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).


Head In The Clouds Sunday: Reinventing The Wheel in Video Games

Head In The Clouds Sunday is my weekly post on video games that may get a little weird, a little personal, and a little fun. I talk about video games in different ways and about how we need to innovate games. It gets a little rambly, but hey, who cares? Enjoy.

We all love video games. I’ve always loved video games. I can’t remember a time when I was not playing video games. I was born in 1996 and had a Sega Genesis in my house as long as I can remember. But do we need to reinvent the wheel in video games? Are we stuck doing the same thing? Are we just running through the motions? Is it time for major changes? Is it? I’m not even sure. We have plenty of brown-colored first person shooters coming out every November. Hey, I’m not saying those games aren’t fun, they are, they really are, but isn’t this just the same thing? Don’t we need something a little different?

Trust me, I love some big, sweeping cinematic extravagances like Uncharted. The Uncharted franchise is near and dear to me, those characters are near and dear to me, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is by far one of my most cherished gaming experiences, getting the game on Christmas the year it came out, playing the entire thing within two days. I remember it crystal clear. But I get it. I get these massive cinematic experiences with great cutscenes, visuals, and fun gunplay and platforming. It isn’t like it hasn’t been done before; Naughty Dog just fine-tuned it and executed it just right. But can’t we get something a little more here?

Every once and a little while, we do. We get something like Journey. A game with no cutscenes and tells this story solely through gameplay and visuals and it’s an emotionally riveting experience. It is exactly what the video game medium was designed for. It is what video games can be like if pushed really, really far to differentiate themselves from movies and literature and become their own thing. Let’s face it: Uncharted is a movie with gameplay. Journey is a video game, a true piece of art in video games. How did that game manage to reinvent the wheel? It cut out all the same stuff that video games are known for. Stupid button prompts, bad tutorial sequences, cutscenes that force the player to stop playing the game, which is the point of video games in the first place, voice acting, everything. Just…everything. It is purely minimalistic. It is quiet and content with amazing music. It is…so purely a video game. It is taking the medium to its very core and rides along with it for around two hours and you get strangely emotionally attached to this character (or characters, depending on who you get randomly partnered up with online) that you do not know, who does not speak, who is nothing but something you control with an analog stick and buttons. It reinvents the wheel in nearly every way…by removing parts from the wheel. Isn’t that a little strange? Maybe…even really strange?

Have we gotten so used to the loud, brown shooting games or the long, melodramatic RPGs or the insane open-world games made by Rockstar, Sucker Punch, and Volition or the movie-like cinematic experiences provided by Telltale Games and Naughty Dog? Are we just…okay with this all? I don’t think we should be. Again, I enjoy these typical big budget games a lot…in fact I love them. They are still some of my favorite gaming experience of all time. I very much enjoy a solid game of Team Deathmatch in Call of Duty or hitting people with a giant, purple dildo in Saint Rows III. But we’ve become a bit too complacent as gamers. Maybe a bit too comfortable to what has been given to us year by year, especially during the holiday season where all of the biggest games are released. But let’s look at what has happened this year. A lot of people don’t love Destiny. Halo: The Master Chief Collection doesn’t really work. Call of Duty is still Call of Duty. Assassin’s Creed Unity is kind of, somewhat broken. Maybe it’s time for some changes. Maybe we really need a true, genuine reinventing of the wheel before we get a bit too comfortable with what is handed to us. I don’t want to cut out all the same “video gamey” stuff, I really don’t, I just think developers need to look back for a minute and realize we need to scale things down, go back to the basics, start from there, and then make something really, really amazing. We don’t want developers to just continue rushing into making the next great first person shooter that mostly plays the same as that other one released three months ago, I want something new and something that will challenge the gamer-not on a gameplay challenge level-but on a level of intellectual, artistic value, and really taking back what video games really mean: gameplay. And even more so, telling stories through that gameplay and nothing more. I want to see it more and I hope others do as well.

Author of this post (and the only author ever on this blog):

Jesse Jordon is an aspiring writer who writes this garbage on these blogs to make you laugh or 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 On Human Empathy for only $5.00 (you can buy literature or coffee, it’s up to you to decide. I’d go with the coffee personally).