Why Dying In 'The Walking Dead' Really Kills Me

Telltale Games borrowed a lot of tropes from Robert Kirkman's masterful tale of human survival for its own story. Which is to be expected; it’s set in the same world whereby their survivors are going to have to make the same tough decisions and suffer the same misfortunes as their pencilled counterparts. Themes of desperation, human endurance and profound loss permeate the experience as effectively as the comics from which they are derived. More so, perhaps, for those who feel an even greater sense of personal investment in Lee, Clementine and co. as active participants in their lives. The decisions you are forced to make transcend a shallow ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ model, but directly influence the relationships you forge with some of the most complex characters ever conceived for an interactive medium.

What can often produce the most impact when reading The Walking Dead is the unexpected death of a well-established character. Characters that you've seen dragged through hell and back again, clung on to hope when all else was lost are often snatched away under the cruellest of circumstances. This cut-throat brutality can be as enthralling as it is harrowing. Telltale has managed to transplant this into its own story, but this time with you in the driver’s seat. However, being master of your own fate leaves plenty of scope for cock-ups.

I'm almost positive that Rick Grimes wouldn't be where he is today if I were in direct control of his actions. Rick has survived for this long due to a carefully crafted plot. How or when he will ultimately meet his demise remains to be seen, but it certainly won’t be the result of a hapless mis-click. Telltale's game has become a victim of its own brilliance. I find myself so emotionally invested in their story that when I botch something, and Lee gets his innards ripped out, it jolts me right out of the experience. While I understand that there has to be a threat to keep you, as a player of a game, on your toes, the classic ‘YOU ARE DEAD’ screen becomes jarring. I know I'm not dead, I know that wasn't supposed to happen and now I have to go back and do that bit again. It brings you out of the moment and breaks immersion. It’s as if the game felt that it needed to remind you that it is in fact a game, and make sure you’re paying attention.

There’s moments when it does this better; moments when it uses its own mechanics, its own system of rules with which you have become accustomed to, and breaks them. Lee finds himself in a sticky situation, the controls all of a sudden aren't working, you panic, and then he wakes up. That brief moment of blind panic and confusion simulates perfectly how it feels to be having a nightmare. Death comes so close, yet never quite arrives. Great drama feeds off moments like this. Peppered throughout the game, each one further explores the narrative relationship with the player, and challenges persistent gaming conventions such as 'death' in increasingly inventive ways.

You don’t have to actively fear death when following Rick Grimes’ story, but nor do you have to make the difficult decisions needed to avoid it. The few 'game over' moments did feel a bit cheap in what is otherwise the most engaging and emotive experience I’ve ever had from a game. A primal sense of urgency bleeds into every facet of it, consistently drawing you into the story in unique and unprecedented ways. It's great you now get the chance to make your own choices, but you'll have to think fast to avoid getting bitten.

No comments:

Post a Comment