The Treatment: Game of Thrones

There are a lot of great movies, TV shows, and books that would make for great games.  Some of them have been given a decent treatment in the world of video games, many however, have not.  Today we’re introducing a new series wherein we’ll be taking franchises that have either never had a video game treatment, or have never been given treatment we think it deserves.  With that said, let’s begin with a challenging and relevant case; Game of Thrones.

First let me say that yes, I am aware that there are many GoT licensed games either available now, or currently in the works already.  The Telltale Games adventure game is one that I think most of us find to be extremely exciting.  That said, I’d love to see a GoT game as sprawling and nuanced as the books (and the show, of course).

The Reasoning

As any GoT fan is well aware, George R.R. Martin has created a series that bends the rules of storytelling in a couple of really interesting ways.  First and foremost, no GoT character is ever safe from death…ever.  The hero winning the day is never a foregone conclusion, and the bad guy getting what they deserve is often a luxury we don’t get to experience (although Sunday’s episode of the HBO show proved that sometimes karma truly is a bitch).  Secondly, Martin makes decisions feel like they have a weight in a way that is unlike many writers today.  Events from the first book of the series have affected events directly and indirectly since they happened.  Things set in motion thousands of pages ago are still affecting the ever changing landscape of Westeros and beyond.  These two principals will be key parts of our treatment.

In addition, there are two other notable points about GoT.  One, there simply aren’t that many battles.  Sure, there is a fairly significant amount if you add all of them up, but no one character is involved in all of them.  Some happen beyond the wall, others in King’s Landing, and others still across the narrow sea.  Two, there are a lot of important characters in the series, and none of them could really be said to be the main character.  Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and Daenarys Targaryen are probably the closest things, but that’s not to say that Jaime, Cersei, Arya, Sansa, Varys, Littlefinger, et. al. are nobodies.  This is a series created from a rich tapestry of characters and interactions.  It’s impossible to do justice to the series without first understanding this.

The Treatment

I have a feeling that the sentiment I’m about to express may not be a popular one, but here it is.  The best possible treatment for a true Game of Thrones video game adaptation starts with The Sims.  There, I said it.  Oh god, I actually said it.  Before you send me to the wall, let me explain…

First off, GoT is too rich a franchise to force the player into one storyline.  Playing as Jon Snow or another Night’s Watchman won’t tell the story of King’s Landing or the rebirth of the dragons.  The same would be true playing as a protector for the Khaleesi, or as a member of house Lannister or Stark.  No one storyline makes GoT great, therefore no single storyline can be the focus of the game.  Secondly, Game of Thrones is about the characters created by George R.R. Martin, not some character created by you, the player.  As long as you exist in the same world as Jaime Lannister, you’ll never be the most interesting character in the storyline.  Third, as I stated before, there isn’t all that much combat for any one character in GoT.  Attempting to shoehorn in enough battles to make the game feel “fun” would also make the game feel less like Game of Thrones and more like Skyrim or Dynasty Warriors.  Great games maybe, but not games created in the spirit of GoT.

Given those hurdles, I think that the gameplay style of The Sims best captures the spirit of the series.  The player starts with gameplay The Sims gameplay but with all the mundane, everyday parts stripped out(you know, using the chamber pot, treating your gouty feet, having a go with your sister).  Those activities would be replaced with more intriguing ones (pushing a child out of a tower window, for instance) giving the player the power to control any character in the series at any time.

The game’s setting would begin where the first book begins and the engine would be set up such that if the player chose not to actively control any character, the story would play out exactly as it would in the books.  Taking control of characters though, the player would be able to make different choices than were made in the books, resulting in those same weighty repercussions.  What would Westeros look like without the red wedding?  What would it look like if Daenarys never walked into the flames and emerged the mother of dragons?

In my treatment of Game of Thrones, the player would be able to control the actions of virtually any notable character in the series, influencing their choice of actions throughout the story.  Deaths would be permanent but would not result in the game ending.  Much like The Sims, the game could be paused, and actions could be queued up for multiple characters at once.  Pause the game, have Joffrey slap Tyrion, jump to the wall, have Jon Snow flee from a battle instead of standing his ground, jump to Roose Bolton and have him make a different choice during the wedding.  It’s all in your hands.

The Conclusion

I was really excited with the idea of writing this series, but I now realize that it’s more challenging than I expected.  My take on GoT probably isn’t the most popular one.  It’s also very technically challenging.  The game’s engine would have to pitch-perfectly recreate the personalities of the major GoT characters far beyond just scripted events.  Joffrey would have to act like Joffrey regardless of what happened around him.  That said, this isn’t supposed to be a realistic take on the series, it’s just supposed to be the one I believe would be the coolest (given no limitations).  I wracked my brain thinking of a what would best fit the spirit of the series.  For all it’s silliness, The Sims presents a unique style of gameplay that suits itself very well to the world that Martin created.  Again, the biggest challenge was that no one thing is what makes Game of Thrones special, but rather it’s ability to shift tone, setting, and story constantly, giving readers and viewers something new and interesting behind every turn.  Allowing players to use the world Martin created as their own stage for comedies and tragedies seems like the best fit for what is probably the most challenging fantasy series we’ll experience for a long time.