The Best Writing of the Year 2012: The Walking Dead
Writing is as much about structure as conversation and character. This year Telltale's experimentation with the episodic format has finally worked. Their survival horror adventure game, The Walking Dead played to the strengths of its format beautifully, tearing its characters out of each situation just as they started to settle in. It's an apocalyptic road trip that delivers satisfying, self-contained two-to-three hour plot arcs, but always quietly builds to a grand finale that, for many, provided the emotional payoff of the year.
There are lot of layers to storytelling in an interactive medium, especially in an adventure game in which you spend most of your time talking to folk. Walking Dead's structure means it has more opportunity than most games to show off, but that also means plenty of opportunity to offend with a momentary lapse in sense, a sudden unexplained right turn in a character's motivations, or the sudden introduction of a cavernous plot hole.
There's a difference between a character behaving unpredictably, but within the range of plausible action, and a character stepping out of themselves entirely. It's a line Telltale walk finely with Lee's companions. Making friends and gaining their loyalty requires you to juggle their motivations and constantly assess their perceptions of you.
Then, just when you think you're in control, something explodes and you must choose which relationship is more valuable, sometimes at the behest of a ten second timer.
It's cruel, but that's what the Walking Dead does so well - the bait and switch. It offers you scraps of security, and replaces it with sudden, violent calamity. And into the chaos they thrust a young kid who needs a helping hand. It's traumatic, but quite brilliant.
A second season of The Walking Dead is expected next year. I can't wait.