Posted by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

This is a long one, folks. So first, a video.

This Is Not A Film debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival after being smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive. It's got a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I found it one of the most boring and miserable filmgoing experiences of my life. Walking out of my college's union theater Thursday night, I felt I had gotten more out of About Cherry, a movie only notable for being the exact opposite of Boogie Nights and for containing the nude breasts of the girl from Chronicle. Needless to say, I disagree with This Is Not A Film's 100% rating.

However, I now find it an extremely useful weapon in the fight for narrative-driven games. Luckily, the thumbnail for the trailer centers on the exact line that is circling my brain today;

"If we could tell a film, then why make a film?"

The Walking Dead has just won the Spike Video Game Award for Game of the Year, along with a smattering of other category victories. People are now lining up because they are faced with the reality that The Walking Dead, a game they've chosen to dismiss entirely as "not a game," is liable to win not just the VGA for Game of the Year, but also several more Game of the Year awards, in direct contrast to their nominations of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Crusader Kings II, and Far Cry 3. Shane Satterfield of GameTrailers is trashing the VGAs for nominating Journey and The Walking Dead, and yet goes on to point out how much he loves Journey, intentionally omitting praise for The Walking Dead. Our own users are questioning whether or not TWD is a game regularly.

This blog will not be particularly original in format. In fact, it pretty much owes its structure to This Is Not A Pipe, a blog by jbauck that brilliantly approaches disappointment with the Mass Effect 3 ending. At some point, I suggest you read it, as it's been part of a long healing process that is causing me to absolutely adore Mass Effect 3.

But, for a moment, let's return to This Is Not A Film.

The "movie" centers around two directors sitting around a house and making a rogue "not-film." The lead director, the one who "acts" throughout most of the trailer and movie, is under house arrest, will probably go to prison, and has been banned from directing or writing films for twenty years. So, he decides it'll be okay if he acts in a movie by another director, and decides to try to read through his last script to give a glimpse as to what his movie would be like. However, he gives up at one point, asking:

"If we could tell a film, then why make a film?"

The next five or ten minutes or so centers around the explanation behind this line. It's easily the best sequence in the documentary, and it's the only reason I haven't written an inflammatory rant questioning how this film is so beloved instead. In essence, by showing clips of his previous films, our lead director explains that the independent director is a more adaptive personality, responding to what he's been given. He shows a clip of an amateur actor who is offended at a jewelry shop, and explains that he'd have never intended to ask his actor to become so deliriously upset, but instead he wound up with an intensely human reaction that is shockingly empathetic. In essence, the amateur actor becomes the director; because the director doesn't know what the amateur will be able to do, the director has to adapt to the amateur's skill set and work to focus on their strengths. Next, he shows a clip of a woman running through an airport; here, the location is director. The repeating parallel vertical lines moving quickly enhances the tension of the scene, but the woman's face is invisible behind a veil; there isn't really any acting happening here, no "particular face" that the actress needs to wear. Here, the director acquiesces to the location and uses its strengths to enhance his vision.

A film is too much more than words on a script; it comes to life through its actors and its locations, and the director simply gives a lens through which to view them. The director gives up in outrage. How can he tell a film without any actors in his apartment?

Back To Games

We all acknowledge that there's a lot of reasons people play games. Quickly, let's break out some of the clichés: to have fun, to escape, to view art, to simply "enjoy", to hear meaningful and modern stories, to spend time, to socialize, to see a creator's expression, to challenge themselves, to grow, to see technical achievement, to replicate a real-life goal, etc.

Ultimately, interactivity isn't even inherently subject in those goals. Several people enjoy the stories of games, socialize, or have fun with games by watching Let's Plays on YouTube, or Endurance Runs here on Giant Bomb. That experience is not a game; it is a viewing of entertainment media, more similar to television or film than playing a game. Think "This Is Not A Pipe" here.

But the subject in question is still primarily a game, and so the Let's Play is a representation of a game, an abstraction of the playthrough of a game. This becomes immediately obvious when one tries to watch, say, a playthrough of Sam & Max Hit The Road on YouTube, and the player barely bothers to talk to the Woody Allen fisherman character I would have absolutely showered with clicks in order to hear all his dialogue. I am not playing the game, but simply watching the game does not remove me from the experience of playing all the same.

Let's Plays inherently put us in a sort of game-playing limbo between playing and not playing a game. We are obviously not playing a game, but we may be playing with the abstraction all the same. When one watches a Let's Play, you're often engaging with the game on a metainteractive level, saying "I would have chosen to do this" or "NO, YOU IDIOT. IT'S RIGHT THERE! I ALREADY SAW THE SOLUTION! GOD!" But in that moment, especially in a puzzle game, you are still interacting with the game.

Therefore, interactivity is less defined than simply pushing buttons to make things change on the screen. Heavy Rain is a strong example. Its Quick Time Events and wonky controls definitely help to define Heavy Rain as a game, although the story does indeed adapt slightly if a character chooses to encounter a situation a specific way. The "game" of Heavy Rain, however, is really in its mystery; who is The Origami Killer, and can you deduce it before the game reveals itself? That's ultimately why the plot of Heavy Rain is such a betrayal; the ultimate reveal is too implausible, thematically unsatisfying, and just plain unreasonable to ever satisfy the "metagame" of Heavy Rain.

Enter The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead is a prime example of a game that engages us more with its narrative elements than with its gameplay. It is a game that can be experienced with another player's hands on the controller, so long as you are in charge of Lee's decisions, and it can be emotionally affecting without that control as well. The "metagame" of The Walking Dead, of course, is about choice and the characterization of Lee. Similarly to Mass Effect, Lee is only a shell if you choose to allow him to be one, and if Lee is a robust and dynamic character, it is because The Walking Dead gave you the tools and relationships necessary to shape him into the character you want him to be. He can be a petty survivalist or an altruistic communal thinker, a leader or a wilting flower, a kind but troubled man or a distant and forceful ex-convict.

Shaping Lee is, in my opinion, the primary gameplay mechanic of The Walking Dead, and the secondary mechanic is considering your options when there is no good option. Imagining the next result is a more vital part of The Walking Dead than mashing the Q key to avoid getting eaten by a zombie. And deciding whether or not Lee is a good father based on your own choices and responses to questions is more essential to The Walking Dead than taking the belt off the generator to get a look at the barn.

This is not satisfying to a lot of players, obviously. The argument will probably rage for weeks now as to whether or not The Walking Dead deserves to be a game, or, beyond that, if it's any good. In "This Is Not A Pipe," jbauck effectively divides the responses to the Mass Effect 3 endings into four separate categories, using Robert Frost's " Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" as a baseline for these responses. Using this same idea, responses to The Walking Dead can be broken down into several categories:

1) It's an emotionally affecting poem that allows you to pour yourself into its well.

These are the people who have adored The Walking Dead and feel they understand its purpose. To them, the game is about shaping Lee and his relationships with other characters, as described above. Maybe they're new to adventure games, or maybe they've been playing Myst, Monkey Island, and visual novels for years. However, they have trouble understanding how The Walking Dead could have ever lost. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is encouraging.

2) It's definitely a poem, it doesn't have to rhyme to be a poem. You're all a bunch of knob-eaters.

These people have been championing interactive fiction for years, or understand the history of games. They already know that an adventure game and a visual novel totally count as games, at least in their eyes. They are people like Jeff Gerstmann, who @MattyFTM has done a good job quoting in respect to this issue. Here's the quote, which pretty effectively summarizes the argument.

@MattyFTM said:

"There’s really no need to maintain such a narrow view of gaming. The answer to the question “what is game?” changes every year. If you disqualify The Walking Dead now, would you disqualify Monkey Island back in 1990? Zork in 1980?
All of those games fall on slightly different spots on the play-to-watch scale, I suppose, but to say that The Walking Dead isn’t even a game is a bit much.
Instead of worrying about what gaming is or isn’t, focus on what you like about games and why. It’s perfectly OK to think that The Walking Dead is lame, boring, or not for you. But to go all the way to the end and start saying that it doesn’t even fit in the same category as other, “real” games starts to feel a bit elitist, right?"

- @Jeff Gerstmann, doing a better job of answering this post than I ever could. Via his Tumblr.

This situation is frustrating to this group of people, because this shouldn't really be an argument. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is reasonable.

3) This poem isn't very fun to read. This guy seems depressed, and why is he hanging out in the cold?

These people play games for some form of enjoyment, either narrative or gameplay-wise. While most will champion gameplay over narrative, they will also fall in line and agree that Uncharted 2 was one of the best games of the generation because it was so much goshdarn fun. Gameplay is generally central to the argument for "fun" by these people; the gameplay must be at least serviceable to carry a fun story, and fun gameplay can cause players to completely ignore a dumb story. For this group, The Walking Dead isn't just mostly unenjoyable, it's almost threatening to think it might supplant the kind of games they enjoy. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is terrifying.

4) Wait, I thought this was a short story competition.

These people feel they missed a memo in which games like The Walking Dead were suddenly being considered Game of the Year nominees. Maybe they weren't playing games at all during the heyday of adventure games, but suddenly they find themselves surrounded in a revival. The Walking Dead's support is so universal as to be confusing. They might ask, "don't we usually try to find innovative gameplay mechanics and technical achievement to give this award? This game only has QTEs and massive technical bugs. And what makes this so different from Mass Effect, anyways?" Some of the people have played TWD, and others have not. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is baffling.

5) Maybe it's technically a poem, but the part everybody enjoys is the author's biography.

These people understand that The Walking Dead has quicktime events, puzzle-solving, and action sequences, but didn't find that they enjoyed any of them. This group argues that The Walking Dead's strength is in its narrative, which we've come to learn does not change a whole lot from playthrough to playthrough. While they may or may not have ultimately found The Walking Dead enjoyable, it's not for the reasons that they consider a game the best medium in the first place. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is frustrating.

6) Poems aren't as good as novels. Why are you wasting your time with this drivel?

These people don't take video games all that seriously. They're fun, sometimes they're emotional, but ultimately, they're entertainment. A game having an ultra-serious narrative as its big plus seems completely silly to these people, as they'd rather have spent the twenty-plus hours playing The Walking Dead or an RPG just reading a good book instead. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is trivial.

The conflict arises from the distance between arguments 1 and 6. The people who fell into the first category (also, those liable to give it a Game of the Year Award) absolutely value the types of stories a game can tell, while the people in the sixth category absolutely do not. The range of opinions in the middle definitely show that The Walking Dead is obviously not a binary experience, but it's the distance between the two extremes that will allow for so much dissent and disagreement about the game in general.

Personally, I find myself in the first two categories. I really enjoyed The Walking Dead, and I'm a bit frustrated that people don't want to consider it a game. But, rather than simply let this end with me preaching more than I already have, I'm going to play devil's advocate and try to posit arguments from the dissenting sides. I feel that I emotionally resonate with each and every one of them, and so I'm going to discuss The Walking Dead from both sides. Let it be known that I do really like The Walking Dead.

And, perhaps most importantly, there will be spoilers from this point out if necessary. You should really finish The Walking Dead.

Now, then, let's begin.

It's Terrifying

Games are in a weird place right now. Retail releases have largely been considered disappointing this year, with the only standout favorites being Dishonored, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Far Cry 3. The downloadable space is getting huge, and I have a feeling there'll be hardly a person out there who doesn't have at least one downloadable game on their Top 10 lists this year. And the downloadable space is getting weirder; while art pieces like Journey and The Walking Dead usually lose out to games like Mark of the Ninja and Bastion, they seem poised to win most Downloadable Game awards this year. Hell, Tokyo Jungle, Fez, and Dyad all came out to critical acclaim this year.

So, what's going on? Obviously, a lot of major 2012 titles got pushed to 2013, BioShock Infinite included. And there were several disappointments in the retail space, including Max Payne 3, Assassin's Creed III, and Resident Evil 6.

But I think indie also got bigger, and it continued to get weirder. Articles like @patrickklepek's Worth Reading have pushed games like Frog Fractions and dys4ia far beyond their normal exposure. People are looking for more personal and artful experiences, and "fun" is sometimes falling to the wayside in the search for "art." Papo & Yo was perhaps one of the most divisive games of the year for this reason; some found it artful and resonant, and others found it dull and trite.

But the entire conversation is terrifying for those who just want to have some fun. Do games really have to always be this serious, all the time? Can't we reward Far Cry 3 for being a brilliant play experience with awesome gamefeel, even if it's tone deaf to its misogyny and primitivism? Rewarding The Walking Dead seems like a step away from what games used to be. Hell, games are already running from it constantly; analysts won't stop saying we'll be playing all our games on phones in ten years. It's easy to imagine the VGA judge from Entertainment Weekly having only played The Walking Dead on their iPad, even though we should probably logically know better.

Giving The Walking Dead Game of the Year isn't only unsatisfying because these people didn't get much out of it, it's a signal of the downfall of the thing they've come to love for so long.

It's Baffling

Okay, I'll be straight here; I don't think The Walking Dead is the best game of 2012. My last blog was about how the game is technically broken. I think it's got narrative issues, and its Episode 5 solutions for dealing with Kenny can be unsatisfying and cheap. Episode 1 is not especially good to begin with. Episode 4 is light on a lot of content, and Episode 2 is barely connected to the rest of the story. The emotional watermark of Episode 3 is a high one, but I really don't think it's enough to mark TWD as Game of the Year.

So I understand entirely where these people are coming from. They want a game to win Game of the Year, and preferably, it's a game that comes in a box from a store shelf. Smaller, bite-sized experiences can't compete with the vast expanse of a game like Far Cry 3 or Borderlands 2, especially when they're narrative-focused. This is where Shane Satterfield sits; this is where a whole lot of people sit with him. The idea of an adventure game or visual novel ever winning Game of the Year is baffling; even in 1990, Secret of Monkey Island can't compete with Super Mario Bros. 3, and there's never been a point where they've stood out as the best title of a given year.

Granted, a downloadable still has a shot with some of these people. You can jump and play online in Journey; Fez's gameplay is the primary mechanic; FTL is pretty much all-game, all-the-time. But The Walking Dead doesn't really deserve that kind of support, and they're confused as to why it's really even part of the conversation.

It's Frustrating

The Walking Dead is full of quick-time events, mediocre puzzle-solving, and middling-to-bad action sequences. It can be a bit frustrating to play. And therefore, why should it win Game of the Year?

Well, as I've discussed above, I don't think the primary gameplay mechanic of The Walking Dead is the part where you mash the Q button; I think it's the part where you decide who Lee is going to be.

Unfortunately, I can't relate to this side because, in this case, I feel the opposite is true. I play table-top roleplaying games with no combat mechanics because I think there is a game to creating a character and telling a story, even if it follows a pretty established narrative.

But I realize that most of what I've written in that regard probably sounds like hogwash to someone who disagrees, and I empathize with that. I feel the same way about someone trying to explain to me why XCOM: Enemy Unknown's base building elements are successful and how the tutorial for those parts is even remotely acceptable, or someone trying to explain to me how good The Ocarina of Time is. I offer you the chance to reject my writing because it's reasonable to reject a game or an opinion. And if you reject the perception that The Walking Dead's gameplay is metacontextual, then yeah, the gameplay is kind of rubbish, and it's absolutely undeserving of an award.

It's Trivial

I approach television with largely the same lens; in the time it takes me to watch one season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I could read House of Leaves all the way through. You want me to watch, like, ten seasons of a TV show to hear one story? Sorry, but I'm not sorry. I'm out.

Of course, there are exceptions. I'm watching Breaking Bad because I also find it entertaining. Twin Peaks is short and sweet, and Firefly is lucky it's only one season long.

But this approach is thrown around a lot with games, and it does tend to make me sad. I mean, I've spent 300 hours with the characters of Persona 4 over my own playthrough and watching other people play, and it's probably been the most intense relationship I've felt with a piece of fiction. Metal Gear Solid 3 grabs me in the same way. The stories of video games can definitely be better than books regarded as "the best books."

The question, however, lies in the time commitment. Again, the time it took me to play through The Walking Dead's season is equivalent to watching ten movies. Will The Walking Dead's five episodes ever compete with the experience of watching, say, Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Apocalypse Now, Alien, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Casablanca, and Seven Samurai?

Well, actually, no. But only because they're playing different sports.

"If we could tell a film, then why make a film?"

Longevity is the advantage of episodic media. The Walking Dead's significance may well be lost as a marathon, I'm not sure. The large advantage of The Walking Dead's episodic format were the months we'd spend waiting between episodes after each cliffhanger. It caused us to attach to the characters when we weren't even playing; take a look at the #ForClementine hashtag for evidence of that happening to several players.

This does happen over the course of a non-episodic game of considerable length, too. If somebody tells me Xenoblade Chronicles is their favorite game of the year, I'd say "I certainly hope so." Because if you put yourself through that roughly 120-hour game without ever emotionally attaching yourself to its characters, you have fucked up. Sequels can do this too; Mass Effect is the obvious example, although the ending is exceptionally controversial in that regard.

