The lights are on
Adolescence is a time of conflicting emotions. One minute
life is carefree, and then growing up rears its ugly head, dealing hard
lessons. Young teenagers are just starting to realize who they are, and they're
far off from figuring it out. Coming-of-age stories remain some of the most
popular and they have a rich history in literature, film, and music. The
Catcher in the Rye, Stand By Me,
and John Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane" all tell stories about the hard road to
I never thought much about how it would transition to video
games. Sometimes it works poorly, showcasing extremes like the irritatingly
angsty Hope from Final Fantasy XIII, or overly annoying ones like Zill from The
Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Sometimes the portrayals shine like in
Rockstar's Bully where you deal with corrupt educators and student tormenters
to make your own place in a new school. Even the Fable games have you
overcoming a tragic childhood event and forging your own path. As video game
writing continues to improve and take bigger steps in terms of diversity and
subject matter, I suspect we are set to see even more portrayals of
coming-of-ages stories. Even in the past year, more games using younger
characters that mature were released.
Telltale tested the waters with having Clementine as one of
the main characters in the grim world of The Walking Dead. While Clementine
doesn't fit into the widely recognized definition of adolescence, she's had to
grow up faster than normal because of circumstances surrounding the zombie
apocalypse. In season one, we controlled Lee Everett and strove to shield her
from growing up too fast, putting her safety above everything else. The outpouring
of fans' adoration of Clementine was proof that she captivated players. We
watched her grow up and confront the apocalypse, learning how to shoot a gun
and coming to terms with a brutal world that offers no guarantees. For season
two, Telltale took her journey one step further. The torch from Lee had been
passed; players now control Clementine and are in charge of her destiny.
We're still seeing how her journey pans out, but episode one
has already showcased her growth well. Clementine could have just been a little
girl you had to save, but she's so much more than that. She's learning the
ropes in this brutal world, helping others stay safe, and confronting her own
limitations head on. Telltale's confidence to put her in a starring role is
telling because it's uncharted territory. Are there boundaries with young
characters? How do you ensure you're not manipulating players' emotions with
them? These are issues that Telltale and other video game writers will have to
keep confronting. Either way, Clementine is one of the most beloved recent
characters to date and that speaks to Telltale's well-rounded writing.
Naughty Dog put a similar emphasis on Ellie in The Last of
Us. That whole journey could have felt like an escort mission, since it's up to
you as Joel to ensure her safety. Instead of being melodramatic or utterly
useless, Ellie holds her own. She helps Joel in battle, learns from him, and
wrestles realistically with the plight on her shoulders as potentially holding
the cure for the apocalypse. You get to know Ellie more as the journey goes on
and the progression feels natural as she reveals more of her secrets and
feelings further into the journey. She doesn't become Joel's quest; she becomes
someone he deeply cares about, which no doubt plays into the superb ending.
While Ellie is facing adult issues, Naughty Dog also does a great job of
reminding you of her actual age. Her excitement when she finds comics or
randomly breaks into song says a lot.
Coming-of-age stories have already cemented a place in
popular media. Could video games be the next medium to fully embrace this genre?
It's definitely possible. Games are delving into more realistic subject matter,
like the recent Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which had its share of
fantastical elements, but still offered a commentary on growing up and facing
the challenge of death. As we go forward in the future, I can see younger
characters taking center stage more. That's hardly a bad thing, either. This age
group is refreshing compared to the typical, strong adult hero. Seeing
characters face the trials of growing up and coming out stronger is also relatable.
You can't really help but root for their success.
If the story and characters are grounded and unique stories
can be told, coming-of-age subject matter could hold an even more compelling
place in the video game landscape. That's why Clementine and Ellie are important
characters to discuss; they're success stories. Time will tell if they are
simply anomalies or are the vanguard characters for this genre. Right now, I'm
thankful they exist and that the trend is continuing. Who would have thought
that some of the best characters last year would be in the adolescent age
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.