Constructing Characters with Game of Thrones

There are three things I know about Game of Thrones, the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series:

1. The Red Wedding is some fucked up repugnant shit that basically puts an end to House Stark.

2. Tyrion Lannister is a badass by default, if for no other reason because he is played by Peter Dinklage, who I’ve adored ever since his breakout role.

3. Characters die indiscriminately all the damn time.

Armed only with those three bits of information, I delved into the first two episodes of Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series.

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A visual representation of my knowledge of the series.

Right off the bat, we are introduced to one Gared Tuttle, a squire to Lord Gregor Forrester. He is the player’s avatar in this world and all of the decision-making in the first part of Episode 1 is from his perspective. Just like in the other Telltale Games entries since The Walking Dead, the character is shaped within the parameters of the story by the player’s response to different character interactions and situations.

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If someone were to ask me what Game of Thrones is about, this is also a pretty good visual representation of my reaction.

We meet Gared literally minutes before The Red Wedding occurs and, as he is loyal to House Forrester, itself loyal to House Stark, things don’t go very swimmingly for him. He is quickly thrust into a world of chaos and uncertainty, which is absolutely a great place to suddenly drop the player into the narrative. We spend our time establishing our own sense of place in this strange world and adjust to what sort of person we want Gared to be and represent. Big decisions are made about the path that Gared will walk and when the time comes for Gared to embrace his destiny and move forward, we…

…switch characters.

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I’m hoping she can see where they’re going with this better than me.

That’s Mira Forrester, eldest daughter of House Forrester and handmaiden to Lady Margaery Tyrell. The transition from Gared to Mira is unexpected and, for me, a bit clunky. Still, I did find it interesting that we are now looking at the same narrative from two different perspectives and two different locales. After all, Game of Thrones draws heavily from history (I think) and warfare and political maneuvering varied greatly depending on different factors like social standing, sex and gender, and location. So I’ll bite.

The next part of Episode 1 is spent establishing the character of Mira Forrester: her personality, priorities, loyalties, etc. Basically what we just did with Gared, but with a different sort of environment to be aware of. Whereas Gared is an aspiring soldier, Mira must navigate the arguably more treacherous world of bureaucracy and diplomacy, where her every action is scrutinized and a mild social faux pas could have far-reaching consequences. We familiarize ourselves with King’s Landing and begin to understand Mira Forrester’s role in the narrative and then…

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…Yeah, me too, buddy.

Ethan Forrester is the third-born son of House Forrester who, through a series of unfortunate events, is made Lord of House Forrester at a very young age. During the last section of Episode 1, we (once again) establish all the things we need to establish about who Ethan is and how he responds to his abrupt and tragic elevation of status. He sort of bridges the gap between Gared and Mira, since he has to decide early on whether or not to take a more proactive and battle-ready approach or act in the interest of diplomacy, with the primary concern being protecting his family and house from the fallout of The Red Wedding. Things aren’t easy for him, and it’s definitely an uphill battle, but by making careful choices and acting accordingly and with resolve we…

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…well, shit…

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series is an ambitious experiment in story-driven gaming in that it asks the player to assume several different roles, all active voices in the same overarching story. What little I know about Game of Thrones and its character-driven narrative suggests that this is a good decision, emphasizing the importance of interweaving actions that result in a dramatic story of cause and effect.

However, with the medium of video games having almost always been driven by the player assuming a single autonomous role in any given story, there are also several problematic components to consider. Chief among them: just how immersed are we meant to be? If we look at The Walking Dead’s Lee Everett as an avatar representative of the player, then Gared Tuttle is the Game of Thrones parallel. Both characters have a fixed past prior to the player assuming their roles, but there is clearly room to define and shape the character according to the player’s own sense of self and move forward from there. For all intents and purposes, they are blank slates.

Gared’s function as avatar is disrupted with the inclusion of Mira and Ethan Forrester. The focus shifts away from being an active player in a story and toward being a controller of characters in a video game. The game does attempt to let you establish your own Mira and your own Ethan, just as with Gared, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the game has now become less about interacting with the world for the sake of story immersion and more about “winning” some larger endgame. You’re no longer acting and reacting to the story and its characters, you’re building your own D&D team and you’re also kind of the dungeon master.

There is also the abundant source of canon to consider. I started this game knowing very little about Game of Thrones, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Drew (who is very familiar with the eponymous television series) made his decisions. Does the extensive knowledge of the series encourage players to stay on the path of R.R. Martin’s universe? Is it even possible to actually disrupt the canon and create something new? Do the Forresters even exist in the Game of Thrones canon? Is it “cheating” to use all that knowledge about canon in order to progress?

On our upcoming installment of Ready or Not, Drew and I will discuss whether those varying factors result in a beautifully executed game that pushes the medium of interactive narrative, or whether those same factors result in an unfortunately transparent, and therefore superficial, narrative that trips over its own convoluted ambition.

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