But in episodic media, the waits are built-in, expected, and breathless. I'll make a comparison to yet another previous blog; my blog about Slendervlogs. I talked a lot about what made Slenderman "scary" inherently, but I missed perhaps the most important element; we're always watching for him. You see, when you spend three years watching a series where he can show up at literally any moment (and, when they're good series, he doesn't,) it starts to creep on your mind. I've seen him over the last year in a hospital, a school, a forest (obviously), an airplane, people's homes, etc. He's basically been everywhere I could possibly be afraid of him, and he's been on my subconscious for the last year or so. That is what makes him scary; the fact that when each entry stops, he only goes away until I next see him.

And by "I next see him", I do mean "I." You see, those videos are first-person found-footage videos almost exclusively; that immerses the viewer in the experience, as we're all aware. It changes the subject to the viewer, and that increases the terror tenfold.

That is what makes The Walking Dead's format effective; by involving the player directly, it can keep us personally involved in the character of Lee, and his relationship with Clementine. But the longevity kept us always thinking about our responsibility to Clementine, waiting with baited breath for the next episode to be announced.

The Walking Dead would not have succeeded as anything other than an episodic game, and it cannot be helped that The Walking Dead is a stepping stone in the narrative of games.

Little_Socrates is also known as Alex Lovendahl, the host of the podcast Nerf'd. Little_Socrates is also working on his Game of the Year awards, which will be posted on Giant Bomb in the coming weeks!

#1 Edited by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

This is a long one, folks. So first, a video.

This Is Not A Film debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival after being smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive. It's got a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I found it one of the most boring and miserable filmgoing experiences of my life. Walking out of my college's union theater Thursday night, I felt I had gotten more out of About Cherry, a movie only notable for being the exact opposite of Boogie Nights and for containing the nude breasts of the girl from Chronicle. Needless to say, I disagree with This Is Not A Film's 100% rating.

However, I now find it an extremely useful weapon in the fight for narrative-driven games. Luckily, the thumbnail for the trailer centers on the exact line that is circling my brain today;

"If we could tell a film, then why make a film?"

The Walking Dead has just won the Spike Video Game Award for Game of the Year, along with a smattering of other category victories. People are now lining up because they are faced with the reality that The Walking Dead, a game they've chosen to dismiss entirely as "not a game," is liable to win not just the VGA for Game of the Year, but also several more Game of the Year awards, in direct contrast to their nominations of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Crusader Kings II, and Far Cry 3. Shane Satterfield of GameTrailers is trashing the VGAs for nominating Journey and The Walking Dead, and yet goes on to point out how much he loves Journey, intentionally omitting praise for The Walking Dead. Our own users are questioning whether or not TWD is a game regularly.

This blog will not be particularly original in format. In fact, it pretty much owes its structure to This Is Not A Pipe, a blog by jbauck that brilliantly approaches disappointment with the Mass Effect 3 ending. At some point, I suggest you read it, as it's been part of a long healing process that is causing me to absolutely adore Mass Effect 3.

But, for a moment, let's return to This Is Not A Film.

The "movie" centers around two directors sitting around a house and making a rogue "not-film." The lead director, the one who "acts" throughout most of the trailer and movie, is under house arrest, will probably go to prison, and has been banned from directing or writing films for twenty years. So, he decides it'll be okay if he acts in a movie by another director, and decides to try to read through his last script to give a glimpse as to what his movie would be like. However, he gives up at one point, asking:

"If we could tell a film, then why make a film?"

The next five or ten minutes or so centers around the explanation behind this line. It's easily the best sequence in the documentary, and it's the only reason I haven't written an inflammatory rant questioning how this film is so beloved instead. In essence, by showing clips of his previous films, our lead director explains that the independent director is a more adaptive personality, responding to what he's been given. He shows a clip of an amateur actor who is offended at a jewelry shop, and explains that he'd have never intended to ask his actor to become so deliriously upset, but instead he wound up with an intensely human reaction that is shockingly empathetic. In essence, the amateur actor becomes the director; because the director doesn't know what the amateur will be able to do, the director has to adapt to the amateur's skill set and work to focus on their strengths. Next, he shows a clip of a woman running through an airport; here, the location is director. The repeating parallel vertical lines moving quickly enhances the tension of the scene, but the woman's face is invisible behind a veil; there isn't really any acting happening here, no "particular face" that the actress needs to wear. Here, the director acquiesces to the location and uses its strengths to enhance his vision.

A film is too much more than words on a script; it comes to life through its actors and its locations, and the director simply gives a lens through which to view them. The director gives up in outrage. How can he tell a film without any actors in his apartment?

Back To Games

We all acknowledge that there's a lot of reasons people play games. Quickly, let's break out some of the clichés: to have fun, to escape, to view art, to simply "enjoy", to hear meaningful and modern stories, to spend time, to socialize, to see a creator's expression, to challenge themselves, to grow, to see technical achievement, to replicate a real-life goal, etc.

Ultimately, interactivity isn't even inherently subject in those goals. Several people enjoy the stories of games, socialize, or have fun with games by watching Let's Plays on YouTube, or Endurance Runs here on Giant Bomb. That experience is not a game; it is a viewing of entertainment media, more similar to television or film than playing a game. Think "This Is Not A Pipe" here.

But the subject in question is still primarily a game, and so the Let's Play is a representation of a game, an abstraction of the playthrough of a game. This becomes immediately obvious when one tries to watch, say, a playthrough of Sam & Max Hit The Road on YouTube, and the player barely bothers to talk to the Woody Allen fisherman character I would have absolutely showered with clicks in order to hear all his dialogue. I am not playing the game, but simply watching the game does not remove me from the experience of playing all the same.

Let's Plays inherently put us in a sort of game-playing limbo between playing and not playing a game. We are obviously not playing a game, but we may be playing with the abstraction all the same. When one watches a Let's Play, you're often engaging with the game on a metainteractive level, saying "I would have chosen to do this" or "NO, YOU IDIOT. IT'S RIGHT THERE! I ALREADY SAW THE SOLUTION! GOD!" But in that moment, especially in a puzzle game, you are still interacting with the game.

Therefore, interactivity is less defined than simply pushing buttons to make things change on the screen. Heavy Rain is a strong example. Its Quick Time Events and wonky controls definitely help to define Heavy Rain as a game, although the story does indeed adapt slightly if a character chooses to encounter a situation a specific way. The "game" of Heavy Rain, however, is really in its mystery; who is The Origami Killer, and can you deduce it before the game reveals itself? That's ultimately why the plot of Heavy Rain is such a betrayal; the ultimate reveal is too implausible, thematically unsatisfying, and just plain unreasonable to ever satisfy the "metagame" of Heavy Rain.

Enter The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead is a prime example of a game that engages us more with its narrative elements than with its gameplay. It is a game that can be experienced with another player's hands on the controller, so long as you are in charge of Lee's decisions, and it can be emotionally affecting without that control as well. The "metagame" of The Walking Dead, of course, is about choice and the characterization of Lee. Similarly to Mass Effect, Lee is only a shell if you choose to allow him to be one, and if Lee is a robust and dynamic character, it is because The Walking Dead gave you the tools and relationships necessary to shape him into the character you want him to be. He can be a petty survivalist or an altruistic communal thinker, a leader or a wilting flower, a kind but troubled man or a distant and forceful ex-convict.

Shaping Lee is, in my opinion, the primary gameplay mechanic of The Walking Dead, and the secondary mechanic is considering your options when there is no good option. Imagining the next result is a more vital part of The Walking Dead than mashing the Q key to avoid getting eaten by a zombie. And deciding whether or not Lee is a good father based on your own choices and responses to questions is more essential to The Walking Dead than taking the belt off the generator to get a look at the barn.

This is not satisfying to a lot of players, obviously. The argument will probably rage for weeks now as to whether or not The Walking Dead deserves to be a game, or, beyond that, if it's any good. In "This Is Not A Pipe," jbauck effectively divides the responses to the Mass Effect 3 endings into four separate categories, using Robert Frost's " Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" as a baseline for these responses. Using this same idea, responses to The Walking Dead can be broken down into several categories:

1) It's an emotionally affecting poem that allows you to pour yourself into its well.

These are the people who have adored The Walking Dead and feel they understand its purpose. To them, the game is about shaping Lee and his relationships with other characters, as described above. Maybe they're new to adventure games, or maybe they've been playing Myst, Monkey Island, and visual novels for years. However, they have trouble understanding how The Walking Dead could have ever lost. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is encouraging.

2) It's definitely a poem, it doesn't have to rhyme to be a poem. You're all a bunch of knob-eaters.

