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Episodic Video Games and Why They Have Become So Popular

If there’s one genre that came out of nowhere, and surprised pretty much everyone with its success, it was episodic video games. Episodic video games have been around since 1979, but it arguably wasn’t until interactive games like Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Season One in 2012 that the episodic video game format hit its stride.

But… why? Why are episodic video games only now becoming such a big success, despite being around for years? If you too are intrigued to learn the answer to that tantalising question, then join me as we explore 5 theories on why the world of the episodic games has become so popular today, and what the future holds for interactive games like Telltale Games’ collection.

  1. The Gaming Attention Span

man on phone when whale swims past

Ask yourself a question, and be honest; how good is your attention span? Do you find that you can truly focus for hours on end, completing work, chores or indeed, gaming, to the best of your ability? If your answer wasn’t all that positive, then fear not – you aren’t alone! In fact, numerous studies have shown that a good chunk of the video gaming population suffer from lack of attentiveness, brought on by the excitement of video games contrasted with the dullness of general life. Apparently, gamers find it hard to focus because anything other than blasting aliens in the face simply won’t hold our attention. To which I say, screw you! I’m a level 20 Warlock in Destiny, and proud of it!

So, how is this linked to the rise episodic video games? I’m sure you probably guessed that by now. These smaller, bite-sized slices of gaming goodness are much shorter than your average RPG, and therefore require less long-term attention. Does that make it lazy to love these games? No. But is it easier? Hell yes.

  1. A Boost To Our Leisure Time

drunk people on tube with beer

Does anyone else just get so overwhelmed with the amount of options they have for spending their free time, that they end up simply taking a nap? Just me? You liars. As it stands, there are no less than sixty two million different ways to use your leisure hours, and episodic video games are one of them. And they don’t take very long to complete, either. Most Telltale game episodes clock in at roughly 90 to 120 minutes, and that’s once every few weeks as the new episodes get rolled out. An hour and a half every month? It’s a steal.

Episodic video games afford us the capability to dip back in for a short period of time every once in a while, giving us more freedom and not tying us to any levelling systems, multiplayer or grinding for extended periods. Games like The Witcher 3, MGSV: The Phantom Pain and Fallout 4 are behemoths, their scope as big as their depth. They’re a timesink, and it’s nice to play something that has a definitive, swift ending for once.

  1. The TV Effect

Beth with gun in walking dead mid season finale episode

I’m sure you’ve all heard of Netflix by now – and if you haven’t, it’s only because you’ve watched Netflix so much that your brain has turned to mush. TV is currently huge, and thanks to juggernauts like Game of Thrones, Marvel’s Daredevil and The Walking Dead, we’re a nation of compulsive cliffhanger obsessives.

Think about how many times you’ve binge watched a show on Netflix because you simply can’t wait for the next episode. Think about that excruciating wait for the next instalment of Game of Thrones, a week-long period of suffering that never seems to end. Episodic video games offer us this same feeling, but on another level.

And that level is interaction, and personal attachment. We aren’t merely watching the action unfold; we’re dictating it. Everyone yells at the TV, criticising a stupid character for making an equally stupid decision. Fortunately, with these playable gaming TV shows, you can make all the right decisions on your own.

  1. Games Get The Treatment They Deserve

over 200 awards listed for last of us

We don’t just have episodic video games, or Telltale Games, to thank for this. The likes of Naughty Dog with The Last of Us and Uncharted, Insomniac with Resistance and to a certain extent, Activision with Call of Duty, have changed the way the public perceives video games.

For too long, gaming was branded an immature, childish kids hobby, with stupid characters and idiotic plotlines. Nowadays though, it’s quite a different story. Literally. I challenge any human to not well up at the end of The Last Of Us’s introductory chapter, or the end of The Walking Dead: Season One.

Similarly, I challenge anyone to not get attached to Nathan Drake, or not feel a lump in your throat at the end of Life is Strange or a swell of rage as you watch Ramsay Snow slaughter the defenceless, weaponless **SPOILER** in Telltale’s Game Of Thrones (personally, I cried). The narrative stories we see in video games are becoming more mature, more adult, and more widely respected. And ultimately, that’s only a good thing for us gamers.

  1. A Wide Range Of Popular IP

batman telltale choices are all i am batman

What do Batman, Game of Thrones, Minecraft, Borderlands, Marvel, The Walking Dead and Back to the Future have in common? Well, besides… nothing, they are all the subject of Telltale’s episodic development process.

And it goes without saying that this helps each new entry gain a massive boost in popularity from day one. Even before we’ve seen Telltale’s Batman, everyone is like… it’s BATMAN! The video game could be terrible, but we’ll all still play it because we love that world. It’s impossible to create this feeling with an original IP, and pop-culture relevance helps make Telltale’s projects, in particular, successful from the very beginning.

If your attention span has lasted long enough to see you through to the bitter end of this article, then congratulations! The mainstream media didn’t think you had it in you. I did, though.

Like a gamer hunting that next achievement, or indeed, playing through an episodic series, it’s vital that we see things through to the end. It does help that these ‘things’ in question are short, sweet and succinct. So the next time you boot up the latest episode in your favorite gaming series, ask yourself this; exactly why are you so hooked? The answer could lie within the very makings of the genre itself, and it’s this that makes episodic video games one of the most popular video game formats of our time.


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