I have a confession… I’ve never played any of the much-lauded Telltale games. Whenever those games are mentioned and I say this, whoever I’m talking to will instantly say “What!? But they’re so good, go and play them!”. Of course I mumble about waiting for them to go on sale (naughty naughty) but in truth I’m just not that bothered.

I’m very aware that they’re damn good games, you can’t get that amount of critical and consumer applause without doing  something right. So I’m not avoiding them because I’m worried they’re going to be overhyped tripe, this isn’t going to be an article about how someone enthusing about something puts me off of it.

Nor is it because I’m not into the franchises they’re working with. I enjoyed reading some issues of The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us sounds like a brilliant setting. Coverage of the game has actually made me more keen to read the original comics, despite the inevitable shitty gender tropes that will no doubt appear in a) a DC comic (shots fired), and b) noir. Let’s not forget Sam and Max either, I remember really liking the series when I was younger but still my enthusiasm peaks at ‘eh’ levels.

What’s even more ridiculous is the fact that, despite being super into both Borderlands and Game of Thrones, I’m not even a little bit excited about the upcoming collaborations.

So what’s the deal? Why can’t I drum up any sort of interest in these widely renowned series’?

I think it comes down to the style of storytelling with Telltale games: part point and click adventure, part visual novel – the Wikipedia entry describes it as an episodic graphic adventure…. oooooooh. I’ve never got along with visual novels or dialogue heavy puzzlers, although I do remember vaguely enjoying a Phoenix Wright game about 7 years ago, so there’s that I suppose.

I just don’t get why, when you’re given a medium as potentially interesting and interactive as videogames, you would choose to intersperse the play with frequent and lengthy bouts of reading. Not that reading’s a bad thing, I’m a fan, but it’s the same reason I find the Star Wars scrolly text so irritating. First rule of storytelling: SHOW DON’T TELL.

Now, different media will tackle this problem differently. Novels and written forms will obviously have to use words but they describe a thing happening, not a character describing a thing happening – the degree of separation removes dramatic impetus. Films can actually show you a scene, having a character talk about what’s happening, or worse yet having the narrative voice do it, is just plain boring. Videogames have the most options: the players sees and hears, but they also play – they have agency within the story world. They can enact their will on the things around them simply because they have directorial control – moving the camera, travelling where they please when they please.

I’m not saying “Duh, visual novels aren’t games” (I said “duh” in front of it because only powerfully stupid people think that – if you take offence at that then stop being so stupid), I merely think it’s the least effective way of conveying a story in an interactive medium.

It’s all well and good saying what I don’t like about this style, but what do I prefer? For me the best way is environmental storytelling. Don’t shove plot in a players face, let them discover it themselves. Although visually more ‘exciting’ the blockbuster wannabe movie games like Uncharted or the Tomb Raider reboot, suffer from the same problem as visual novels. They remove agency by putting the player on rails, tearing their gaze from what they want to be looking at to “Big Set-piece A6” and “Quick-time Event Y7”.

Leave that style to the mediums in which it is most suited, games should foster a sense of agency in order to tell their stories. It’s one of the big reasons I’m such a big fan of Dark Souls. The story’s there, but only if you look for it, explore and dig a little deeper. If you don’t want to engage, fine, here’s some excellent gameplay, interesting visuals and slightly hokey voice acting. Importantly it never forces the player to engage with plot any longer than to give a very light context to their actions, in order to provide some meaning.

That’s why I’m also not arguing against having stories in games. Without story there is no meaning, you might as well be playing a tech-demo. The game will crumble into an period of “Hit buttons to win”, which is rather pointless.

It’s just that, for me at least, the dialogue heavy style of storytelling feels like a waste of potential.