On Genre Gaming (or, Why They Should Never Ever Make a ‘Game of Thrones’ Video Game)

Too late for that plea, apparently, but here’s why basically any video game based on A Song of Ice and Fire,* George R. R. Martin’s gloriously grimdark Take That to the heroic fantasy genre and real-life medieval romanticism, is doomed to failure.

The issue comes with the psychology of video games themselves. A video game is meant to be beaten, to at least give some sense of accomplishment for putting time and (rarely more than minimal thumb-twirling) effort into it, whether five minutes beating the next level of Peggle or fifteen bajillion hours grinding towards Blizzard’s latest glass ceiling in World of Warcraft. Even when a game is fundamentally depressing (rarely) or at least a big mind screw you can at least say “well, even if the ending was shit/confusing/nonexistant I still figured out Puzzle X” (*ahem* Braid and Limbo, otherwise quite excellent games).

No specific spoilers, but A Song of Ice and Fire is far and away not conducive to that kind of narrative. It becomes obvious, and I do mean with soul-pulverizing clarity, that Martin’s world is neither happy nor even remotely charitable. Patently evil people enjoy victory after victory and the only nominal “good guys” get utterly shat on for at least the four books that have been published. Sure, there have been hints of future greatness but with Martin’s insatiable thirst for fresh POV-character blood there is hardly a guarantee of anyone important still alive at the end. Not to mention that another clear theme of the series is that “legacies are worth jack,” as dying wishes and hopes are sometimes brutally shoved aside, and maybe sodomized too.

I love this series.

Return of the Weird: Lovecraft's Modern Legacy

It may or may not be a secret that I am a huge fan of the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, and the other writers of pulp fiction who knew him. In contrast to more modern creators of horror, who legitimately frighten with in-your-face monsters and death (but not too obvious)—I'm thinking of the movie The Descent along with Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot, very much inspired by Lovecraft actually—Lovecraft's "cosmic horror" conveys that sense of bleakness in the face of a universe that very much does not give a fuck about you. The realization that mankind's petty notions of morality, our flimsy models and scientific pretexts, all fail to grasp the true unwavering indifference of the rest of reality... that's a pretty weird feeling. And while I don't accept Lovecraft's philosophy that the universe is ultimately unknowable—science marches on!—it's easy to see the creeping horror of just how much of the universe is hostile to human life, or barely comprehensible to human reason.

So where can we find such horror now, if at all? Cinema is awash in the blood of movies like Saw and even legitimately good creepy movies like Paranormal Activity aren't exactly in the same vein as something of the Cthulhu mythos. (And what actual Mythos-inspired movies there are mostly suck, except for the faux-authentic silent-movie adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.) Lovecraftian horror has always been a cult thing (ha!), no matter how broad-based. However, if one knows where to look...