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the Walking Dead Game is not a VIDEO GAME

On 12/15/2012 at 02:23 PM by jjindie

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There's a lot of controversy over one little downloadable, independent game based on a popular TV and comic series. I think the controversy has little to do with the quality of the 'game' or that an independent project won VGA's best game award over popular AAA titles like Black Ops 2 and Halo 4, I think some people are still trying to decide if it's even a video game.

I wrote about this before in one of my very first user blogs. I had just finished Heavy Rain and thought it was a great experience but I never felt like I was playing a game, not in the traditional sense. Even Heavy Rain's developer, Quantic Dream, didn't call it a video game, they used the term interactive narrative or interactive drama. And that probably is a better fit. The Walking Dead Game is not a video game in the same way the Choose Your Own Adventure novel series weren't video games. They were interactive, but they obviously didn't involve video. The Walking Dead Game, by our current standards, barely even involves video. Unless you're moving around or talking with some one it's like staring at a cell-shaded painting, albeit a pretty one. In some ways, one of the first interactive narratives, Under a Killing Moon, had more sophisticated video, graphics and interactive structure. The Walking Dead Game looks like, and plays like an interactive comic, and that's fine, so let's just call it that and create a new category at the VGA awards, if you care about video game award shows that much. "The nominees for Best Interactive Narrative are: ..."

this was already successful and popular - not a surprising choice for VGA GOTY voters

The Walking Dead Game doesn't even really deserve it's underdog status. Tell Tale Games made an interactive comic from an already existing TV and comic franchise. If Tell Tale Games created the same style of game, equal in quality in every way, but as a new IP, it wouldn't have won best game at the VGAs. The reviews wouldn't be any different, it might even have better scores, and still be just as tear jerking as the Walking Dead Game, but would just be another indie game and sell like it too. But I would still consider it, a new IP, even more successful than the one Tell Tale Games decided to make. A fairly safe decision, if you ask me.

This isn't meant to be any sort of criticism against Tell Tale Games or the Walking Dead Game, more of a critique on video game award shows and other popularity contests, or just popularity in general. Think about it, this years nominees were Assassin's Creed 3, Dishonored, Journey, Mass Effect 3, and the Walking Dead Game. A truly earthshattering victory would have been Journey winning for best game. That's also the only game on that list I have yet to purchase and play. But that's the status of the entertainment world we live in right now.

So that's my argument. The Walking Dead Game isn't really a video game. I figured I'd write a whole blog about it rather than troll around various video games sites posting this everywhere. I've finished the fifth epidsode and got an ending with very little resolution.  Some characters steal a boat and others are just told to go away and never heard from again.  I've started a second play-thru but it seems decisions don't affect the plot, as there is no way to keep Carly alive, she's only listed in two episodes.  Overall it has been an emotional experience, sometimes a little too much. I'm not really a horror porn fan or splat-gore enthusiast, but they are popular right now. The Walking Dead Game overdoes it a little sometimes, like zombie children and shooting kids in the head. They can get away with it as an animated interactive comic, but not in TV. I'm also starting to think that little Clementine isn't really sound of mind and will never be after the shit she's seen. (Dexter Morgan went through similar trauma and became a serial killer!)

The Walking Dead Game is not a video game. It's an interactive drama, or interactive narrative or the progenitor to future Holodeck dramas. If you remember in Star Trek, even they didn't say they were going to play a Holodeck program, they were going run a program. They weren't video games, and neither is the Walking Dead Game.  But still something everyone should experience to decide for themselves.

Feel free to invent new names for this new form of story telling.



Nick DiMola Director

12/15/2012 at 09:19 PM

I think this is an interesting take on it, but in the end we have to ask ourselves, what is a video game then? I have yet to play The Walking Dead, and I probably never will, but it seems unfair to remove it from the category of "video games" and establish a new form of entertainment when there's not really a clear declaration of what a video game is.

According to Wikipedia, a video game is:

"A video game is an electronic game that involves human interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device."

If we adopt that description, I think The Walking Dead definitely fits. It's not quite in the same genre or subset of genres that games usually are, but you most certainly interact with it and this generates visual feedback. The feedback may be completely canned, but in a way, so are all games, there's just more complex actions to create the canned feedback.

