The Importance of Being Clementine
I adore the Telltale Games adventure games. They’re engaging, interesting, surprising and a wonderful modern look at Point-and-Click adventure games. In 2012, The Walking Dead Season 1, won Game of the Year from over 40 different sources. This is the game that saw players escorting a little girl through the zombie apocalypse, struggling to survive against a lot of extreme circumstances. At the time, though I admit I love the game, I was worried that TWD was just another in a long line of daughter-like sidekicks accompanying the often gruff male protagonist. These sidekicks are often times not totally helpless, but still require protection from the more capable protagonist. Not to mention that players are usually only allowed to play as the sidekick in separate DLC released outside of the core gameplay. I’m looking at you Bioshock Infinite and Last of Us.
Not so with The Walking Dead, after it’s release of Season 2 which saw Clementine, the precocious young girl whom you had to protect in Season 1, a little older, a little harder and the star of her own story. For the first time ever playing as Clementine I truly felt that not only did I have a vested interest in her character, but that I had had an influence in shaping her into the person she is. There were several resonating moments over the course of the 5 chapters in Season 2 where players are reminded of choices they made in the previous game (had they imported their save). Watching what choices reflected onto Clementine was amazing.
Better yet, at no point over the course of the series lament the loss of Clementines innocence. Instead players are rewarded pretty early on TWD 1 for teaching her how to shoot. Saved by her increased independence, showcasing the value of being brave in a survivalist world. Because that’s what Clem is, is a survivor. She managed to make it longer then any group she’s been associated with. She’s a constancy in the world of Telltale Games The Walking Dead. She has no use for naivete and I on more than one occasion took unbridled glee in directing Clementine to bluntly take no flak from patronizing adults.
Getting to play as Clem in The Walking Dead Season 2 was a real treat because she offers players a different and unique play experience situated within a zombie apocalypse. Playing as a 13 year old girl and needing to negotiate respect and your independence from the older characters around you is was a great story component of the game. Not to mention the amount of times characters underestimated the capabilities of a young girl. The soon learned the error of their ways, with Clementine overcoming all obstacles through force of will and cool wit. I loved playing as Clementine and eventually seeing her be included in group dialogues over time as she gains respect. Playing as a black young girl in the zombie apocalypse is quite the departure from playing as Lee in the previous season, as a grown black man.
While Lee had to grapple with his groups internalized racism in TWD, Clementine has to face gendered and age biases from the characters around her. One outstanding benchmark moment playing as Clem came later in Season 2, when we are introduced to one of the older female survivors sexual autonomy and independence. Given Clem’s age, she likely understood what was going on in the situation, but had no culturally instilled judgements for the character at hand, you know, outside of potentially endangering the group. Playing as a young girl, we are moderately freed from our preconceived notions of race, gender and class biases. This freed us to have those moments where gendered biases apply to situations and having Clementine link them to survival or not caring in the least. This isn’t to say that The Walking Dead Season 2 lacks ingrained socially constructed biases, just that they come from forces outside of Clementine herself, and are more often than not influencing the gameplay and narrative of the game, and how Clementine must circumvent them for her own survival.
I was thrilled with the opportunity to play as Clementine after completing TWD season 1, this little girl who I felt that I had personally aided in her character growth. Getting to play as a young girl, years into surviving the zombie apocalypse is a wonderfully fresh take on the genre and led to some interesting and unique story moments, that players otherwise would not have otherwise gotten to experience. If Clementine is a herald for the potential future of representation in video games, then I’m totally okay with having a series of layered, dynamic and unique female characters that offer notably different perspectives from their male counterparts. Here’s to you Clementine.