcase the loss and grievance of losing a character and with the other having the character integrated heavily into the story. This is simply not an easy task to accomplish. Unless they make a cameo appearance, something nice but ultimately hollow in the long term – we are stuck with a character that will likely die within the next episode or two or is forcefully placed into the rest of the series gracelessly.
Whether or not Telltale has created a game which showcases how non-linear narratives can work best, they are not superior storytelling methods. The implication non-linear stories create later on invites more chances for ruin, something straight laced stories don’t have.
Plus what does this all mean for canon as a concept in gaming? The Walking Dead has built a rapid fan base amongst trends like the #forclementine where many have confessed their adoration for her. Alas I have conceived a worse-case scenario for all you Clementine fans. Imagine season two ending with the conclusion of the ghastly death of Clementine and the other has Clementine living on. Maybe it finishes up with you having to choose from one of two binary choices. Maybe it’s three or four crucial decisions made progressively. The way it is presented is not crucial as even if Telltale spaces in multiple warnings that tell players what a silly and dangerous decision they are making – you can still expect a huge raft of complaints when someone’s own Clementine dies.
As much as I loved my experience with the game my first time through, parsing through its flaws only serves to highlight the inherent complications of the core game design. I see it as a task that is truly up against them especially when you think about the track record on these things with Fallout 3 and Mass Effect being recent noted examples of these horrendous failures. Relying on designers to make divergences in relation to each player’s unique playthrough is a delicate and difficult task but proposing it as the next principal of modern game design is utterly foolish.
I just hope to dear god my Clementine lives. Those who do become unhappy with their outcome, I hear cupcakes have a proven track record of getting endings changed.