These people have been championing interactive fiction for years, or understand the history of games. They already know that an adventure game and a visual novel totally count as games, at least in their eyes. They are people like Jeff Gerstmann, who @MattyFTM has done a good job quoting in respect to this issue. Here's the quote, which pretty effectively summarizes the argument.

@MattyFTM said:

"There’s really no need to maintain such a narrow view of gaming. The answer to the question “what is game?” changes every year. If you disqualify The Walking Dead now, would you disqualify Monkey Island back in 1990? Zork in 1980?
All of those games fall on slightly different spots on the play-to-watch scale, I suppose, but to say that The Walking Dead isn’t even a game is a bit much.
Instead of worrying about what gaming is or isn’t, focus on what you like about games and why. It’s perfectly OK to think that The Walking Dead is lame, boring, or not for you. But to go all the way to the end and start saying that it doesn’t even fit in the same category as other, “real” games starts to feel a bit elitist, right?"

- @Jeff Gerstmann, doing a better job of answering this post than I ever could. Via his Tumblr.

This situation is frustrating to this group of people, because this shouldn't really be an argument. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is reasonable.

3) This poem isn't very fun to read. This guy seems depressed, and why is he hanging out in the cold?

These people play games for some form of enjoyment, either narrative or gameplay-wise. While most will champion gameplay over narrative, they will also fall in line and agree that Uncharted 2 was one of the best games of the generation because it was so much goshdarn fun. Gameplay is generally central to the argument for "fun" by these people; the gameplay must be at least serviceable to carry a fun story, and fun gameplay can cause players to completely ignore a dumb story. For this group, The Walking Dead isn't just mostly unenjoyable, it's almost threatening to think it might supplant the kind of games they enjoy. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is terrifying.

4) Wait, I thought this was a short story competition.

These people feel they missed a memo in which games like The Walking Dead were suddenly being considered Game of the Year nominees. Maybe they weren't playing games at all during the heyday of adventure games, but suddenly they find themselves surrounded in a revival. The Walking Dead's support is so universal as to be confusing. They might ask, "don't we usually try to find innovative gameplay mechanics and technical achievement to give this award? This game only has QTEs and massive technical bugs. And what makes this so different from Mass Effect, anyways?" Some of the people have played TWD, and others have not. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is baffling.

5) Maybe it's technically a poem, but the part everybody enjoys is the author's biography.

These people understand that The Walking Dead has quicktime events, puzzle-solving, and action sequences, but didn't find that they enjoyed any of them. This group argues that The Walking Dead's strength is in its narrative, which we've come to learn does not change a whole lot from playthrough to playthrough. While they may or may not have ultimately found The Walking Dead enjoyable, it's not for the reasons that they consider a game the best medium in the first place. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is frustrating.

6) Poems aren't as good as novels. Why are you wasting your time with this drivel?

These people don't take video games all that seriously. They're fun, sometimes they're emotional, but ultimately, they're entertainment. A game having an ultra-serious narrative as its big plus seems completely silly to these people, as they'd rather have spent the twenty-plus hours playing The Walking Dead or an RPG just reading a good book instead. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is trivial.

The conflict arises from the distance between arguments 1 and 6. The people who fell into the first category (also, those liable to give it a Game of the Year Award) absolutely value the types of stories a game can tell, while the people in the sixth category absolutely do not. The range of opinions in the middle definitely show that The Walking Dead is obviously not a binary experience, but it's the distance between the two extremes that will allow for so much dissent and disagreement about the game in general.

Personally, I find myself in the first two categories. I really enjoyed The Walking Dead, and I'm a bit frustrated that people don't want to consider it a game. But, rather than simply let this end with me preaching more than I already have, I'm going to play devil's advocate and try to posit arguments from the dissenting sides. I feel that I emotionally resonate with each and every one of them, and so I'm going to discuss The Walking Dead from both sides. Let it be known that I do really like The Walking Dead.

And, perhaps most importantly, there will be spoilers from this point out if necessary. You should really finish The Walking Dead.

Now, then, let's begin.

It's Terrifying

Games are in a weird place right now. Retail releases have largely been considered disappointing this year, with the only standout favorites being Dishonored, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Far Cry 3. The downloadable space is getting huge, and I have a feeling there'll be hardly a person out there who doesn't have at least one downloadable game on their Top 10 lists this year. And the downloadable space is getting weirder; while art pieces like Journey and The Walking Dead usually lose out to games like Mark of the Ninja and Bastion, they seem poised to win most Downloadable Game awards this year. Hell, Tokyo Jungle, Fez, and Dyad all came out to critical acclaim this year.

So, what's going on? Obviously, a lot of major 2012 titles got pushed to 2013, BioShock Infinite included. And there were several disappointments in the retail space, including Max Payne 3, Assassin's Creed III, and Resident Evil 6.

But I think indie also got bigger, and it continued to get weirder. Articles like @patrickklepek's Worth Reading have pushed games like Frog Fractions and dys4ia far beyond their normal exposure. People are looking for more personal and artful experiences, and "fun" is sometimes falling to the wayside in the search for "art." Papo & Yo was perhaps one of the most divisive games of the year for this reason; some found it artful and resonant, and others found it dull and trite.

But the entire conversation is terrifying for those who just want to have some fun. Do games really have to always be this serious, all the time? Can't we reward Far Cry 3 for being a brilliant play experience with awesome gamefeel, even if it's tone deaf to its misogyny and primitivism? Rewarding The Walking Dead seems like a step away from what games used to be. Hell, games are already running from it constantly; analysts won't stop saying we'll be playing all our games on phones in ten years. It's easy to imagine the VGA judge from Entertainment Weekly having only played The Walking Dead on their iPad, even though we should probably logically know better.

Giving The Walking Dead Game of the Year isn't only unsatisfying because these people didn't get much out of it, it's a signal of the downfall of the thing they've come to love for so long.

It's Baffling

Okay, I'll be straight here; I don't think The Walking Dead is the best game of 2012. My last blog was about how the game is technically broken. I think it's got narrative issues, and its Episode 5 solutions for dealing with Kenny can be unsatisfying and cheap. Episode 1 is not especially good to begin with. Episode 4 is light on a lot of content, and Episode 2 is barely connected to the rest of the story. The emotional watermark of Episode 3 is a high one, but I really don't think it's enough to mark TWD as Game of the Year.

So I understand entirely where these people are coming from. They want a game to win Game of the Year, and preferably, it's a game that comes in a box from a store shelf. Smaller, bite-sized experiences can't compete with the vast expanse of a game like Far Cry 3 or Borderlands 2, especially when they're narrative-focused. This is where Shane Satterfield sits; this is where a whole lot of people sit with him. The idea of an adventure game or visual novel ever winning Game of the Year is baffling; even in 1990, Secret of Monkey Island can't compete with Super Mario Bros. 3, and there's never been a point where they've stood out as the best title of a given year.

Granted, a downloadable still has a shot with some of these people. You can jump and play online in Journey; Fez's gameplay is the primary mechanic; FTL is pretty much all-game, all-the-time. But The Walking Dead doesn't really deserve that kind of support, and they're confused as to why it's really even part of the conversation.

It's Frustrating

The Walking Dead is full of quick-time events, mediocre puzzle-solving, and middling-to-bad action sequences. It can be a bit frustrating to play. And therefore, why should it win Game of the Year?

Well, as I've discussed above, I don't think the primary gameplay mechanic of The Walking Dead is the part where you mash the Q button; I think it's the part where you decide who Lee is going to be.

Unfortunately, I can't relate to this side because, in this case, I feel the opposite is true. I play table-top roleplaying games with no combat mechanics because I think there is a game to creating a character and telling a story, even if it follows a pretty established narrative.

But I realize that most of what I've written in that regard probably sounds like hogwash to someone who disagrees, and I empathize with that. I feel the same way about someone trying to explain to me why XCOM: Enemy Unknown's base building elements are successful and how the tutorial for those parts is even remotely acceptable, or someone trying to explain to me how good The Ocarina of Time is. I offer you the chance to reject my writing because it's reasonable to reject a game or an opinion. And if you reject the perception that The Walking Dead's gameplay is metacontextual, then yeah, the gameplay is kind of rubbish, and it's absolutely undeserving of an award.

It's Trivial

I approach television with largely the same lens; in the time it takes me to watch one season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I could read House of Leaves all the way through. You want me to watch, like, ten seasons of a TV show to hear one story? Sorry, but I'm not sorry. I'm out.

Of course, there are exceptions. I'm watching Breaking Bad because I also find it entertaining. Twin Peaks is short and sweet, and Firefly is lucky it's only one season long.

