Storytelling in The Walking Dead game and the problem of the “interactive movie” genre

Let’s get something straight: The Walking Dead game is not a bad game. But I don’t think it’s a great one either. It is so filled to the brim with flaws and mechanics that are the exact opposite of what I personally want out of video games. The whole concept of a video game where I occasionally press buttons, have to solve puzzles that really aren’t that well designed, and make decisions, it doesn’t entirely appeal to me. If anything, the concept of making decisions is the only thing I’d want to keep, we can throw everything else away and start from scratch and make a completely different video game. I can barely even consider The Walking Dead game a video game. To me, it is using the medium I love very poorly, despite having good storytelling.

The storytelling in the game is quite incredible; I don’t think I can deny that. I did get attached to Clementine and Lee as characters and genuinely felt for them in someway…but I feel like I could have cared way more for them if I was actually playing a real video game. When the game has to stuff in bad puzzles and sequences of just walking around to fill game time, it detracts from the experience in a multitude of ways, especially because a lot of the time nothing else is going on in the game unless I force myself to talk to people which typically aren’t even that interesting side conversations in the first place beyond the main story of the game.

One of the things that has become more and more a mainstay in video games are side conversations that characters have as you play the game, whether it be in Bioshock or The Last of Us, side conversations are going to add to the experience significantly. Understandably, those games I’m sure have much higher budgets than TellTale may ever have for their games. Regardless, I don’t think that completely excuses gameplay that simply isn’t fun most of the time and makes me impatient and makes me wish I could just skip over it all to get to the actual story and decision making that makes the game what it is.

Frankly, the gameplay of the first season already bored me by the time I hit episode three or so, I was sick and tired of it and just wanted to see what would happen to these characters instead of actually playing the game which isn’t what a video game should make me feel. I should feel like I want to play the goddamn game. The strange thing about the first season of the game is that it got amazing reviews pretty much all across the board, which baffles me. Of course, people can have different opinions and the game is subjective as a whole, but it seems strange to me that so many people aren’t bothered by the gameplay of this first season. Besides the story, did you REALLY enjoy the gameplay? I mean, it’s almost hard for me to see how people could thoroughly enjoy the gameplay of something that isn’t really a video game. This isn’t what I want video games to be. Hell, it could almost be a choose your own adventure book (though it’s still better than that).

400 Days, the sidestory DLC that branches in between of Season 1 and Season 2, may be one of the pointless video games ever designed. It’s probably an hour long or so and essentially contains five side stories set in The Walking Dead game universe that are barely even connected to the main game and the stories seem to make sure to cut off right before they have potential to actually become more interesting. Afterwards, they poorly connect all of these stories in an absurd way that makes little to no sense in order for the player to “feel” something more for these characters; yet, I feel nothing at all for anyone in this game. I could care less about a single person in any of these stories because I have no idea who they are, we spend so little time with any of them, the gameplay gives me even less of a reason to care considering most of it is just button pushing to make choices or pushing an analog stick sometimes. 400 Days is a strange experimental exercise in storytelling that bombs in every single way and is seriously one of the most pointless games I’ve ever played. It serves no purpose for anyone. I have no idea why it exists nor will I ever.

Season 2 doesn’t exactly do much to improve upon either Season 1 or the abysmal 400 Days. Instead of controlling Lee, you play as Clementine. I have to admit that it is a bold move to allow the player to control Clementine except it’s in a game where you barely play a video game. One of the few good things about Season 2 is that it cuts out most of the awful puzzles and extremely boring sequences found within the first season, instead most of the game is small action sequences or simply pushing buttons to make conversation choices. Do I like this better? Sure, it cuts out really awful, useless gameplay that does NOTHING to immerse me into the game. But this more simplified “gameplay” also does NOTHING to immerse into the game or the story.

I found myself lacking in any actual empathy or really caring about the characters in this story-especially the newer ones who are so shallowly developed through conversation after conversation of bickering and arguing instead of any personal moments to help me connect with these characters further. Not only is the gameplay a problem this time around, I also found the story writing to be a problem and caught in a vicious cycle of repetitive arguing which is obviously realistic in an post-apocalyptic setting, but there’s a point where it loses its flare.

Don’t get me wrong; The Walking Dead Season 1 and Season 2 aren’t awful video games. They just don’t understand the medium, in my opinion. They think this is a medium that needs to borrow so heavily from cinema and add “gamey” things like conversation choices in order for it to seem “unique” in someway when in reality, it’s sort of a shallow experience where I don’t really care too much about the characters in the end, at least that’s how it made me feel. When the gameplay simply is a drag to play through, isn’t that a sign that your game is riddled in problems? Because I find it pretty hard to believe that people could enjoy playing these games that much. Developers are going to need to find a way to properly balance the idea of these story-driven games. Instead of making me feel like I’m playing an interactive movie, make me feel like I’m playing a video game, one that actually has good gameplay and a good story. Gameplay and story need to work together if you want something that is meaningful and impactful. (And seriously, 400 Days is so laughable. Oh my God. I’m sorry. I needed to make another jab.)

Jesse Jordon is an aspiring writer who writes this stuff on these blogs to make you learn something I guess. (Wait, why am I mixing 3rd and 1st person point of view when I’m the only one writing this?) He’s trying to be a video game journalist but is probably failing at that. You can follow him on Twitter @jjordon96 (if you want I guess). You can also purchase his first self-published book Passing Out Pieces for only $5.00 (you can buy literature or coffee, it’s up to you to decide. I’d go with the coffee personally).

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