The fallowing contains spoilers to both The Last of Us and Season 2 of the Walking Dead the game
Video games are popular. Duh right? Of course video games are popular; they are designed to make the player want to keep playing and lots of people enjoy playing them. What happens when a video game makes you do things that you don’t want to do? I am not talking about poor game design. I am talking about games like The Last of Us and Telltale’s The Walking Dead. It is relatively new but both of those games force the player to do things that either step over moral boundaries or are simply hard watch besides actually doing it yourself. In The Last of Us almost all of Joel’s less flattering moments are handled with cutscenes and the player has no input. However, the operating room scene at the end of the game could have easily been handled by a cutscene. But it is not, instead the game forces the player to pull the trigger. In fact a good social experiment would be to observe how players react to the end scene. Do they bust in and shoot the doctor without even thinking? Or do they wait and only shoot when they realize there is no other way to proceed?
Telltale’s The Walking Dead takes a different approach to making the player uncomfortable. In episode 1 of season 2 there are two scenes that easily qualify as uncomfortable. If a movie has a dog it will either not die no matter what. Or it will be killed just to pull at the audiences heartstrings. In The Walking Dead, Telltale decided that not only will the player become immediately attached to the dog. But it is partly your fault that it died and if that is not enough Telltale gives you a choice to either mercy kill the dog or let it suffer. Was any of that fun or did it make me want to come back and play more? The answer is a resounding NO. Another scene makes the player stitch a dog bite on clementines arm. It was horrible, uncomfortable and made me want to stop playing.
Why would video games make the player do uncomfortable things? I think it shows that video games as a medium are maturing. Clearly video games have come a long way since the coin devouring arcade games of yore. Now developers are comfortable enough with the medium to experiment. The strange part? Those scenes from The Last of Us and The Walking Dead are some of my favorite in a video game ever. It seems counter intuitive, but it is because those type of scenes are so rare in video games today. It is strange but I did enjoy those scenes because they made me do things I would never do if I had the choice. Today many of the video game buzz words are things like “player-driven choices” and “open world” but it is good to remember that sometimes having no choice can be the most memorable.