Recently I had the chance to enjoy the surprisingly powerful “The Walking Dead” video game from Telltale Games. The game spans over five episodes based on the acclaimed comic series. Despite the medium, the game was brimming with stark presentation and emotional appeal. In this post, I’d like to focus on the different modes of storytelling utilized by the game. Earlier, I looked at different types of interactive storytelling in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Skyrim. Today, I’ll be looking at how this game combined both to make a moving experience rivaling that of film.
The plot of the game follows protagonist Lee Everett who finds himself responsible for the care of a young child in the zombie apocalypse. The gameplay is similar to a point and click adventure with occasional action sequences, heightening the pacing in scenes of tension. As a result, the story line is fairly linear. You start at A. and, no matter what you do, you end up at B. The convergence of the two previously discussed types of storytelling happens with The Walking Dead’s decision tree.
You, as Everett, are forced to make tough calls about a variety of situations. These can range from the harrowing split-second decisions of who to save in the heat of battle to the difficult political decisions of who to hand out food rations to. The consequences of those decisions are sometimes immediate and sometimes not. Each one affects your game in different ways and consequently forces the player to act decisively in morally gray areas, often under the pressure of a time limit. Interestingly, the developers allow you to see what percentage of players made which calls at the end of each chapter and the story as a whole.
In any case, the effect of this type of storytelling is that players begins to identify with the protagonist more strongly than if decisions were already made for them. The tough calls that Lee makes become each players’ own and forces them to consider the consequences. Bonding with Lee causes players to become more emotionally invested in the characters Lee interacts with and the story as a whole. Tragedies and triumphs are more pronounced than a rigidly linear story that a viewer might simply watch, rather than experience.
You can check out the game for yourself on Xbox 360, PS3, PC/Mac, or any iOS device. I recommend it because it is a story that is enhanced rather than constricted by its medium. Not only is it a great experience as a game, The Walking Dead is also a great example of storytelling. Its presentation, pacing, and character development are all right on the mark. All types of writers can learn from it.
If you’re interested in reading the comic series the game is based on, the first issue is available for free here.