But this approach is thrown around a lot with games, and it does tend to make me sad. I mean, I've spent 300 hours with the characters of Persona 4 over my own playthrough and watching other people play, and it's probably been the most intense relationship I've felt with a piece of fiction. Metal Gear Solid 3 grabs me in the same way. The stories of video games can definitely be better than books regarded as "the best books."

The question, however, lies in the time commitment. Again, the time it took me to play through The Walking Dead's season is equivalent to watching ten movies. Will The Walking Dead's five episodes ever compete with the experience of watching, say, Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Apocalypse Now, Alien, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Casablanca, and Seven Samurai?

Well, actually, no. But only because they're playing different sports.

"If we could tell a film, then why make a film?"

Longevity is the advantage of episodic media. The Walking Dead's significance may well be lost as a marathon, I'm not sure. The large advantage of The Walking Dead's episodic format were the months we'd spend waiting between episodes after each cliffhanger. It caused us to attach to the characters when we weren't even playing; take a look at the #ForClementine hashtag for evidence of that happening to several players.

This does happen over the course of a non-episodic game of considerable length, too. If somebody tells me Xenoblade Chronicles is their favorite game of the year, I'd say "I certainly hope so." Because if you put yourself through that roughly 120-hour game without ever emotionally attaching yourself to its characters, you have fucked up. Sequels can do this too; Mass Effect is the obvious example, although the ending is exceptionally controversial in that regard.

But in episodic media, the waits are built-in, expected, and breathless. I'll make a comparison to yet another previous blog; my blog about Slendervlogs. I talked a lot about what made Slenderman "scary" inherently, but I missed perhaps the most important element; we're always watching for him. You see, when you spend three years watching a series where he can show up at literally any moment (and, when they're good series, he doesn't,) it starts to creep on your mind. I've seen him over the last year in a hospital, a school, a forest (obviously), an airplane, people's homes, etc. He's basically been everywhere I could possibly be afraid of him, and he's been on my subconscious for the last year or so. That is what makes him scary; the fact that when each entry stops, he only goes away until I next see him.

And by "I next see him", I do mean "I." You see, those videos are first-person found-footage videos almost exclusively; that immerses the viewer in the experience, as we're all aware. It changes the subject to the viewer, and that increases the terror tenfold.

That is what makes The Walking Dead's format effective; by involving the player directly, it can keep us personally involved in the character of Lee, and his relationship with Clementine. But the longevity kept us always thinking about our responsibility to Clementine, waiting with baited breath for the next episode to be announced.

The Walking Dead would not have succeeded as anything other than an episodic game, and it cannot be helped that The Walking Dead is a stepping stone in the narrative of games.

Little_Socrates is also known as Alex Lovendahl, the host of the podcast Nerf'd. Little_Socrates is also working on his Game of the Year awards, which will be posted on Giant Bomb in the coming weeks!

#2 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6100 posts) -

I'm willing to forgive a game many things if it has a great story and characters. I'm more into storytelling than I am gameplay elements, and it's fantastic to see The Walking Dead make such huge strides in terms of stories in games. What's funny about those two statements is that I don't find the gameplay in Walking Dead at all irritating or bad by any stretch of the imagination, mostly because I love the way Walking Dead has pushed forward the gameplay elements of my favorite genre of games. By stripping out all the needless logic puzzles and focusing in on the character interactions and story, Telltale has found the essence of what makes adventure games special. It makes me super excited to see what they can do with one of my beloved franchises, King's Quest, whenever they get around to it.

Moderator
#3 Posted by Slag (4044 posts) -

Holeeee crap that's a long blog. I think you pretty much articulated everybody's viewpoint pretty well.

FWIW I played Walking Dead as a marathon, I banged it out in two sessions. Didn't sleep much those nights. My intent was to play an episode a night, but I enjoyed it too much. And it was the suspense that drove to keep going and why it cost me a lot of sleep.

I actually think it works just fine that way. I see your point though.

I guess I'm number 2 and 1, a bit like you. I played lots of adventure games in 80's and 90's so it seems inconceivable to me that people don't recognize it's an evolution of an existing game genre. And the story is light years better than a lot of what storytelling we unfortunately see in most games.

Personally I do freely admit that mechanics wise it's pretty simple, but you know it wasn't trying to be Street Fighter IV (a game which arguably could do with less story). For me games come down to total experience and Walking Dead did that really well. It did what it set out to do.

I still think what it accomplished was more unique and greater than what it faced this year. If ME3 had actually delivered on what people expected out the ending Re: player agency , I doubt I would say that. And if season 2 of Walking Dead is basically just more of the same I don't think that would be enough again to even make the top ten next time.

Walking Dead just strikes me as one of those games like GTA3 or an OoT (which I know you don't like) or Halo:CE etc whose impact is going to last a long time. It would be a shame not recognize a game that did that.

#4 Posted by Video_Game_King (36068 posts) -

Damn it. I really need to play The Walking Dead so I can join this philosophical kerfuffle.

#5 Posted by Jimbo (9775 posts) -

Believe it or not, that delicious bacon sandwich I made earlier was my game of the year. For me the gameplay was deciding whether to have tomato ketchup or brown sauce. Even though that isn't really what gameplay means at all, that shit was intense!

Don't despair though, because The Walking Dead is actually my album of the year. Because it has a song in it. Don't like that? Stop being elitist.

#6 Posted by JasonR86 (9611 posts) -

@Little_Socrates:

Thanks for writing all that up. I know that that took a lot of work and time. But honestly when I first saw the thread title I rolled my eyes. I don't know if I'm in the minority on this or not but I detest navel gazing. I mean I really, really dislike it. Which is weird because I'm a mental health therapist and that is sort of my job to some degree. But though I spend a lot of time in thought regarding my clients and therapy I try not to get lost in thought. It's really easy to become overwhelmed by details, semantics, exactness over this and that. But to what end? As a therapist getting lost in details doesn't always serve my clients. My job is to be as balanced as possible always walking that line between over-thinking and action. To far in any degree leads to poor therapy.

So when I see things like "what is a game" I feel like those discussing the topic have gone too far into the 'over-thinking' part. As it might be fun to ponder definitions the end result seems meaningless to me. To what end are we raking our brains over these trivialities? These discussions will lead no where. People will still enjoy narrative focus games in the video game medium regardless of how we hash this all out. These products will continue to be made.

I think Jeff said it best on his tumblr page:

"There’s really no need to maintain such a narrow view of gaming. The answer to the question “what is game?” changes every year. If you disqualify The Walking Dead now, would you disqualify Monkey Island back in 1990? Zork in 1980?

All of those games fall on slightly different spots on the play-to-watch scale, I suppose, but to say that The Walking Dead isn’t even a game is a bit much.

Instead of worrying about what gaming is or isn’t, focus on what you like about games and why. It’s perfectly OK to think that The Walking Dead is lame, boring, or not for you. But to go all the way to the end and start saying that it doesn’t even fit in the same category as other, “real” games starts to feel a bit elitist, right?"

http://jeffgerstmann.tumblr.com/

#7 Edited by Trainer_Red (314 posts) -

@Jimbo said:

Believe it or not, that delicious bacon sandwich I made earlier was my game of the year. For me the gameplay was deciding whether to have tomato ketchup or brown sauce. Even though that isn't really what gameplay means at all, that shit was intense!

Don't despair though, because The Walking Dead is actually my album of the year. Because it has a song in it. Don't like that? Stop being elitist.

I bet the graphics for that delicious bacon sandwich were great.

#8 Posted by Jimbo (9775 posts) -

@Trainer_Red said:

@Jimbo said:

Believe it or not, that delicious bacon sandwich I made earlier was my game of the year. For me the gameplay was deciding whether to have tomato ketchup or brown sauce. Even though that isn't really what gameplay means at all, that shit was intense!

Don't despair though, because The Walking Dead is actually my album of the year. Because it has a song in it. Don't like that? Stop being elitist.

I bet the graphics for that delicious bacon sandwich were great.

They were! In fact they were so good that I awarded them Employee of the Month.

#9 Posted by ImmortalSaiyan (4676 posts) -

Great blog. I liked how you approached and gave each side it's time of day.

I'm in the camp that thinks it is a game without a doubt. I think it succeeded in what it set out to do. Games can be many different things and I don't want to cripple that development. Some games focus on mechanics others are narrative driven. They are great games in each.

#10 Posted by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: I agree that I rarely found The Walking Dead frustrating in terms of gameplay, outside of my technical problems. But I wouldn't call the gameplay especially enjoyable; I'd generally just call it serviceable or unnoticeable. That's not a bad design philosophy for a narrative game.

