Telltale’s The Walking Dead is not a game that overtly discusses racial issues throughout the course of its narrative. While the game’s main protagonist, Lee, is African-American, this is a fact that largely goes unmentioned by the other characters he interacts with in his story. Racial undertones are on display in The Walking Dead from its opening moments, however, … Continue reading Game Log #6 (The Walking Dead): Race and Expectations →
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is not a game that overtly discusses racial issues throughout the course of its narrative. While the game’s main protagonist, Lee, is African-American, this is a fact that largely goes unmentioned by the other characters he interacts with in his story. Racial undertones are on display in The Walking Dead from its opening moments, however, and are largely utilized by the game’s developers in order to subvert the player’s expectations.
As the game begins, the player is introduced to Lee as he sits in the back of a police cruiser on the way to jail. Though it is not revealed until later in the story that he is being hauled away for the murder of a man that was sleeping with his wife, The Walking Dead still situates Lee in a position that fits with the sort of stereotypical position one would find an African-American character in modern media. Running immediately counter to this, however, the player can learn through conversation that Lee previously held a job as a professor at the University of Georgia, a position in life that runs counter to the standard, base criminality the player intially expects of Lee. From these opening moments, The Walking Dead exploits the player’s expectations about race and directly subverts them, foreshadowing the unexpected nature of events to come. As if to answer this calling for the unforeseen, moments later the police car hits a zombie and runs off the road, setting the game’s story in motion. Ultimately, The Walking Dead relies on these unspoken racial themes and biases in order to establish its tone.
Lee’s backstory as a murderer is not one that I personally have a problem with. In fact, I would guess that the developers gave Lee this portion of his backstory as a way to make his transition into zombie-slaying survivor a bit more believable (Lee does, after all, shoot a zombie in the head with a shotgun shortly after the police car crashes). His role as a murderer also has the potential to cause narrative conflict as Lee is forced to defend his relationship with Clementine, a young girl that he takes under his wing at the story’s outset. In this way, Lee’s murderer backstory creates a reason for the player to lie to other characters, causing tensions later on as more life-and-death situations present themselves. Furthermore, the murder that Lee commits is “sympathetic” in a way, fueled by a relatable passionate hatred for a man sleeping with his wife. As far as murders go, Lee’s is on the more understandable side, which prevents him avoid complete alienation from the player.
I cannot help but think, however, of the class discussion we had concerning race in video games. Specifically, I am reminded of the piece we read on race and video games by Anna Everett and S. Craig Watkins that discusses the ability of games to express racial bias. The article puts forth the idea that games can act as learning spaces, and so they have the potential to perpetuate ideas of racial bias and otherness through the regular utilization of stereotypes. While Everett and Watkins heavily rely on examples like Grand Theft Auto that include overt racial themes, I do see some parallels between the argument posited by the article and the racial undertones of The Walking Dead. While Lee may be a college professor, of course he is also a murderer. It is as if this typical racial trope was unavoidable given his African-American identity. As I have expressed above, I do think that Lee’s violent backstory is incredibly important to the game’s narrative and I do not consider it to be a poor choice on the part of the developers. However, I do think that it warrants consideration that Lee is characterized as a murderer despite all of the elements of his character that run counter to stereotypes. While I certainly do not think that this was done by the developers with any sort of ill intent, it is interesting that the game’s attempt to give Lee depth ultimately falls in with racial cliches that accomplish the opposite.
I played Telltale’s The Walking Dead on my iPhone. Despite the connotations that typically surround mobile games, The Walking Dead is anything but a simplistic, time-wasting experience. Instead, the game functions as a sort of next-generation choose your own adventure, with the player’s decisions and relationships with in-game characters shaping the course of the story. Beyond this, actual gameplay … Continue reading Game Log #5 (The Walking Dead): Is This a Mobile Game? →
I played Telltale’s The Walking Dead on my iPhone. Despite the connotations that typically surround mobile games, The Walking Dead is anything but a simplistic, time-wasting experience. Instead, the game functions as a sort of next-generation choose your own adventure, with the player’s decisions and relationships with in-game characters shaping the course of the story. Beyond this, actual gameplay is limited to occasional swipes to navigate and interact, and The Walking Dead ends up sharing more similarities with a movie than it does with anything else. It even progresses in a series of episodes in the spirit of The Walking Dead television program on AMC.
Is The Walking Dead a mobile game? Intially, I would have to say that no, it is not a purely “mobile game.” While I played it on a mobile device and had the ability to be physically mobile while I played, its length and price run counter to the short and sweet characteristics typical to most iPhone games (I recognize that countless hours can be poured into certain mobile games, but I am referring to how many of these games are designed to be played in short, incremental sessions in moments of boredom). At a length of 5 episodes and a 22 dollar price tag to purchase all the installments in a bundle, the The Walking Dead certainly resembles a full-fledged game experience that one would find on a PC or a console. This is due to the fact that the game was made for these platforms along with the iPhone version that I played.
On the other hand, I also have trouble defining The Walking Dead as a purely console or PC game. The fact remains that I did play it on a mobile device. While I occasionally played it in long stints, I also used it as a time killer just as I would utilize Angry Birds or Bloons Tower Defense, with some of my gaming sessions admittedly occurring during visits to the restroom. The mobile version of The Walking Dead also has an in-app purchase system for acquiring the different episodes, and I will profess that this turned me off from playing beyond the first episode. In-app purchases tend to push me away from continuing to play a game as I feel as though I am missing part of the experience due to a paywall. The reaction I had to The Walking Dead was similar to ones I have had to countless pay-to-win apps that I have downloaded and quickly deleted in the past.
So the question remains: is The Walking Dead a mobile game? I would have to conclude that in this case, there is not a real distinction to be made. In the same way that viewing a film on a phone may not be as “full” an experience, will lesser visuals and sound, the film can still be watched on the device regardless. The movie, at its core (title, dialogue, plot etc..), remains the same movie regardless of the screen it is watched on. I think this is an effective way of thinking of The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead treads the line between console and mobile categories, but in this case there does not seem to be any reason to make a distinction. Telltale interactive even designed The Walking Dead with an engine specifically designed for multi-platform compatibility, and I think it is safe to assume that to them, the game was never strictly meant for one platform over another. To the developers, multiple platforms ensured maximum players and profit.
While I understand this may not be the most revolutionary of conclusions to make about the game, the fact remains that The Walking Dead is neither a console nor a mobile game. It’s both.