Video game developer/publisher Telltale Games leapt into the spotlight with their latest game: The Walking Dead in 2012. Based on the comic series of the same name, it ended up winning numerous awards, catapulting the company into the mainstream, and changing the way episodic, story-driven games would be seen forever. And it also gave me the opportunity to consider what relationships I might want to create and develop in my own life.
The Walking Dead introduced numerous features that made the game so enticing to play, such as forcing players to make split-second decisions with lasting consequences. These innovative gameplay elements were complimented by an incredible story. The Walking Dead has always focused more on human relationships than the zombie outbreak itself. It based its tale around two main characters in the form of convict Lee Everett and an eight-year-old girl named Clementine. With no one left to turn to but each other, the two formed a close bond, and Lee would stop at nothing to ensure the girl’s safety throughout the course of the game.
I’ve been a gamer for the past twenty years, but The Walking Dead had an effect on me unlike anything else that came before it. It sits proudly among my favourite games of all time, containing one of the best storylines I’ve ever had the pleasure of immersing myself in. The Walking Dead’s tale conjured emotions in me that no video game had previously managed to achieve. It also got me thinking about parenthood due to the father-daughter relationship that serves as the backbone of the game.
Until a few years ago, I had never seriously entertained the idea of having children. The responsibility of being a dad was something that didn’t interest me, and I wasn’t even sure I could handle it. Watching people experience parenthood in books, movies and even real-life may have tugged at my heart strings a little, but it never did anything to change my mind. The interactivity of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, including the occasionally heart-breaking decisions I was forced to make, was the catalyst for my change of heart.
For the first time, I was required to ensure the safety of a child, and crucially, I was invested in keeping her out of danger. Telltale Games have stated that they took a great deal of care in making the character of Clementine likeable, and it’s a good job they did, as the story would have fallen flat without that added emotional weight. Playing the game with my partner was an even tougher experience as we regularly fought and argued about each decision, and it opened my eyes to how tough parenthood can be. In the past, video games have often presented children as annoying side-characters that get in the way, but The Walking Dead is one of a few notable exceptions.
The game series also did a great job of showcasing Clementine’s progression over time. The idea of taking my young child to their first football game and watching them grow into an established fan or player is something I’d love to experience. Similarly, teaching them the ways of the world and watching them mould their careers is an exciting prospect. In the game, Clementine starts out as a young child with very little understanding of how to cope with the impending situation. As she is forced to suffer from the horrors around her, she adapts and learns new skills because of Lee’s teachings. He even makes sure she can fire a gun if the circumstances call for it, as well as cutting her hair so she doesn’t get pulled into danger.
Clementine takes these skills on board and adapts to her surroundings over time, and in Season Two of the game, she puts them to good use. Now, Clementine is equipped with the knowledge she needs to survive on her own, and she regularly refers to Lee’s teachings to do this. We watch as she transforms into a mature 11-year-old, and her knowledge and experience engulfs that of many of the adults around her. This excellent story-telling leads to developing a sense of pride for the character, and it’s a great feeling to know that your decisions have shaped her life and turned her into a smart and respectful human being. A few years ago, I hadn’t considered this side of parenthood. I couldn’t dispel the images of crying babies, a constant need for attention and bad behaviour. I finally understand what it’s all about, and how those experiences will shape their actions in years to come based on the way they’re dealt with. I now find it much easier to grasp why parents are so proud when watching their children’s sports games, school plays and graduations.
It’d be naïve of me to say that The Walking Dead completely changed my views on parenthood. I still don’t think I’d be ready to have children at this point in my life. However, the game acted as a virtual reality of sorts, setting me the task of caring for a child over an extended period of time, and I learnt a great deal from the experience. We’ll see what the future holds, but for now, I’m looking forward to (presumably) continuing my journey with Clementine as The Walking Dead heads into its third season later this year.