@Video_Game_King: You really should. It's...well, it's an important one.

@Slag: I definitely think The Walking Dead will have a long-term impact. That's probably one of the things that makes me happiest about this year in gaming. I'm pretty sure it terrifies some other people, though. I'm glad a marathon still ended up working for you.

@JasonR86: It really, really weakens your post meant to trash mine when you quote something I'd already quoted in the OP. That wasn't what I ended up writing about at all; it was about reactions to The Walking Dead. The name turned you off, and that's all good, but, well, I'm sad you felt a need to comment when you didn't bother to read. And, you know, I also totally agree with you that it is a game, but not understanding other people is a big problem online, and I decided to write something about people rather than about this game in particular.

@Jimbo said:

@Trainer_Red said:

@Jimbo said:

Believe it or not, that delicious bacon sandwich I made earlier was my game of the year. For me the gameplay was deciding whether to have tomato ketchup or brown sauce. Even though that isn't really what gameplay means at all, that shit was intense!

Don't despair though, because The Walking Dead is actually my album of the year. Because it has a song in it. Don't like that? Stop being elitist.

I bet the graphics for that delicious bacon sandwich were great.

They were! In fact they were so good that I awarded them Employee of the Month.

Can't tell if you two are just goofing or are actually annoyed with my post.

@ImmortalSaiyan: Thanks for reading!

#11 Posted by JasonR86 (9611 posts) -

@Little_Socrates:

Chill. I didn't intend to trash your post. I simply gave my initial reaction. And your goddramn right I didn't read every part of your post. It's fucking huge. I simply commented. Not necessarily to you (which I don't know why I @'d you because I wasn't necessarily commenting to you exactly). Just in general. I was internet talking out loud. Don't get so offended. If you're irritated that you think I didn't get what you were getting at, which I imagine I didn't because I didn't read your long ass post (seriously that shit's long dude), then just ignore me.

#12 Posted by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

@JasonR86 said:

@Little_Socrates:

Chill. I didn't intend to trash your post. I simply gave my initial reaction. And your goddramn right I didn't read every part of your post. It's fucking huge. I simply commented. Not necessarily to you (which I don't know why I @'d you because I wasn't necessarily commenting to you exactly). Just in general. I was internet talking out loud. Don't get so offended. If you're irritated that you think I didn't get what you were getting at, which I imagine I didn't because I didn't read your long ass post (seriously that shit's long dude), then just ignore me.

You called it a navel-gazing triviality; for something I obviously spent a pretty long time working on (agree, that shit's long,) that isn't what I'd call giving it praise. Which, again, fine. But I enjoy conversation, and if you'd simply said something along the lines of "this kind of writing doesn't interest me," or said "dude, way too long," it'd be another thing, but you took enough time responding that it merits a response. And while I'm happy to accept criticism from people who, well, read my writing, random criticism hurled in my general direction based on the title and length of the post disappoints me.

Sorry, I got a bit smashy, but I enjoy reading your stuff here on the site, and it bums me out to be misunderstood by you.

#13 Posted by JasonR86 (9611 posts) -

It was a misunderstanding. Again I wasn't really talking to you per se I was just talking out loud. Really I shouldn't have even commented because it only loosely corresponded to what your OP said.

#14 Posted by YOU_DIED (702 posts) -

@Little_Socrates: I'm sad you didn't mention Hotline Miami in your section about the top downloadable games, it might be the best one this year. Anyways, are people serious when they say it isn't game? Or do they just not have any other opinion on it?

#15 Posted by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

@YOU_DIED said:

@Little_Socrates: I'm sad you didn't mention Hotline Miami in your section about the top downloadable games, it might be the best one this year. Anyways, are people serious when they say it isn't game? Or do they just not have any other opinion on it?

Well, I've heard that derision heaped on it more than once, especially now that the story is done and one can look at the diamond in place. And #5 and #6 are both things I've seen said multiple times on this site alone.

As for Hotline Miami, I only didn't mention it because it's not as widespread as, say, Mark of the Ninja, which is absolutely not one of my favorite downloadables this year. Hotline Miami's a brilliant and awesome game, but I wouldn't call it all that weird or impactful on the industry. I'm preeeeeetty sure it's going to make my Top 10 list and get a nice and high spot.

#16 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -

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#17 Posted by Daiphyer (1319 posts) -

I bet you think this is all just a game, don't you?!

#18 Posted by TheJohn (553 posts) -

I like reading the long ones. Thanks for taking the time and making the effort.

#19 Posted by Atlas (2430 posts) -

As I mentioned in another thread, I'm three episodes in to The Walking Dead, and my issue is not whether or not it is a game, because in my view it clearly is. I'm just not convinced that it's the masterpiece of storytelling and interactive fiction that some people are selling it as. I have found the characters to be two-dimensional, the beats of the story are arbitrary and predictable at times, and the relationships and tension between characters is at best inconsequential and at worst really irritating - would anyone really be this petty during a zombie apocalypse?

So far, I would hail TWD as an excellent atmospheric experience, and praise it's ambition, but let's all remember that focusing on narrative and storytelling does not necessarily make for good storytelling by itself, and just because they go to lengths to characterise its cast doesn't make them good characters.

Admirable? Definitely. Engaging? Yes. Game of the Year? Not even close - but maybe the last two episodes will change my mind.

#20 Posted by Kadayi (185 posts) -

Nicely written and thoughtful post, perfectly articulating the different scales of response to the critical success TWD is enjoying and the divisiveness of opinion over its worth (also thanks to turning me onto AWTR there's some great articles there). I'd say I probably fall in 1-2 camp myself. I don't hold that TWD is in any way perfect, and certainly I had issues with it at points (the fiddly QTEs in EP3 were particularly egregious for instance) however I do mark it down as a watershed moment for game narrative and that it's getting official plaudits I think is an important validation of the more grounded approach Telltale have taken with the writing and characterization and hopefully will act as a wake up call to the rest of the industry to put a bit more effort into games writing and actually treat their audience as adults.

Gamer's I feel are generally ill served on the narrative front. On the whole I find most game story-lines heavy handed and woefully predictable. A prime example of this sort of unsubtle signposting is found at the beginning of GTA IV where as Nicco you get set up on a date with Michelle by Roman's girlfriend and she's probing you about any 'bad people' you might know during the date. Is it any revelation later on that Michelle turns out to in fact be an undercover operative for the FiB? Not to anyone I know who's played the game, and this kind of ham-fisted 'deception' is common currency in a lot of game narratives (dishonored, AC2, Max Payne 3, Mass Effect & Dragon Age all fall foul of this). Similarly I think it's high time the morality meters got ditched in terms of overt display. Certainly they can be a useful tool for gauging how the world sees and responds to a player and how a players evolves as a character, but all too often this overt display ties into measurable game-play benefits (ME1s paragon/renegade achievements being a standout example) that actually detract from the player engaging directly with the narrative when it comes to story line payoffs, because they become acutely conscious of gameplay ramifications and game the system rather than respond naturally to events.

A prime example that springs to mind is the decision whether to kill the Rachni queen in ME1 on Noveria. You’ve been renegading/paragoning all that time being a badass/saint and then suddenly you’re presented with a situation where effectively you’re charged with deciding whether the last of a species (admittedly with a history of violence) is eradicated from the universe (yeah I know..I know what happens in ME3). That’s a tough call by any standards, yet you’re also aware that your decision is going to impact your renegade/paragon status and that it might therefore diminish your conversational options later in the game but that meta factor shouldn't really have a bearing on your decision making Vs the weight of the decision itself.

Such obviousness, signposting and corporeal moral judgement kind of begs the question why?

Is it that the majority of writers operating in the games market are incompetent? Or is it more the case that they actually think their audience requires hand-holding obviousness and morality meters in order to grasp the import and impact of events and decisions? That we are somehow incapable of digesting and parsing information and lack a sense of morality and choice and consequence?

I don't think there's a clear cut answer either way. I'd say it's in between and varies from developer to developer in terms of where the balance lies, but the one thing I do know is that given that the average gamer is now around 37 years of age now it's about time that we started getting more games like TWD (honorable mention to Spec Ops: The line as well) that presumes we are adults and engages with us on an adult level, rather than continue to patronise us as if we are somehow all morally dubious 12 year olds. When there's a revelation in a game I want to be taken by surprise over it, or in the case of an investigation at least feel that it confirms my suspicions even if I didn't have proof positive right away, rather than have it simply be a case of the expected finally happening. Similarly I think it's time we moved past the morality meters and entrusted players to take charge of their own actions and allow them to embrace the consequences of their own actions without external judgement Vs facing the internal consequences with the game itself.

