Who determines the value of a human life? You? Me? The government? God? We all have rules that govern our lives whether they come from within ourselves or from outside sources. In our head and heart we call them core values, at home we call them rules, in our country we call them laws, in church we call them scripture. Whatever it is that we choose to follow, we all have different beliefs that guide our actions and dictates the direction in which our lives move. These beliefs and actions also lead us to make decisions on behalf of those around us, to cause us to place value on each other and the lives we lead. So when the world breaks down into anarchy and chaos, it will be those ideas and beliefs that will help us to reestablish order…or keep the world order broken.
The Walking Dead: A Telltale Game, is more than just your average zombie video game; It’s a meta cognitive experience that forces the player to face decisions that places value on the lives of different human beings encountered in the game. I say meta cognitive experience, because in most games the outcome is predetermined for you, but in this game you are the one making the hard calls; you are in control of the fate of these people which are determined through the examination of your own beliefs. The plot of the game becomes altered as a result.Let’s take a closer look at what this all means (and feel free to take a closer look yourself, here).
The game starts out the way most zombie games start – the world has gone to hell, we follow the story of a ragtag group thrown together by fate, and a lot of terrible things happen along the way. It isn’t until about 15 minutes into the game that the player starts to realize this digital story’s unique twist: you have the power to allow some characters to live and others to die. The real twist is that you aren’t just deciding when good guys live and bad guys die, but you may end up deciding the exact opposite. Even more twisted, it all depends on how you decide to play the game and/or how your core values influence the way you choose to play.
The game is a unique blend of interactivity and immersion, and stands on its own as a form of digital storytelling. For this reason, I have chosen to critique this particular work on Jason Ohler’s assessment traits that speak to the story and audience involvement in this work.
|Story||How well did the story work? This trait can address structure, engagement, character transformation or any of the other qualities of story.||The story worked well for being one that relied on user input to help the story unfold. The feelings of helplessness at needing to decide the fate of a character (especially characters that you’d had a chance to grow attached to) in 30 seconds or less really transported you into that reality. The clawing feeling of guilt that ensued once a decision was made, and the feeling that you could have done something differently gnaws at you every step of the way. The story itself is quite fluid, moving along at a moderate pace. It is divided into chapters so that time can skip ahead eliminating any unnecessary visuals or plot lines. There are a plethora of character types, and the player has a chance to form emotional connections to them through the interactive elements of the game. Character development is a huge success in this game and it can take many different paths depending on the user input. (10/10)|
|Sense of audience||How well did the story respect the needs of the audience?||In order for this story to truly be felt by the audience, it needed some component of realism and interactivity. It delivered on both of these fronts in two really big ways. In terms of realism – sure the zombie apocalypse isn’t a reality (yet) – it provided the player with scenarios that could be felt in any other tragic incident. Tough, but real questions such as “Do I save my best friend or do I save my family member?” were asked and forced to be answered by the player. The player could never take a back seat to what was happening on screen, because there was always one more dialogue box requiring input from the user. In this way, it engaged the audience to participate and live with the choices they were forced to make throughout the entirety of the game. (10/10)|
|Media application||Was the use of media appropriate, supportive of the story, balanced and well considered?||A video game platform was the media used to communicate the story, but I don’t think it was necessary to make the story work. The whole tale played out more like a movie and the main reason to have a controller in your hand was to move the cursor to answer the questions or make choices. However, having the ability to occasionally walk around and choose the people to talk to and the places to interact with were components that relied heavily on the use of a controller. So in some regards the media supported the story, but in others it felt unnecessary (7/10)|
Overall this digital story is one of my favorites in the zombie genre for its complexity in character development and its ability to let the player make some decisions on behalf of the plot development. If there was anything I would change about this particular digital story, it would be the media used to present it. I am not completely dissatisfied that it was presented as a platform/PC game, because having a controller made me feel in control of the character. However, the heavy viewing parts of the game made the controller feel really unnecessary. If I were to change the media to something different, I would want this to be on a virtual reality headset and keep the game strictly first person at all times. To me, this would lend to a more natural viewing as well as physical engagement.
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