Quickshot: The Walking Dead
I was bawling as I sat on my couch, watching various names scroll across the TV screen before me. I grabbed my phone to text someone, anyone. I needed someone to anchor me to reality. Because this? This was just so, so sad.
I have come close to crying in a movie theater, but I’ve never actually cried. The closest I’ve come is when I saw the climax of Toy Story 3. I don’t cry in movie theaters. I don’t like the moment when you exit and you see someone’s ruddy cheeks and nose and the stains of old missed tears stuck to their face. It feels like you’re intruding on a private moment. A moment shared with dozens of others.
Movies have made me feel many things. Games have made me feel fewer. I have grown attached to game characters, I have watched in disbelief and shock as something horrible befell them and their polygons were lost to me forever… At least, until my next new game playthrough. I felt twinges of sadness, but never anything more than that. Never have I felt even the urge to cry.
And yet there I was, sitting on my couch in my apartment and crying ferociously over the end of the Walking Dead. I’ll admit, when I first felt the urge to cry I was weirded out. I remember thinking, “Video games don’t make you cry.” No more than a minute later I decided to let go of my silly preconceived notions and just let loose.
Did the interactions and decisions I made change the course of the storyline? Not really, no. Did the interactions and decisions I made change the way other characters viewed me and interacted with me, in turn? Yes. I didn’t care that I was going along a linear path with some slight deviations. I cared about Lee, I cared about how Clementine perceived Lee, and I cared about gaining the trust of those around me. (Except for Larry. I really just did not like that guy, an opinion I know I share with many others.)
I tried my best to play the game as I would if these events were actually unfolding. This meant a lot of tough decisions made spur of the moment. This attempt at playing the game truthfully made me all the more connected to Lee and the narrative. I was wholly invested in it and the rewards were far greater than I could imagine. This updated adventure game deftly evoked complex feelings from a simple premise. That in itself is masterful. As I said earlier, I cared about mostly everyone. I wanted desperately for Kenny to support Lee in his most desperate moments and I would do anything to save Clementine. And yet wanting, which is enough in other games, was not enough here. There were times that Kenny was flat out wrong and I had to deny him or argue with him. There were times where I made decisions that may have saved Clementine physically but hurt her emotionally. And I cared.
It’s been brought up that Heavy Rain set out to do the same thing a few years back. Why was everyone singing the praises of The Walking Dead series when Heavy Rain created such a grand divide between those who loved it and those who wouldn’t be bothered with it? As I mentioned above, The Walking Dead did a fantastic job of creating, developing, and presenting nuanced characters that you legitimately and whole-heartedly cared about. I almost never care about the protagonist. Protagonists are faceless to me, for the most part and I honestly don’t remember the last one I did not consider to be an extension of myself. Although Lee made the decisions I would’ve in those albeit impossible situations, he was his own person. He was someone I cared immensely about. He was someone I wanted to save, especially for Clementine’s sake. When a zombie came too close for comfort it wasn’t my game I worried about ending but Lee’s life. He was his own character and not just a physical avatar of my controller inputs. I cared so much about the protagonist Lee. I cared so much about his ward Clementine. I cared so much about Kenny and Carly and Duck and Katjaa and Ben and Odim and Christa and tried with all my power to keep every single one of them safe.
And so at the end of the game as the credits rolled I sat on my couch, crying. Now, as I write this up a month or so later I recall the ending and I can feel the sadness welling up within. I’m not one to get so sentimental and emotional over fictional work. And yet here I am, feeling a lump in my throat form as I remember what happened.
Games like these are what change the way the public views our industry. Games like these change the way the industry looks at itself. I am so, so unbelievably excited to see what happens next, both with our industry and with Telltale Games.