October is set to be a busy month for fan favourite development company Telltale Games, best known for their IPs based on popular licensed properties, such as The Walking Dead, Borderlands and Game of Thrones. Released digitally and in individual episodes over the course of about half a year, these games are renowned for their innovative story telling and unmatched ability to rip your heart out and squash it under their collective heels, and still have you come back for more each time.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for this company, though. As with anything that becomes popular, there is always an equal or opposite reaction – a lot of gamers dislike Telltale’s point and click, narrative-focused formula and deem it an “interactive movie” with hints of disdain in their tones. “It’s not a real game,” they say, “real games involve actual gameplay,” implying that, more or less, a video game is not a real video game unless it has complex gaming mechanics and/or systems.
Is it the simplicity of their games that has some gamers turning their noses up at Telltale, or is it the notion that games can ditch their usual hack-and-slash or gun-toting formulas and still be considered part of the medium, making it less of an “exclusive club” and therefore more open to the general public? Games initially began as a digital imitation of sport and other types of “real life” games, and have since evolved into ground breaking methods of story telling. These great stories are no longer limited to books or hour-and-a-half long movies. Video games have followed suit for the past twenty years or more; Telltale introduces nothing new in that regard, given they were formed in 2004.
They’re no less professional in what they do, however. Maybe not necessarily punctuality (nobody likes talking about the huge delay between the first two episodes of The Wolf Among Us, and that’s just one example) but narrative they have down pat. Perhaps it’s made easy for them, given they’re taking previously established franchises and worlds and simply making their own story therein – interactive fanfiction, if you will.
“Choose to save A or B,” – we’ve all been there at some point to varying degrees, wishing we had some control over some linear story in another game. Telltale religiously includes this, as well as the option to tailor the (set in stone) main character and their relationships with other characters. How the player treats one of the other characters may result in an entirely different relationship on one play through versus subsequent ones, and so on and so forth. Missing one quick time event can have consequences.
The story may not always drastically alter based on these (it’s a fine line balancing not having player choice be illusionary and not completely derailing the story) but these changes can still find a way to impact the narrative in a way that feels meaningful to the player. Maybe this particular character betrays you instead of another because you didn’t help them find their mother’s long lost sister, or something. (Disclaimer: as far as I know, not an actual decision and consequence in any of Telltale’s games, therefore not a spoiler.)
Whether you’re the altruistic hero, the sarcastic anti-hero or the sneering asshole, it matters. So in the grand scheme of things, why shouldn’t games try to imitate movies? There are many different kinds of games – on different platforms, with different styles and different genres. Unless specifically developed to be, no two games are exactly alike. Interactive movies, like walking simulators, need not be a derogatory term. Just another genre of the hobby we all love so much. Unlike a movie, however, you can choose the personality of the hero, how the relationships develop with people around him or her, and what choices they make throughout and ultimately, what end the protagonist meets.
Even if the illusion of choice is present – that is, no matter what decision you make, the outcome remains the same – Telltale still feature far more in terms of player freedom with their story than most AAA games that boast the same. By being close-minded, you’re missing out on some seriously good games. Because that’s exactly what they are. Video games.