The Nintendo Resolution: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Console: Steam
Start Date: December 29, 2014
End Date: January 6, 2016

My friend Jonnie Whoa Oh and I played this game together, hunched over his laptop and taking turns doing the actual playing.  Since this game plays out so much like a movie, I could have easily just watched him play the entire time and been just as satisfied – in fact, there were many moments when I actually would have preferred this, and groaned when it was my turn to take control again.  Since Game of Thrones (like most of Telltale’s content) was split into several episodic releases, we played periodically over the course of the entire year, and it was a roller coaster ride of thrills, heartaches, tough decisions, and bowls of Tostitos.  

But you don’t have to take my word for it, because in addition to my own rambling thoughts, I’ve also recruited Jonnie himself to write about our shared experience.  Because I am a man of honor, I’ll let him go first.

Jonnie Snow Oh
I found myself staying at my mom’s house for a few days after Thanksgiving, consoleless.  Armed with only an ipad mini, I threw down for Episode 1 of The Wolf Among Us.   I was quickly reminded how Telltale can suck you into a story even if you have no idea who the characters are.  I figured TWAU would tide me over until Game of Thrones came out in the next week or so.

Chadd and I get together every once in a while and will play a game together incrementally until we finish it or until my Wii explodes and neither of us ever get to see the ending of Super Mario RPG.  Our wheelhouse is puzzle games but we’ve never played anything open-ended together.  With both of us being Game of Thrones fans and not having played anything together in a while, the Telltale series made perfect sense.  What didn’t make sense was being tempted by Steam’s season pass discount of $22.49 for all 6 episodes for my Mac.

GoT title screen

I like Steam and computer gaming but in my humble estimation they work best for certain types of games, like turn-based strategy and even regular point-and-click adventure games.  The Telltale games aren’t standard point-and-click adventures and I wish I had thought of that before jumping on the deal.  The action sequences, and even clicking on text from time to time, proved difficult to say the least.

Standard point-and-click adventures give you the time to really explore every nook and cranny at your own pace, so any keyboard and trackpad issues are non-existent.  These Telltale games put you under extreme time constraints and clicking or not clicking something can completely change your intentions and the entire outcome of the game.  The nice thing is you can kind of cheat by hitting ESC so you can discuss what you are thinking or plotting, because let’s be real –  everyone is plotting when it comes to Westeros.  I tend to play these games as honorably as possible, unless the villain is so villainous that they must be dealt with in a duplicitous manner.  You can only push a hero, or in this case heroes, so far before they snap.

As in the books (I’m told) and the HBO program, there are a lot of characters in each episode.  The episodes of the game do a nice job of giving you a bit more insight into some of the other families in the land.  The downside of so many characters mixed with a development cycle of almost a year is that we tended to forget what had happened with some of them, and at points who they even were.  Since each of your choices has an effect on the story, it’s highly recommended that you play all of these either back to back or at least in a short succession.

What I like about these Telltale games is that they aren’t safe.  Characters may die and in Game of Thrones they do that a lot, sometimes expectedly and other times completely unexpectedly, which is perfectly in line with the world that George R. R. Martin has created.  Because of the time between playing all of the episodes and Episode 6 being the freshest in my mind, my impression is definitely tainted, but in writing this I’ve tried to remember the plot points in each and there really were quite a few surprises (Episode 1 comes to mind).  I’m also left wondering if we hadn’t made some poor choices along the way and doomed the House Forrester – I fear we have.  Honor is a dangerous thing with Winter Coming.

Outside of the controls on the laptop, my main complaints circle around certain things in the story happening no matter what, which takes away from the idea that no two play-throughs will ever be the same.  I hate it when characters die; it’s my character flaw wanting to save everyone.  So even when I like this game, it makes me hate it, which is a sign of quality.

If you want to flesh out Westeros even more and you want to have philosophical conversations about honor then play Games of Thrones with a friend, but do yourself a favor and play it with a controller or on a touch screen.