#21 Posted by TaliciaDragonsong (8698 posts) -

This was a delight to read.
 
I'm not mixing myself up in this debate however, for me games (any kind, form, whatever) have always been personal and always will be. What I consider some of the best games ever others will totally trash.
Which is fine, because fuck them.

#22 Posted by sungahymn (987 posts) -

Great blog. Makes me understand the whole thing better. I haven't played TWD and I don't plan to, so I don't have a real opinion on this. But I will say this: I play games to be entertained. If I enjoy something, and I had a controller in my hand (or mouse and keyboard) the whole way through, then in my mind, the thing that entertained me was a game. I think Asura's Wrath is a nice example and/or parallel.

#23 Posted by Make_Me_Mad (3022 posts) -

In my opinion it's pretty much a visual novel, so yeah, I'd consider it a game.

#24 Posted by mracoon (4959 posts) -

Very nicely written, I'm giving this the GB Mod Seal of Approval.

Moderator
#25 Posted by Winternet (8007 posts) -

What is video game?

#26 Posted by Slag (4044 posts) -

@Little_Socrates said:

@Slag: I definitely think The Walking Dead will have a long-term impact. That's probably one of the things that makes me happiest about this year in gaming. I'm pretty sure it terrifies some other people, though. I'm glad a marathon still ended up working for you.

Which brings up another great point you made in your blog . That people are terrified this kind of game will replace (or more accurately reduce the amount of) the Skyrim's and AAA such of the world in the same way reality tv pushed out dramas and sitcoms.

I actually share that fear myself, but I don't hold against Walking Dead. The market certainly can AAA and iOS compatible games, but capital has a knack for flowing to where it's most profitable at the lowest risk. So I get that fear.

Re: marathon - in retrospect thinking about it more, I'm really glad I did that way. I think if I had gone episode by episode some of the sleight of hand regarding player agency would have been much more noticeable to me if I had time to reflect on it. By plowing through like that it helped keep the illusion for me of the weight of each choice.

#27 Posted by Lokno (385 posts) -

A well written piece. My observation is that its the question "what is a game?" that's flawed. So much expression and creativity is moving toward interactivity, and sorting things between game and non-game is quickly becoming a fruitless endeavor. At the very least, we need more buckets if we want to keep any existing taxonomy afloat. Frog Fractions is a great example. Its like the naked mole rat of art taxonomy. Its part channel-switching, non-sequitur comedy, part game. And there's no point to the gameplay other then to move forward, so you could even try to refute that its not a game at all, but its so dependent on an audience that knows about specific game genres and control that it doesn't belong anywhere else.

If you dismiss something as not a game, please tell me what it is. There are no reward shows for "interactive storytelling."

#28 Posted by StarvingGamer (8028 posts) -

@Jimbo said:

Believe it or not, that delicious bacon sandwich I made earlier was my game of the year. For me the gameplay was deciding whether to have tomato ketchup or brown sauce. Even though that isn't really what gameplay means at all, that shit was intense!

Don't despair though, because The Walking Dead is actually my album of the year. Because it has a song in it. Don't like that? Stop being elitist.

So what, are you suggesting that The Walking Dead has invented an entirely new genre of entertainment? Or are you just being intentionally dense?

#29 Posted by pyromagnestir (4251 posts) -

I enjoyed this post, as much as I could read that is, as I haven't played The Walking Dead yet. I'll use terms I can to define where I stand on all this "What is video game?" stuff.

If you removed the gun shooting, the space magic, and the RPG elements from Mass Effect and ME2 and left only the talky talk they'd still be games, and they'd still be awesome. If you did the same to 3 it'd be a game, too, but it wouldn't be awesome. I'm not entirely sure if that's relevant to this discussion, as I'm stupid.

From what I gather you're trying to make an argument to people who think The Walking Dead isn't a game that it is, and honestly I think the best way to do that is to ignore those people entirely, as their argument is so inane that it's really not worth the trouble of arguing against it. But you did about as good of a job of it as I can imagine being done. Although, again, I'm stupid so maybe that's not what you're doing at all...

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#30 Posted by tourgen (4427 posts) -

@Jimbo said:

Believe it or not, that delicious bacon sandwich I made earlier was my game of the year. For me the gameplay was deciding whether to have tomato ketchup or brown sauce. Even though that isn't really what gameplay means at all, that shit was intense!

Don't despair though, because The Walking Dead is actually my album of the year. Because it has a song in it. Don't like that? Stop being elitist.

yeah, I think that's the most reasonable response to this blog.

I'm fine with stretching what the meaning of a Game is, what it can be. Sure Walking Dead is a game if you stretch the meaning of Game a little bit. It's not a very good game though. It takes more than good writing and dialog to build a GOTY.

#31 Posted by Jimbo (9775 posts) -

@StarvingGamer said:

@Jimbo said:

Believe it or not, that delicious bacon sandwich I made earlier was my game of the year. For me the gameplay was deciding whether to have tomato ketchup or brown sauce. Even though that isn't really what gameplay means at all, that shit was intense!

Don't despair though, because The Walking Dead is actually my album of the year. Because it has a song in it. Don't like that? Stop being elitist.

So what, are you suggesting that The Walking Dead has invented an entirely new genre of entertainment? Or are you just being intentionally dense?

I'm suggesting that you can make equally shit arguments about why anything could be considered anything else if you try hard enough. The line gets drawn somewhere - and personally I'd prefer it got drawn somewhere this side of 'book'. I don't think it's taking a 'narrow view' of gaming to hope that something being held up as the very best game of the year would have significant and better-than-adequate interactive elements to it; not just enough interactivity to technically consider it a game. (Monkey Island is not a valid comparison: the puzzle-solving in that game was considered a significant part of why people liked it, which doesn't seem to be the case here.)

It's a sad state of affairs when an interactive medium is championing something which is only considered good at all because of its passive elements. I'm not saying they're wrong necessarily, because it has been a fuck awful year for games, but it's somewhat disappointing that we've got to this point.

#32 Posted by StarvingGamer (8028 posts) -
@Jimbo Ah, my mistake then for assuming you actually read the OP.
#33 Posted by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

@Jimbo: Thanks for responding again; I'm actually way happier with that response as it lets me know that you're actually making a point rather than just goofing around. Both would be okay, but one definitely makes me happier than the other.

@pyromagnestir: It's unfortunate you haven't played the game, because the remainder of the post is about how I'm actually making a case for the logic of those who don't think it's a game, or it's a bad game at that. I disagree, but I understand the other side and want to advocate for it as well because it's valuable discourse and worth challenging our own beliefs.

@TaliciaDragonsong: Thanks for reading!

@sungahymn: Glad it helped you understand! I totally empathize with that idea. And, yes, Asura's Wrath is a good comparison in many ways. The big difference is that Asura's Wrath is about "fun" whereas The Walking Dead is about "emotionally engaging situations." yay lame descriptors.

@mracoon: Thanks a lot!

@Lokno: That's a very good point; even Modern Warfare 3 ceases to be a game when you can't really lose it, so the definition is becoming more and more removed. It's actually similar to the terms "film" or "books," which are both going to be more antiquated terms for movies and literature as we move to digital formats. We all know what they mean, but they pertain to more than just the literal definition, and game is expanding in that same direction. Frog Fractions was...well, something else.

#34 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

I'm disappointed that this isn't news of This Ain't No Game making a comeback. However, this is some fantastic writing. Even if you're wrong about poems.

#35 Posted by CornBREDX (4836 posts) -

Great blog. I enjoyed reading it thoroughly. 
 
I think I'm in the #1 camp. I've been playing adventure games for a long time. I've always loved story over anything in games and am willing to slop through bad game play to see a story I like. This may be the first year where people can argue to much story and not enough game play for several games (including TWD). 
 
I can concede to people that the game play is pretty fundamental and more of a lee way to get to the next moment, but I think that the way the narrative is handled, and the difficulty in the choices and things you are asked to do are very much a challenge. Both emotionally and mentally. It's not the same challenge you're used to, but still a challenge. You don't have to see something quickly and be able to take aim and shoot it before it shoots you in order for something be a game. It just has to have some degree of challenge. What that challenge is- doesn't really matter. And people will differ on what is even a challenge sometimes, too. 
  
That's of course my opinion, though. I found that to be an incredible achievement. 
 
It was an interesting year. Sorry if I trail off at one point. I'm writing from work so I don't have the ability to write this all at once with my full attention.

#36 Posted by upwarDBound (654 posts) -

@Jimbo said:

@StarvingGamer said:

@Jimbo said:

Believe it or not, that delicious bacon sandwich I made earlier was my game of the year. For me the gameplay was deciding whether to have tomato ketchup or brown sauce. Even though that isn't really what gameplay means at all, that shit was intense!

