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Telltale: Inconsequential Consequences

If you've never played one of Telltale's episodic stories I recommend you do it now before you read any further, I'm about to look behind the curtain....

I've touched on this in previous blogs but I feel like I need to look deeper and explain myself. You may know that Telltale make story driven games that are tailored by player choice, the choices you make affect how the story plays out. The first time you see that on screen you're hit by a wave of responsibility and fear of the unknown... how badly will things go if you make the wrong choice? That first playthrough is pure magic, with every decision requiring tense consideration. If you've played through a few series though, you start to see what many of telltale's detractors eagerly point out; your choice doesn't matter. Bear with me, what this actually means is that generally no matter which choice you make, or even if you fail to make any choice, the story still runs the same course and you'll arrive at a near identical conclusion.It's almost unavoidable given any follow up series will need to start with players in a similar situation regardless of how they ended previously.

This can mean that some people feel the choices are hollow and ultimately pointless, I can't agree, I think the choices matter even more, it's the consequences that become irrelevant. If the outcome is more or less the same each time it's odd that people give it so much importance. The reason these games are so enjoyable and refreshing is the choice itself.

It's difficult to give examples without running into spoilers, but imagine a situation where you are given a choice of taking someone's life... you can either step up or leave it to someone else in your party, either way this person will end up dead and the story will continue from there, but you have to ask yourself, do you want this responsibility? do you agree with this act? If you go ahead with it will it change your existing relationships, will your group be thankful or think you a monster? Is this experience going to haunt your character or even you as a player? You already know what's going to happen, does that in any way make the choice easier? It may do if you are think purely in terms of gameplay mechanics but if you can stay invested in the story this is where the true magic happens.

There's some less dramatic, less spoilery examples. At one point in The Walking Dead Season 2 you decorate a Christmas tree, a rare opportunity in a post apocalyptic world. When asked by a terrified and less battle hardened tween to place an angel tree topper ornament on the tree you have a choice. Agree or go with your own preference, a star... I feel like I know what the "right" choice would be, you should be making friends and comforting this girl, teaching her how to survive... but damnit I was also a ten year old girl living through hell and I wanted a star on that tree! For those few seconds that was the most important thing... as far as I know this had absolutely zero impact on the story but even reflecting back it was a fun and engaging decision. In that same episode you have to choose a a table of friends to sit with and it somehow becomes one of the hardest decisions of the series, it might not change the plot but you can guarantee someone will be acting mopey or disappointed in the future.

Half the fun is finding out how far you would go, and looking at how and why you made a particular choice, occasionally the games will make you pay for that choice, even if it is just a scowl and a sarcastic comment from a fellow adventurer.

It remains to be seen if Telltale stick to the formula for The Walking Dead Season 3 (at time of writing only the first two episodes are available), or if they'll design decisions to have more impact on the plot and be less predictable but its going to be one heck of a ride finding out. You might also want to check out Life is strange, a game that can be described as the same genre but it brings back some of the magic of unpredictability as the developers and writers run on their own formula and add their own twists and mechanics.

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