Jon mentioned “philosophical conversations about honor,” and that concept is responsible for both the coolest moments in Game of Thrones as well as my largest complaint about it.  The truth is, these types of debates between Jon and myself didn’t come up all that often.  Usually, when the game presented us with a decision, whoever was manning the controls would say, “Which choice should I pick?” and the other guy would say, “Whichever.”  I think that’s because the majority of the game’s choices are fairly inconsequential.  Only a handful lead to big, story-altering developments.

When the game asks moral choices of the player, it’s a strange thing.  You get pretty invested in the story, so half of you is contemplating your decision based on your own sense of morality – what you think would be the right thing to do in the situation.  The other half of you is thinking: “What does the game expect me to do here?  What choice will lead to the optimal result?”  Balancing these two trains of thought can get pretty intense, which is one of the biggest strengths of these games.

The largest difference of opinion that Jon and I had was during the very last chapter.  I will try to keep the details vague, but if you’re super worried about spoilers, you might want to skip the next couple of paragraphs.

Towards the end of the game, the main character is painted into a corner by his enemies.  He comes up with a plan:  Under false pretenses, he will lure those enemies to a feast at his home, where they will be ambushed.  When faced with the decision whether to go through with this plan, Jon and I paused the game and proceeded to have a 45-minute long debate about what to do.

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, it’s hard to think of the situation above without also thinking of the Red Wedding.  It’s one of the most memorable and shocking moments in the books and TV show, and the crux of the drama is the violation of Guest Right.  Guest Right is a sacred tradition in the world of Westeros, which dictates that once you’ve welcomed someone into your home and broken bread with them, you are honorbound not to do them any harm.  It’s mentioned in the books and show over and over and over again that violating Guest Right is one of the worst taboos in this world, and I thought for sure that’s what the video game was going for.  Jon, however, was thinking almost entirely in terms of strategy – the circumstances of the story left us with almost no other option but to facilitate this ambush, or else our characters would lose everything.  I countered that if we did this thing, we would lose our honor, and surely that’s the most important thing in Game of Thrones.  We debated for a long time, and in the end, finally chose honor over strategy.  We called off the ambush.

When we finally came to a conclusion and input it into the game, I was mostly just impressed and grateful that a video game could inspire that kind of discussion.  But, we quickly learned that the decision was largely meaningless and it had all been for nothing.  Our choice led to a series of events which circled back to a result which would have been the outcome no matter which decision we’d made.  The game wasn’t worried about “Guest Right” and it wasn’t even concerned with Jon’s precious strategy – the choice we’d labored over turned out to be entirely arbitrary, and just one of many paths which led to the same inevitable plot development.  This was so fucking disappointing to me, and one of this particular game’s most frustrating missteps.

On the other hand, many other choices we made during the course of the game’s six episodes did end up having real long-term consequences.  Most of these choices basically involved deciding whether Character A dies and Character B lives or vice-versa, but when you spend this much time with these characters, that can really matter.  The game never gets as emotionally effective as The Walking Dead, but it certainly has its moments.  There was one scene in particular, at the end of the first episode, which caused us to jump in our seats and gasp in shock.

Click the image below to see some of the other choices we made (the ones I managed to get screenshots of).  Again, spoiler alert!

GoT choices

In the end, the game deemed us cunning strategists:

GoT final stats

That’s mostly Jon’s doing.  He was a great comrade in arms for this game, and I am grateful to him for buying it and playing it with me.  I agree with him that a laptop is not the ideal format for this type of game – I would have much preferred to be able to sit back on the couch and play it on the TV with a real controller in my hand.  And that’s probably exactly what we’ll do when Game of Thrones Season 2 eventually comes out.

Go buy awesome pop punk records from Jon’s label Whoa Oh Records, and check him out playing music on The Chris Gethard Show.

Slender: The Arrival

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