Lincoln was cribbing from the Gospel of Mark when he said “a house divided against itself cannot stand” in his unsuccessful campaign for an Illinois Senate seat, but it portended the events which the United States was already heading for, inscribing a lesson on the American psyche: Two fundamentally conflicting forces in a single construct will inevitably lead to destruction if they cannot be reconciled. This is a fatalistic appraisal of what happened to Clementine’s group in The Walking Dead: Season One, and are echoed in the schisms of her new Season Two group. But the events of “A House Divided” introduce more wrinkles as Season One characters return, forcing Clementine to choose between old and new friends.
In order for a game to be entertaining, it must be competitively balanced. Some might argue that a game that is too easy can be fun in its own way, as the player is free to exercise complete authority over the game world. This is a valid argument, as it is not down to an individual to declare definitively how others must enjoy their game. However, there is evidence that players consider games that provide them with a challenge to be more satisfying to play, or rather, more fun to play; Jesper Juul in The Art of Failure describes a survey he gave to players of a game, and those who liked the game most were those who struggled to complete it a little, but not a lot. Players who completed the game without difficulty tended to give it a lower rating. The implications are clear: A game that achieves the broadest amount of satisfaction among players must have its difficulty balanced such that it provides challenge to experienced players without alienating the inexperienced ones. The simplest way to achieve this is through the application of difficulty levels, allowing the player to decide what level of challenge on a scale the software-based game systems will provide them.
Some games take this “Difficulty Scale” to literal extremes.
Pictured: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
But when gameplay exists in a player-versus-player environment, such considerations are much more difficult to apply. This is where competitive symmetry enters the game design process. Competitive symmetry is exactly what it sounds like: A game is made competitively fair by giving all players equal access to the same advantages. Character abilities, access to equipment, even positioning and repositioning of the player character in the game environment is presented equally to all players. Games that utilize competitive symmetry could be said to have the most claim to fairness, as the only difference between individual player’s ability to compete is respective skill levels and environmental factors. Competitive asymmetry is also possible, but much more difficult to achieve, as it requires a great deal more testing to ensure that two sets of advantages and disadvantages confer an equal chance of victory to two players of equivalent skill. Given the constantly-evolving state of competitive metagames and fluctuating, if not downright subjective, levels of player ability, a well-balanced, competitively asymmetrical game may exist only in theory.
CONTENT WARNING: This piece contains graphic images from Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season Two.
Through months of blood and betrayal, Clementine emerges from Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season One a survivor. Though just a child, she is prepared by her guardian, Lee Everett, to contend with the treacherous living and ravenous dead. But this comes with a price: Clementine’s group is shattered, Lee is dead, and she is left alone in a golden field. It’s a bittersweet victory; Clementine is alive and capable, but her future remains uncertain. This is emphasized by a pair of silhouettes that appear on the horizon. Clementine hesitates, clutching her handgun, but the season ends before we see who they are and what she does. It’s an indistinct moment, an ending that functions both as cliffhanger and conclusion: Clementine is a child no more, burdened with emotional maturity and expectation which belies her age. But in this new world, if she is to honor Lee’s sacrifice and continue to survive, then childhood must end.