Attack of the Fanboy

Is the Walking Dead Game really a video game?

by William Schwartz


There’s a lot of controversy over one little downloadable, independent game based on a popular TV and comic series.  I think the controversy has little to do with the quality of the ‘game’ or that an independent project won VGA’s best game award over popular AAA titles like Black Ops 2 and Halo 4, I think some people are still trying to decide if it’s even a video game.

I first encountered this issue after I had just finished Heavy Rain.  I thought it was a great experience but I never felt like I was playing a game, not in the traditional sense.  Even Heavy Rain’s developer, Quantic Dream, didn’t call it a video game, they used the term interactive narrative or interactive drama.  And that probably is a better fit.

The Walking Dead Game is not a video game in the same way the Choose Your Own Adventure novel series weren’t video games.  They were interactive, but they obviously didn’t involve video.  The Walking Dead Game, by our current standards, barely even involves video.  Unless you’re moving around or talking with some one it’s like staring at a cell-shaded painting, albeit a pretty one.  In some ways, one of the first interactive narratives, Under a Killing Moon, had more sophisticated video, graphics and interactive structure.  The Walking Dead Game looks like, and plays like an interactive comic, and that’s fine, so let’s just call it that and create a new category at the VGA awards, if you care about video game award shows that much.  “The nominees for Best Interactive Narrative are: …”

This isn’t meant to be any sort of criticism against Tell Tale Games or the Walking Dead Game, more of an attack on video game award shows and other popularity contests, or just popularity in general.  Think about it, this years nominees were Assassin’s Creed 3, Dishonored, Journey, Mass Effect 3, and the Walking Dead Game.  A truly earth shattering victory would have been Journey winning for best game.  That’s also the only game on that list I have yet to purchase and play.  But that’s the status of the entertainment world we live in right now.The Walking Dead Game doesn’t even really deserve it’s underdog status.  Tell Tale Games made an interactive comic from an already existing TV and comic franchise.  If Tell Tale Games created the same style of game, equal in quality in every way, but as a new IP, it wouldn’t have won best game at the VGAs.  The reviews wouldn’t be any different, it might even have better scores, and still be just as tear jerking as the Walking Dead Game, but would just be another indie game and sell like it too.  But I would still consider a new IP even more successful than the one Tell Tale Games decided to make.  A fairly safe decision, if you ask me.  But that’s the status of the entertainment world we live in right now.

So that’s my argument.  The Walking Dead Game isn’t really a video game.  I figured I’d write a whole blog about it rather than troll around the 1up and IGN sites posting this everywhere.  It has been an emotional experience, sometimes a little too much.  I’m not really a horror porn fan or splat-gore enthusiast, but they are popular right now.  The Walking Dead Game overdoes it a little sometimes, like zombie children and shooting kids in the head.  They can get away with it as an animated interactive comic, but not in TV.  I’m also starting to think that little Clementine isn’t really sound of mind and will never be after the shit she’s seen.  (Dexter Morgan went through similar trauma and became a serial killer!)

The Walking Dead Game is not a video game.  It’s an interactive drama, or interactive narrative or the progenitor to future Holodeck dramas.  If you remember in Star Trek TNG, even they didn’t say they were going to play a Holodeck program, they were going run a program.  They weren’t video games, and neither is the Walking Dead Game.

Feel free to invent new names for this new form of story telling.

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