One of the biggest divides between gamers at present (other than the "casual vs. hardcore" debate) involves the proper place of stories in games. David Jaffe, who I truly respect for his candor and honesty, has stated that gameplay should always be king, and that the recent apparent swing in gaming towards large blockbusters which were heavily story (or at least set piece) driven was to the industry's detriment.
Then you have David Cage on the other side of the debate talking about how the industry needs to grow up and that means moving towards more mature and meaningful settings and storylines. We're not really on either of those extremes, but we do love a good story when we can get it. This year we had, amongst other things, surprisingly deep shooters, artsy poetic downloadable games, the drama of a world overrun by zombies, and a Japanese adventure game of trust and betrayal. We've decided, for the first time, to have an award for the Best Narrative of the Year, because whether or not you think stories should be a focus of video games, I think we can all agree that if they are they might as well be great.
Here are the Nominees:
And the Winner is...
When that first trailer for Dead Island was released I had such high hopes. In there I saw an emotional drama in a post-zombie apocalypse world, with tough moral questions and situations that you just can't come by in any other way. A parent having to kill their child who has become infected; whether it's better to commit suicide than succumb to zombification; the difference between killing a zombie and a human, these are all great moral conundrums that Dead Island seemed to promise and yet failed to deliver. Thankfully The Walking Dead has continued the legacy of the comic series and redeemed the zombie apocalyptic setting in video games. It's no longer just a great excuse to shoot people in the head.
Video games storylines have one advantage over other mediums, namely in how the direct control over a character can deliver more meaningful emotional attachment over a set of characters. Play long enough and you can't help but care about what happens to this poor wayward band of survivors. What's truly impressive is that even though death is a constant companion in the zombie wasteland, the most important deaths still hit home. Telltale Games has created something amazing by finally marrying their console "point and click" gameplay with the perfect franchise and setting. Many of us will be waiting with baited breath for the second season, and that's why The Walking Dead: Season One wins our award for the Best Gaming Narrative of 2012.