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The Walking Dead Named GOTY: What Does It Mean For Gaming?

/ Dec 26th, 2012 No Comments

The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

Developer Telltale GamesThe Walking Dead, a point-and-click adventure game based in the universe of Robert Kirkman’s popular comic book series of the same name, recently wrapped its episodic first season to resounding success. The game tops many critics’ lists of the best games from this year and was named Game of the Year at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards, as well as being recognized as such by several respected media sites.

So what does it mean for gaming when a title with powerful writing but minimalistic gameplay elements beats the overpowered competition of games like Dishonored and Mass Effect 3?

Players Crave Action…

In order to deepen player connection, game developers are now paying closer attention to interactive elements other than just physical gameplay. Using branching decisions to open and close different story options, Telltale succeeds in making The Walking Dead engaging and dynamic, demonstrating that constant action isn’t the only way to raise a game’s stakes and maintain the player’s investment in its outcome.

A strong story and sense of attachment to its well-crafted, sympathetic characters can help to overcome technical challenges or other factors that limit gameplay. At the heart of every game lies the essential element of player control, and the creative team behind The Walking Dead smartly utilized its narrative-heavy focus as a way to shape the gameplay experience.

…But Action Comes in Many Forms

For a title hailed as the year’s best example of the medium, The Walking Dead has little actual gameplay beyond moving, talking, solving easy puzzles, and the occasional need to headshot a few zombies or escape a tight space. Yet the game is successful because it immerses the player in the story, to allow them to play through the protagonist’s decisions and resulting consequences–something Telltale made the central conceit of The Walking Dead.

Sometimes less is more, as demonstrated by an example from the film world: the sleeper hit Drive showed the value of reserving action for a few powerful moments in order to punctuate the emotional equilibrium of a story for maximum effect (consider the elevator scene and what it means for the future of the characters’ relationship). Despite the light gameplay found within The Walking Dead, it delivers just as much tension and player focus as a first-person shooter or 2D fighting game. And sometimes, much more.

Emotions Are Active

Without spoiling anything, the ending of The Walking Dead game is incredibly moving, a fitting conclusion to a wrenching and heartbreaking tale that still manages to lift the player’s spirits. Lee and Clementine are strong protagonists, ones with whom many players claim to have made a very strong connection. The depth of feeling made possible through the game’s elegant construction is breathtaking, and a welcome surprise.

The game has also been seen as a rebirth of the point-and-click and adventure game genres. The latter, as seen in the triple-A blockbuster Uncharted franchise, thrive on a great range of characterization, something found in The Walking Dead in abundance. Games will always push the boundaries of active gameplay, but it is promising to witness a groundswell of support for a dedication to great storytelling, no matter how simple the game.

Matthew Allen
Matthew is a contributor to Gaming Illustrated and likes games that are full of kinetic gameplay, great layered storytelling and innovation in the exploration of the medium and the genre represented.
Matthew Allen

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