When I finally picked up a copy of Telltale Game’s ongoing, episodic adaptation of Game of Thrones, I was more than a little bit skeptical. Video game adaptations don’t exactly have a reputation for quality, and the last attempt at a Game of Thrones game was considered pretty terrible even without taking its lack of female characters into consideration.
But Telltale Games do things differently, in the best possible way. The game is less of an RPG and more of a visual Choose Your Own Adventure (albeit one with pretty subpar graphics), where the player gets to select dialogue options and character choices, but where the movement itself is mostly out of your hands. It’s focussed on character and plot, and not on fighting at all.
The game has several playable protagonists, all related to House Forrester, bannermen to House Stark struggling to survive after the Red Wedding. Their lord and his heir are both dead, a young boy is now in charge, and the Boltons are threatening to take everything they have left away. Through that young boy lord, a squire who survived the Red Wedding, and Margaery’s handmaid/Forrester daughter Mira, as well as a few extras later on, the game considers the different ways that characters can contribute to, or disrupt, the delicate political web, and how each of their unique positions can help or hinder House Forrester’s recovery.
As the game is built on player decision, with several different options for each conversation or plot path, it’s not really possible to discuss the protagonists as characters. But every choice and struggle raises interesting questions about morality and loyalty, each plotline is tense in its own way, and although none of the playable characters appear in the books, I found myself caring about them as much as about any of the existing characters by the game’s end.
I particularly enjoy Mira’s plotline in King’s Landing, as her attempts to deal with Cersei, Margaery and Tyrion and keep both herself and her house alive are some of the tensest in the game. When you walk across the throne room to face Cersei for the first time, it’s a genuine stomach-in-your-throat moment, and every dialogue choice, every apparent error, is agonizing. She faces big questions about her loyalty — to Margaery, to her house, to herself — and about what she’s willing to risk for each of them, and her gameplay involves a lot of terrifying choices.
There are also lots of interesting supporting female characters in the game — not only those familiar faces from the show and the books, but also original creations, like the new lord’s twin sister, his determined and protective mother Lady Forrester, Margaery’s other ambiguously trustworthy handmaid, and a thief-slash-sellsword with the attitude to match.
It’s hard to say whether game has female friendship, partly because it all depends on player decision, and partly because the full game hasn’t been released yet and so it’s impossible to know who to trust. But that, I think, is an excellent choice as well, especially for Mira. She has to interact with many other characters, male and female, and the player is on edge with every conversation, as they question who might save them and who might cause their downfall. And this murkiness adds a lot to Mira’s characterization, because it forces us to get into her head and choose who to trust ourself.
Of course, the game isn’t flawless. Technically, it’s not much to look at. On the rare occasions that you control a character’s movement, they walk like jerky robots, and this attempt at interactivity often feels unnecessary. The character representations are often rough estimates at best, although this is saved by having the TV actors voice their digital counterparts. You just have to use a bit of imagination for an immersive experience.
But the game isn’t about its graphics. It’s about narrative, and the choices you make, and it really excels there. It captures both the sense of danger and the shocking plots twists of the show, while also making you feel responsible and at risk as the enemies close in. It also understands that female characters play a significant role in the world of Game of Thrones, and makes them an integral part of the game world too.
If you enjoy Game of Thrones, are looking for something bitesized to play (each of the six episodes takes about 2 hours), and don’t mind a bit of sickening tension in your games, Telltale Games’ adaptation is absolutely worth picking up.
Just don’t get too attached to anybody. It is Game of Thrones, after all.