Playing Video Games with Caitlin

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Not too long ago, the last of The Walking Dead: The Game was released. It became probably my favorite game of the year, all told, and since Caitlin is a fan of the comic series and the TV show, I thought it was something she ought to experience as well.

Caitlin has never been a game-player, but then, The Walking Dead doesn’t demand much in terms of gameplay. Primarily, it’s about making decisions in dialog situations with other characters, and the occasional zombie-shooting bit is fairly easy. In terms of video games, it’s one that doesn’t require much in the way of the kinds of skills you build up through being a player for years — kind of a perfect entry level game for someone new to the controls.┬áThe cool thing about Caitlin’s experience with video games is that she’s interested in the sort of theory of games, and definitely in game stories, so The Walking Dead is sort of a great title for her to play herself, instead of just watching me, as she often does.

I spent the next week watching Caitlin work through each of the game’s five episodes, and took note of the various decisions she made along the way. It was pretty remarkable how different her experience through the story was from mine, in fact. Where I connected with the game’s story and characters pretty deeply, Caitlin didn’t find nearly the same sort of emotional connection. The actions of the main character, a man in his 30’s called Lee Everett, didn’t feel like her actions, many times, Caitlin told me. While she was choosing Lee’s decisions, there were often times when he, as a character, acted out of sync with what she wanted.

The result was a game that Caitlin said she enjoyed, but which was a totally different experience for her than the one I had. It was still fraught with action and horror, and she was interested in the story and characters, but she didn’t have the same sort of intrinsic gaming experience that I did. Her relationship with the child ward Clementine, for another example, also wasn’t quite so emotional as mine.

Caitlin’s choices were also quite a bit different from my own, and her morality caused her to experience the story a lot differently than I did. It was also an opportunity for me to be on the other side of the video game glass than I usually am, in terms of playing games with Caitlin. I got to see how she applied her morality to the story in a lot of ways, and getting a chance to ask her about those choices after the fact gave me a very different perspective on not only the characters and events of the story, but also on Caitlin and the way she makes decisions and sees events.

I’m currently working on an article (or maybe two) about our time with The Walking Dead together, and the way that she worked through the story as a writer but non-gamer. If others like the result, I think it’s something that could provide a different perspective on various games than I usually get a chance to see or convey to readers.

I think the next title we tackle might be Journey, specifically because while I liked it, I wasn’t blown away, although the game received a huge positive response from others in the gaming community. It’ll be interesting to see how a writer who’s a non-gamer responds to its brand of play, cooperation, and storytelling.

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