At some point, however, the arguments, accusations and attacks cease to be important. People break apart. Relationships fall away. Eventually, only one thing matters: The safety of a little girl.
Maybe it's cheap, putting players in charge of a child's well-being, but there's no denying it makes an effective hook. Clementine's parents may be gone, but in essence she is the child of a thousand parents, the child of every person who plays The Walking Dead. It's an interesting phenomenon, that thousands of disconnected players could share the same feelings of love and responsibility. That The Walking Dead can engender such a personal connection with its characters is a testament to the strength of video games as a medium.
Clementine is the outstanding example of this, but it applies just as much to everyone else. Lee's feelings about his fellow survivors aren't really his feelings at all – they're ours. I hated Larry. As much as I wanted to support Kenny, he made it impossible, driving a wedge between us I was never able to remove. Again though, sooner or later, it's all about Clementine.
Players learn along with Lee that it's impossible to maintain a child's innocence in a world with no innocence left. As the itinerant Charles so eloquently puts it, Clementine is no longer a child, she is simply alive, the only distinction that matters in the world of the undead. Players mature with Lee, abandoning fantasies of fatherhood and instead taking on the role of teacher and protector.
It speaks to the power of The Walking Dead that, even in the midst of hordes of the undead, the decision of whether or not to sugarcoat the truth for Clementine can be more harrowing than any zombie attack.
Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2012 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups. The list so far: