Keyboard GeniusesKeyboard Geniuses is our occasional glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the community’s discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity.  

The Illusionist

This week, Drew Toal reviewed the series premiere of Telltale’s Game Of Thrones. From the sound of it, it’s exactly what we’d expect: all the fantasy-world intrigue of Thrones squeezed into the Telltale mold created with The Walking Dead. One part of the formula that got commenters talking was the sense that the decisions you make don’t do much to affect the overall story. Rankus said, “I enjoyed the high stakes feel of this, but it quickly became clear that the results are the same no matter what you choose, which took the punch out of it for me.” To which Duwease responded:

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that matters.”—Epictetus

That’s a quote that I think applies to life in general, but especially to Telltale games. It’s a common criticism that your actions don’t radically affect the plot, but should you ever play through with two different “personalities,” the narrative comes out remarkably different each time.

It seems strange to say that, but really, isn’t most fiction a story of personalities and relationships? Plot points are always pulled from a pretty small bucket: People want things, they have conflicts over them, they prevail or they don’t, they die. The connecting tissue that you put on the plot skeleton that makes the story unique is the details of the personalities involved and their interactions. And these are the things that the game leaves up to you to color in.

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And Rankus continued the conversation:

I ultimately came around to liking the game, but I expected and would prefer a game where actions have more far-reaching consequences (though maybe they will in the subsequent chapters). The Epictetus quote is apt for the game, given that it seems the major events are fated, and the drama is in choosing the characters immediate attitude about these events or who else will be present in the room when they happen.

That said, I disagree that fiction is about personalities and relationships. A Song Of Ice And Fire, in particular, seems to be about people (who are driven and shaped by personalities and relationships) making difficult decisions about how they can shape the world they live in, and then having to face the consequences of their actions. My favorite George R.R. Martin quote about the series is more or less about this:

“In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.”

So when consequences in the Game Of Thrones game seem predetermined or fated, and not the result of difficult decisions, it seems to be going against the spirit of the series. Once I got over this difference in focus, I could enjoy the first episode, but I am still holding out for a great A Song Of Ice And Fire game.

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Elsewhere, Scarlet Letter expanded on on ApeDrape’s praise for the claustrophobic decision-making in Telltale’s Game Of Thrones:

I think the draw of this game is that it puts you in the moment, and you have to make a decision now. Maybe it doesn’t really affect the story much, but it is an interesting experience, especially for someone as indecisive in their daily life as I am. There were a couple of times in these games where I inadvertently chose the “silent” option, just because I couldn’t decide on an answer. And I felt legitimately nervous during the Cersei and Ramsey scenes.

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In Another Life

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Judging by Samantha Nelson’s review of Warlords Of Draenor, the latest World Of Warcraft expansion is good enough to drag back some players who kicked the habit at some point in the game’s 10-year run. Down in the comments, a few readers wondered how their lives might have played out if they’d been exposed to the WOW bug all those years ago. Commenter dave giovanni was saved by technical difficulties:

Years ago, a good friend of mine got a WOW demo disc and begged me to create an account so we could play together. I resisted and resisted, knowing that I did not need another major addiction in my life.

Finally, I relented—and the download failed. Whew! I’ve never been much of a religious man, but I thanked Jeebus like there was no tomorrow.

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And nich obert recalled a funny story about sticking it to some MMO-playing friends:

I don’t know why but this article reminded me of the time I was hanging out in my friends basement/dark stinky dungeon and watching them play Everquest. Somehow LARPing came up. All five guys were clearly so excited to have a class of nerd they could unequivocally shit on for being “too nerdy.”

Then, I made a comment about how they were pretty much the same as them, except they got sunshine, exercise, and needed to be creative. And I just remember every head turning toward me and slowly cocking in deep, perturbed thought as if I’d just farted out a cloud shaped like a swastika.

In my memory, one of them lets out a high pitched ululating scream, and all of their forked tongues and neck frills unfurled in a threatening manner, and I slowly backed away to the door while trying to maintain eye contact with the Alpha and not stink of fear.

In reality they were more like, “Fuck, that actually makes sense.”

Now Boarding

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Chris Field (AKA CNightwing) attended the The Internationale Spieltage board game fair and reported back on some of the hottest and weirdest games from the show. If you’re looking for board game recommendations, the comments on this article would be a huge help. There’s lots of discussion, breaking down board games of all different types. One long-time commenter, HobbesMkii, even filled us in on a board game of their own design:

Apropos of nothing, I think I may have officially crossed over from weird hobby to amateur game designer last month when I started cranking out complete prototypes and rulesets for my game about electing the Pope in the High Middle Ages to Late Renaissance. I’m now thinking about getting my copyright registered with the Library Of Congress, so I can promulgate it on the web and collect feedback. (Is still calling it “the web” antiquated? I feel like it’s something someone in their 50s would say.)

That said, while I’m happy with how the game has turned out (it’s now something between Dominion and “Magic: the Gathering—Catholic Edition”) there’s a nagging suspicion that I could reduce the game down to a single bare mechanic and change it completely for the better. Right now, the game is heavily about maximizing gold income and decreasing spending costs, and carefully playing effect cards against your opponent to force them into the opposite play style. It moves quickly (about 30 to 45 minutes with three players), but somehow, I think having only one card type would increase the broader appeal.

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Maybe someday it’ll end up at SPIEL, and we’ll all get to talk about “that crazy electing the Pope game” in the comments. That does it for this week, folks. Thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!