That I enjoy Telltale’s The Walking Dead video game—nay, that I consider it one of the greatest games ever made—still surprises me on occasion. By the time I had gotten into the game in the latter half of 2012, I was for all intents and purposes burnt out on everything zombie-related. The Walking Dead TV series had reached its acme by the end of its first season and, according to most people whose opinions I trust, has been plunging in quality ever since. The comic series had turned into an unforgiving, nihilistic drag, with few if any sympathetic characters remaining. And David Wong’s This Book Is Full of Spiders subverted the whole subgenre, revealing a lot of zombie fiction to be a kind of desperate, wish-fulfillment power fantasy that, upon consideration, couldn’t be less appealing to me.
But the game is a far different, if still just as bloody, affair. Set in the same universe as the comic series but with an entirely new—and more likeable—cast of characters, Telltale’s episodic Walking Dead game placed emphasis on problem solving over zombie slaughter and turned each interactive conversation into a test of mediation, trust, survival, and sometimes a combination of all three. It put you in the shoes of a flawed but well-meaning protagonist, whose relationships with his fellow survivors could be drastically affected by what he did—or even did not—say. It was all the stuff I loved about the Mass Effect series but without its increasingly tedious combat sequences.