I have made this crossing over glittering sand nearly a dozen times, but this time is different. Two years ago to the day, Thatgamecompany released Journey. Now on its anniversary, to relive my affection for the game and meditate on its excellent design, I glide over the dunes. An entire year has passed since I last played Journey, but the weathered ruins and scattered tombstones seem instantly familiar. I have come to this place as a pilgrim, transforming play into ritual.
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I don’t play competitive first-person shooters very often. I dip into Call of Duty every once in a while, but (as ludicrous as this might sound) it’s more for the story than anything. The sad, brutal facts are that I no longer have the twitch skills nor the time to be very competitive. I have a good time, but bump my head on the skill ceiling quickly.
As soon as I plunged the pitchfork into his chest, I knew I had made the wrong decision. Clementine’s shocked response stoked my sense of moral repugnance. This was the moment in The Walking Dead’s first season that I knew my decisions in Telltale’s world would irrevocably change not just how the in-game characters saw me, but how I saw my own moral rationalizations within this extreme environment. Throughout the first season, I was in a perpetual state of moral stress.
Two episodes into the second season, and the moral landscape of The Walking Dead has shifted dramatically. It creates what Miguel Sicart calls ethical gameplay, that is it “forces players to address their actions from a moral perspective,” (Beyond Choices, MIT Press, 2013) and these moral perspective shift and change and dramatically so between seasons. While mechanically the game largely remains the same, the new context makes my reassess my actions from a shifting moral perspective. As the world changes around Clementine, so do I.
The creep towards cinematic experiences in games should be apparent to even the most casual video game observers. From Journey to Uncharted, cinematography, intricate musical scores, and fleshed out characters are increasingly used as tools to convey meaning. Games like Dead Space go to great lengths to minimize any traditional signs of a video game: health meters, ammo counts, and mission waypoints are all either carefully rationalized in the game world or given as little screen time as possible.
What’s been more subtle is the concurrent movement in the opposite direction when it comes to television. It has happened slowly, but more live action broadcasts are starting to develop HUDs. It’s easy to get acclimated to these new ways of conveying information, but it’s worth noticing them both because they change the way that we watch television and because they are a reminder that the transfer of visual styles isn’t always a one way street.
This article contains spoilers for The Wolf Among Us: Episodes 1 and 2.
The first episode of The Wolf Among Us proved something important. TellTale’s narrative-driven formula works for more than just The Walking Dead. The story beats, dialogue options, social reminders, and action sequences could all live within an entirely different world and do so very well in the realm of Fables. As I discussed in a previous article, in many ways “The Wolf Among Us uses its detective story backdrop to distill and refine its established core gameplay.” However, with the latest episode in the five part series, Tell Tale has shaken up the norm by moving its themes further away from mere detective work.