“I’m not going *anywhere*…with you.”
With that line I watched my choices play out at the finale of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead Season 2, and cried.
Doesn’t that seem silly? When was the last time a video game made you cry? Has a video game even made you cry? (and I don’t mean out of frustration) I knew it was going to be emotional, I knew that I was completely invested in Clementine’s story. But I wasn’t prepared for what they had crafted.
It’s no secret I am a fan of Telltale Games’ work. I loved Back to the Future and The Wolf Among Us. Their games aren’t for everyone, if I was to take the most hostile critical view you could argue it’s mostly dialogue choices and quick time events. Some people just don’t get into that.
But that mixture of interactivity made me feel like I was part of the story. In season 1 I played Lee as I like to think I would be. It was role playing in a way a lot of RPGs have not pulled me into. I made choices as I like to think I would in that world to protect Clementine. In season 2, you play Clementine and I played her at first as a bit of a hardened survivor, how I like to think a child version of me would have to be in that situation.
But along the way I discovered something profound.
Playing a young girl in this hopeless world that had been created gave me all sorts of new perspective. By episode three I was playing Clementine not as a child version of myself. I was making her choices as I thought she would make them. I was instinctively doing things I would not normally do. And I realized.
Clementine is probably one of the most important video game characters of the past 10 years.
I’m 100% sure I could do an entire PAX panel on why. The writing is top notch, let’s set that aside my having acknowledged it up front.
It’s far more important that the unique combination of writing, situations, voice acting, and my ability to interact with it as a participant affected me so emotionally that when I sat down to play the finale I actually, in a tiny tiny way, dreaded it a little. I was scared for Clementine. She’s tough, and vulnerable, and surrounded by adults who both expect too much of her and underestimate her. Her story is rich, her character doesn’t just have three dimensions it has four because you play her.
This is astounding fiction.
Clementine is a role model. Because through her narrative, you discover things about yourself. I discovered things about myself through playing Lee but I discovered things I need to learn through Clementine. Everyone expected of her, but held her accountable. Wanted to protect her, but put her at risk. And none of it was too contrived, I felt. Forced to role play that situation I felt informed about what it means to be a “little girl” in a survival scenario. The gender role part is an element, but it’s far more important that Clementine is a person, a human. This is how we teach empathy. This, in a way, is how we help put an end to misogyny.
It can’t be any other way, but The Walking Dead game is M rated so it’s not something I can say you should show to your children or have them play role model wise. However it moved me deeply. Thank you to everyone at Telltale Games for making it.
** EDITORIAL DISCLAIMER: Telltale Games was kind enough to send me a code for the finale so I could play it a bit early. I think given my tweets and posts about the season up to that point it’s fair for me to say that didn’t influence my views.