The Walking Dead, Is it Really a Video Game?

This year Spike’s Video Game Awards honored their overall best game award to The Walking Dead. This is a big deal for the video game industry, having an indie studio take the title challenged by a long list of spectacular AAA titles. Halo 4, Mass Effect 3, Dishonored, and the new Assassin’s Creed are just a couple of games that could have won the award. And I agree with the VGAs, the Walking Dead has proven to be fantastic experience, art that had me on the edge of my seat more than it’s 2012 competitors. But I have to wonder, is The Walking Dead video game actually considered a video game?

Telltale Games adopted the Walking Dead setting from the comic book series. And you can tell from the first cut scene that it’s got that comic book style graphics. The designers did an awesome job of keeping true to the Walking Dead’s original style, even taking some characters from the original story while creating their own. But the Walking Dead video game plays more like an interactive story than the video games we’re used to. The graphics aren’t the only feature that Telltale Games embraced from the comics. They released the game in episodes, just like the comics came out, or the Walking Dead TV show. It’s obvious that the game was focused on the story because it played more like a comic book than a game.

What video game mechanics are used in the Walking Dead? The majority of the controls, at least on the PC version, are point and click actions with a little bit of walking around. If you get in a fight it’s either point at the zombie or button mash within the right amount of time. These aren’t complicated mechanics, you can play all sorts of free to play flash games that are equally as complicated. You spend more time in cut scenes in the Walking Dead than actually controlling your character.

Is the Walking Dead a video game? Of course it is. Your character can die and you have to start over from a checkpoint. You go through the episodes looking for useful items and killing enemies just like a huge number of other zombie games. It does have some fundamental video game mechanics. And while the Walking Dead has to be considered a video game, I will always think of it more as an interactive story. What makes the game so interesting, what made the game win the GOTY award is it’s storyline, cut scenes and the choices given to the player. Telltale games used the video game medium for their art form. It provides some mechanics, like timers that push players to make decisions, that make the adventure that much more exciting.

The Walking Dead isn’t the only game that has started to rely more on the story and character choices. Mass Effect has become an immensely popular series, but I have to admit that it’s allure for me defiantly isn’t the combat. It’s the control I have in shaping the world with my actions. Lots of games have started implementing simpler combat, too. It’s not just fun for gamers to run around with complicated controls to beat the enemy. Nowadays there are more games shifting to the simple, sometimes one button combat that’s not as difficult, but much more theatrical. Both of these shifting video game features are present in the Walking Dead, reinforcing that it’s a well received mechanic if used right.

The Walking Dead deserves to win the Game of the Year award. And this game is a big deal. Not only was it made by an independent studio, but it’s a much different game than we’re used to. Most of the time games are judged on mechanics, features, and controls. But the Walking Dead was able to win without normal video game mechanics, just with it’s story. It’s showing that video games are an art form, and that they can have a deep meaning without relying only on violence. It shows that video games are changing, and soon the term will include all types of different artistic expressions. Congratulations Telltale Games, you just changed the world.