Don't despair though, because The Walking Dead is actually my album of the year. Because it has a song in it. Don't like that? Stop being elitist.

So what, are you suggesting that The Walking Dead has invented an entirely new genre of entertainment? Or are you just being intentionally dense?

I'm suggesting that you can make equally shit arguments about why anything could be considered anything else if you try hard enough. The line gets drawn somewhere - and personally I'd prefer it got drawn somewhere this side of 'book'. I don't think it's taking a 'narrow view' of gaming to hope that something being held up as the very best game of the year would have significant and better-than-adequate interactive elements to it; not just enough interactivity to technically consider it a game. (Monkey Island is not a valid comparison: the puzzle-solving in that game was considered a significant part of why people liked it, which doesn't seem to be the case here.)

It's a sad state of affairs when an interactive medium is championing something which is only considered good at all because of its passive elements. I'm not saying they're wrong necessarily, because it has been a fuck awful year for games, but it's somewhat disappointing that we've got to this point.

I'm in full agreement with this. While the Walking Dead is probably pretty good (I have yet to play it) I see it as more of a different way of storytelling in general than an evolution of video games. I want games to evolve primarily in mechanical ways as that is what I believe defines a game and sets it the most apart from other mediums.

@Little_Socrates:

I admire your dedication in writing this blog even though I don't like your poem analogy as you didn't use it consistently. You changed its nature frequently and the way it came across sounded more than a bit elitist. My views on video games has nothing to do with my appreciation of any other medium. According to your categories I largely fall into number 6. As a fan of poetry I was a bit offended.

You also make the assumption that considering something a game correlates entirely with how fun or valuable it is. I barely consider The Walking Dead to be a game from what I've heard of it but am still looking forward to trying it for myself. Not as a fan of video games mind you but as a fan of storytelling. Just because I prefer my games to be mechanically rich doesn't mean I will snub my nose at a mechanically shallow game with a great story behind it.

#37 Posted by Oldirtybearon (4604 posts) -

@Little_Socrates: Love the post and I personally think I fall into the first group of people. One thing that made me WTF however:

how in the tit-fucking apocalypse is Far Cry 3 misogynistic?

#38 Posted by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

@Oldirtybearon said:

@Little_Socrates: One thing that made me WTF however:

how in the tit-fucking apocalypse is Far Cry 3 misogynistic?

Going by accounts anecdotal and critical. I haven't finished it yet, but I've basically heard women get reduced to either sexually liberated psychopaths or docile doormats. Basically, the Black Swan binary dynamic, but without the narrative backdrop or necessary focus to make it come across as even a bit sympathetic, nor the acknowledgement that the extremes are too extreme (a la Black Swan.) I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

@upwarDBound: Thanks for the feedback on the write-up! I'm sorry I offended you; I'm not following the inconsistency, though. 6 is phrased the way it is because the majority of the people falling in that category are saying the words "I don't come to games for stories, because game stories will never be as good as a book." I can see that it's not quite that black-and-white, though. I think you fall into category 4 or 5 more than 6. 6 is much more dismissive of stories in games, while 4 and 5 are still questioning whether or not it is a game. I can see how the numbering might not make that clear, though. Again, thanks for the feedback!

@Ravenlight: Maybe you can extend a hand into seeing the issue with the poem analogy? Not that I intend to use it again, I'm just missing the issue when I reread it.

@CornBREDX: I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thanks! I very much agree with your assessment of the game, and it's definitely been an interesting year.

#39 Posted by D_W (1129 posts) -

There was some famous theater personality who once said something like "The difference between a musical and an opera? One plays in a theatre and the other in an opera house." Now that's not a prefect analogy for the topic at hand as there are many stylistic differences between the two, but I felt the need to bring it up because it illustrates the point that taxonomy can be needless, useless, and based on irrelevant qualities.

The way I see it there are three ways to classify games. You can call them genres, but that would be silly. You can think of these categories being arranged similar to an onion or planet, or anything that has layers. I present to you an absurdist's guide to video game taxonomy:

The inner most layer is the Resource Management Simulator. Most games fall into this. Does a game have any sort of resource (be it, lives, health, money, time, bear asses, etc)? Then the game has you managing simulated resources. Some examples: Fighting Games, RTS, FPS, Platformers, Racing Games, RPGs, and Most arcade games.

The next layer out are the Puzzle Games. Does a game often a challenge to you, but doesn't expect you to manage and sort of resource? Well then you have a puzzle game. The Walking Dead game absolutely fits into this category as does most of adventure games. Any game that doesn't limit the player but still challenges the player. For Example Super Meat Boy would not fall into this category because it rewards a player's ability to complete a level quickly. If it didn't do this then it would fall under this category.

The final layer is the nebulous void of products that don't offer any real challenge, but are still engaged with in the way other things classified as games. These are your Visual Novels (which are often no more interactive than a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, supplement a page turn for a button press), your Minecraft creative mode (where the challenge is provided not necessarily by the game, but instead by the player themselves), and other examples, probably.

So how about instead of not calling one thing a "game" you start calling "games" what they really are, Resource Management Simulators. Or just "RMSes" since this is the future and abbreviations are totally awesome. I'm being absurd of course, but so is the whole "what is a game" argument.

Now I'm not one that thinks awards matter for much, but I do understand the importance of the zeitgeist around our medium. Games are still considered silly childish things by many people but with something like The Walking Dead taking game of the year kind of goes to show that view is changing.

#40 Posted by Little_Socrates (5675 posts) -

@D_W: It's an interesting logic exercise, to be sure. But here's the thing; The Walking Dead often does limit your ability to act by putting time limits on your QTEs and your decisions. And, at least once, you have to distribute food in a way that pleases a group of people, and those that don't are mad at you. Would that count as an RMS, then?

#41 Posted by D_W (1129 posts) -

@Little_Socrates: AH! You got me there! It's actually fairly hard to think of games that don't have some sort of resource. Even Portal has health. Most typically classified puzzle games grade you on time or have some other resource that determines when the game is over.

#42 Posted by Oldirtybearon (4604 posts) -

@Little_Socrates: Did this critical accounts stop to think that maybe a bloodthirsty murderer is just a fucking crazy bloodthirsty murderer? Just because a character is female that doesn't make her exempt from being a shitty human being. Nor does a female character being understanding make them a doormat. In a survival situation like the one depicted in Far Cry 3, gender politics kinda goes right out the window. But hey, Arthur Gies has to get his brownie points in there somewhere.

In defense of Far Cry 3 upcoming, but don't read if you haven't finished yet. Come back when you do:

Citra is one of the most compelling villains right behind her brother, Vaas. Throughout the first half of the game, she strikes you as an almost mystical bad ass warrior, and that impression carries throughout much of the game. It isn't until the second island when you've put some distance between yourself and the crazy tribe that you start coming to your senses, and recognize that she's just as fucking bonkers as everybody else on Rook Island. She uses her "medicines" and, well, narcotics, to keep you drugged and pliable. There's even subtle references that the Tatau/bad-ass warrior tat is actually laced with the same drug she forces you to ingest on several occasions. She's a manipulative psychopath who doesn't understand anything but war and violence. She is the reason Vaas went insane and wound up leaving the tribe/drifting toward Hoyt Valker, she is, in all honesty, the Big Bad of Far Cry 3. And it's pretty cool that a First Person Shooter like Far Cry 3's big showdown with the villain is actually a test of morality, not of shooting skill. All that said, I fail to see how this makes Far Cry 3 misogynistic, unless suddenly all women are shining angels of morality and they shit rainbows. Point blank, there hasn't been an interesting character like Citra Montenegro in gaming for quite awhile.

Contrast her with Liza Snow/your ex-girlfriend, and Liza is probably what every critic like Arthur Gies wishes every female character was. She's smart, she's disarming, and most of all she doesn't make irrational or boneheaded decisions/comments. She tries to understand Jason's weird calling to violence, and she tries to understand that on this island where this is no law, that brutal measures need to be taken in order to protect each other. If because she isn't bitching at Jason every two minutes about being an independent woman that suddenly makes her a doormat, then this whole gender issue has gotten way the fuck out of control, full stop.

So with all that said, I still don't see how Far Cry 3 is in the slightest bit misogynistic. You know, because it's not.

#43 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

@Little_Socrates said:

@Ravenlight: Maybe you can extend a hand into seeing the issue with the poem analogy? Not that I intend to use it again, I'm just missing the issue when I reread it.

Nothing wrong with it, I was just being a jerk and saying that poetry is dumb :P