As for the whole business with the VGAs, The Walking Dead seems like an odd winner. Worse, the whole show seems to celebrate blockbuster games and high profile titles. Some truly fantastic games have come out this year, but they're so under the radar, most people haven't played or even heard of them.

If we compare it to the Oscars, it would be like seeing Transformers and The Expendables show up in the running for best picture. It's not that these are horrible movies, they're just not really the types of movies that film enthusiasts embrace, nor do they feature any of the subtleties that define artists of film. The VGAs are pretty ridiculous and they're certainly not indicative of what a show like that could and ultimately should be.

VGAs aside, I think I ultimately disagree with your assertion that The Walking Dead is not a game, but I do think that we need to understand as a community that such games are narratively-focused and they are inherently built to evoke emotions. If we simply judge games on their ability to evoke emotional responses, we're not fully considering the scope of what games can be. I think that's a part of what happened with The Walking Dead and probably with Journey too, but to a lesser extent.


12/16/2012 at 06:50 AM

That is a rather old and literal definition of a video game.  So, yeah, the Walking Dead Game does involve video, barely, and human interaction, but another commenter from another site before I cross-posted this blog asked if the Walking Dead Game was really a game.  A game is something you can practice and get better at, with the intention to win, whether it's just by acquiring better button pressing skills or by levelling up with a metaphorical meter of progress, otherwise known as experience points.  That doesn't apply to the Walking Dead Game.  It is all narrative and only narrative, there is no game.  You do get choices, but they only affect the overall morality of the protagonist, Lee Everett.  The Walking Dead Game doesn't have multiple endings.  You can never get better at killing zombies and making people like you better, that makes it even less interactive and more directed and linear that most 'interactivce narratives.'

Anyway, I don't want to get too literal with the definitions of video games.  So far in the dozens of comments across three sites,,, and Pixlbit, it appears about 80% don't agree with my argument, and that's fine.  But it's just so different it can't really be compared with other GOTY candidates, especially the ones in the VGA nomination list.  Just trying to spark a little conversation.  It's nice to see video games evolving.

btw, I thought the Transformer movies were horrible.

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

12/16/2012 at 12:00 AM

It's a video game alright. What were the point-and-click adventure games from days of yore? Interactive narratives, and that doesn't stop us from calling them video games. Why? The perception of what a video game was, and what is now is different only because these gaming infants only spout nonsense based on their limited interaction with a wide variety of gaming genres.. Listen to us elders, we know what we're talking about... sometimes.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

12/18/2012 at 08:09 AM

As the one who reviewed all of the episodes so far I still agree that The Walking Dead isn't too much of a game. It is one of my favorite titles I've played this year, but its still more of a "choose your own adventure" narrative, with a few sequences of gameplay thrown in there. Does that bother me? No, but for the sake of this argument, I feel like its a valid point to bring up when stacking it against games that did provide what some might call a "legitimate" gameplay experience. Either way, I enjoyed it a lot, thats the moral of the story.


12/18/2012 at 11:28 AM

Enjoy isn't the word I would use, more like experience.  But an experience I don't regret and is worth talking about more than most traditional gaming experiences.  Gaming is evolving and maybe Quantic Dream and Tell Tale Games are splitting off and developing a new species.


12/28/2012 at 10:40 AM

I think its a little narrow sighted to say this games popularity hinges critically on the already established media of the series. Im sure this made tell tale alot more comfortable spending resources developing it.. what you dont touch on his how well a "game" of this type fits... a majority of games based on tv or movies suck. i think this is an awesome way to keep people immersed in a franchise like the walking dead. every time i watch the show with someone its always "STOP!" or "I would have done this... or that..." it fits perfectly and i think you just come off a little bitter because of how somthing so simple hit so many notes. its not an original idea, its a creative implementation.


01/02/2013 at 12:09 AM

Too be honest, im not sure if its a video game. I like to think of it more as an interactive set of movies :D. It is still a game in the way that you can interact with it in a similar style to Point and Click adventures(which are games). I think that it can either be a game or a movie depending on how you look at it(like the glass is half empty or half full ). Thats my 2 cents :)

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