Telltale Games has put out amazing games in licensed universes such as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us (which takes place in the Vertigo “Fables” universe), and Game of Thrones. Canonical games (or as close to thereabouts) that give you the opportunity to explore the universe and make choices in this universe and see how these choices inevitably play out.
It’s only on the second playthrough of any given game that you realize “huh, my choices didn’t really change what happened around me… they only changed how I *FELT* about the changes that happened around me.”
I’ll give an example. In one of the first chapters of first The Walking Dead game, you’re put into a situation where you have to pick one of two characters to save from the zombie horde. You can’t save both of them. You must pick.
After you pick, you have a short conversation with the survivor that helps you feel a little better while feeling a little guilty… and then, shortly after that, this character also dies.
On a gaming level, this makes sense. You don’t have to code for two skins or two voices for two different characters. On a personal gaming level, though, it helps create a bit of a sense of futility and nihilism that absolutely and totally fits the universe of The Walking Dead.
One of my favorite examples of a change that is meaningless on a game programming level but oh-so-meaningful on a personal level involves an interaction with a minor bad guy. In the video game, you are the protagonist and you have taken it upon yourself to help a 10 year old girl find her parents. Along the way, you encounter this particular bad guy who goes on to do some very bad things to friends of yours. Various things happen, tables get turned, and, next thing you know, you’re standing over him with a pitchfork while he gives you a monologue about the way the world works now. You are given the choice of whether to kill this bad, bad person with the pitchfork who has just given you this particular monologue.
Somewhat major spoilers follow:
Spear him or don’t? That’s the question. The first time I played through, I used the pitchfork and killed this bad, bad person who did bad, bad things to friends of mine. Immediately after I killed the guy, the little girl whom I was helping ran alongside of me and gasped loudly. I realized, in that very second, that I did not want to have had her see what I had done. I almost sprained my back in my haste to hit the power button. When I played through a second time, I chose to *NOT* kill the bad, bad person who did bad, bad things to friends of mine. And, moments later, a zombie ate him.
So this company that has made such wonderful games with (the illusion of) such wonderful choices is now putting together a Batman story.
So… what are you playing?
(Picture is HG Wells playing a war game from Illustrated London News (25 January 1913[/efn_note]