Should The Walking Dead have Won Game of the Year at the VGAs?

I suppose the first question that should be asked with today’s post title is why does the Spike Video Game Awards matter at all? The truth is that they don’t, but as far as award shows go for video games, the VGAs are at the top of the list. As such, the VGAs are more open to examination than say individual review sites’ lists. As you may have guessed from the title, Telltale’s The Walking Dead won this year for game of the year. Now that is both a totally expected and unexpected occurrence at once. The Walking Dead is an episodic adventure game that is an emotional roller-coaster and of the utmost quality. The surprising side is just how small scale the game is. Huge studio games didn’t win this year. Instead the tiny little episodic game-that-could beat out huge contenders from much more seasoned studios. Of course, in situations like this, the question of whether The Walking Dead deserves to win comes up, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at today. It will be a short post, but what can you expect when I’m sick?

There are some parallels to be drawn here with the general audience of Spike.

Firstly, let’s look at the exact reason that The Walking Dead won. The game has a very, very good story, full of memorable characters, who are backed by excellent voice acting. There is a timed choice element to the game that keeps the player in the story, and avoiding major adventure game problems such as being incredibly boring. But all of the gameplay takes a second seat to the characters, particularly the lead Lee and his young charge Clementine. Each episode has a fairly self contained story that pushes these characters to their ultimate end, and by breaking the game up this way, the gameplay rarely gets stale and the developers were able to ramp up tension to a very effective degree.

Best gaming relationship of the decade?

There is a major problem with giving this game game of the year for its story though. The issue is that, in my opinion, gameplay is always first in video games and story comes second. A strong story can make a good game legendary, and The Walking Dead certainly has a strong enough story, or at least characters. However, it has abysmal gameplay. If I were being generous, I would say that its gameplay had minor consequences throughout the content and that by setting choices to a timer, it broke up tedium normally associated with the genre. If I were being less generous I would say that 90% of all the choices in the game are meaningless, the puzzles are half thought out and, in actuality, there isn’t really any gameplay at all in the game. Truthfully, this is partially the problem with the genre, but it is a significant fault on its own. Games cover a wide spectrum and not every game has to be gameplay focused, but The Walking Dead is so far from having workable gameplay that it’s almost insulting to all of the people who worked so hard to deliver effective gameplay mechanics, which we all expect now. As much as we as gamers like to make fun of Call of Duty, it requires a huge amount of work to get such smooth fast gameplay.

Don’t worry. QTEs are about as mindless as possible.

There is a secondary concern of letting The Walking Dead win and that revolves around it’s format as an episodic game. There is a certain allure for smaller developers to release episodic games, as that format allows them to release and test their game all at once. The problem is I feel that this practice should not be expanded, and more high profile games relying on it would definitely serve to popularize it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with episodic games for small developers, but the same way DLC isn’t inherently evil, larger developers can abuse this system by selling half finished products. It doesn’t help Walking Dead’s case that it was consistently late with it’s one episode a month release schedule. What’s to stop a developer from abandoning a game because the first episode didn’t sell well? I’m not a fan of these “testing the waters” provisions, as they seem far too cautious, and ripe for abuse.

Can you believe how much the internet would explode if Final Fantasy XV was released piecemeal as part of several episodes?

Short post today, I know, but I’m simply highlighting some potential issues. Whether The Walking Dead deserved to win depends on an independent assessment. Should story factor above gameplay? Are there serious policy concerns? These are two troublesome issues with celebrating this game in this way. There’s no reason to asses the competition because, simply put, this wasn’t a fantastic year for gaming and even if it were, The Walking Dead would be a very strong contender. Once again, I have no answers for you, internet, only possible concerns and that’s better anyway; you should make up your own mind.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamers

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