The Ongoing Quest to Make a Video ‘Game of Thrones’

In the never-ending quest to milk George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” franchise for every last piece of Lannister gold, enterprising developers have turned to another medium: Facebook. Via Kate Cox of Kotaku:

“Game of Thrones Ascent will take place in HBO’s version of George R.R. Martin’s sprawling fantasy world. Developer Disruptor Beam plans for the game to focus on the spirit of backstabbing political wheeling and dealing that forms so much of the backbone of the series, by using Facebook’s social connections to let players forge critical alliances. Players take on the role of petty nobles in the Seven Kingdoms, who ‘claim their birthright by choosing which of the great houses they’ll swear allegiance to, securing their holdings, developing their lands and personal reputation, and assigning sworn swords to quests.'”

In the wake of the HBO series’ breakout success, there have alreadybeen several botched attempts to produce a Game of Thrones video game. I’m not much of a gamer these days, but I am a noted sucker for video game tie-ins based on my favorite TV shows; in my younger years, I was fan enough of both The Sopranos and Lost to play their awful, wholly unnecessary video game adaptations to completion.

Game of Thrones is the latest series to draw the attention of game developers. Last year, developer Cyanide released A Game of Thrones: Genesis, a bland real-time strategy game set centuries before the events of the series that used the Game of Thrones setting as the barest of window dressing (masochists can but the game on Amazon for $5). Though A Game of Thrones: Genesis was poorly received, Cyanide got another crack at the series with last week’s new release Game of Thrones, an action RPG that features voicework from several of the HBO series’ actors and a Stan Lee-esque cameo by George R.R. Martin. While both Game of Thrones and its reviews are more impressive than its real-time strategy predecessor – and it includes quests with options that at least attempt to offer some nuance – it’s clearly nothing on the level of, say, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, or even Mass Effect 3.

Why is it so hard to make a video game of Thrones? It’s certainly easy to see why video game developers would be drawn to the Game of Thrones universe: there’s already a large, passionate built-in fanbase, and many of the all-time best video games are set in worlds full of swords and sorcery. But any Game of Thrones adaptation that starts with fighting has already missed the point. We’ve seen how far fighting gets you in Westeros – just ask Khal Drogo or Ned Stark. A Game of Thrones game that invites the player to cut through swaths of cookie-cutter enemies undercuts one of Game of Thrones’ central themes: every death matters, and every killer is risking their life by doing the killing.

The real survivors in Westeros are characters like Tyrion, Varys, or Littlefinger, who have largely shunned swords in favor of politics. That’s the experience that a Game of Thrones game should attempt to replicate, and that’s why Game of Thrones Ascent is the first adaptation of “A Song of Ice and Fire” that has piqued my interest. I’m inherently skeptical of all Facebook games – once Farmvilled, twice shy – but it seems to me that Disruptor Beam’s concept cleverly uses the complex, amorphous social network of our actual lives to replicate the complex, amorphous social network of Westeros. That’s what Game of Thrones does best, and that’s what a video game of Thrones should do, too.