The Artifice https://the-artifice.com www.the-artifice.com Thu, 23 Jan 2020 03:11:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3 Game of Thrones: A Cautionary Tale in Narrative Conclusions https://the-artifice.com/game-of-thrones-a-cautionary-tale-in-narrative-conclusions/ https://the-artifice.com/game-of-thrones-a-cautionary-tale-in-narrative-conclusions/#respond Thu, 23 Jan 2020 03:11:22 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/game-of-thrones-a-cautionary-tale-in-narrative-conclusions/ There’s been much criticism regarding the later seasons of Game of Thrones, as they began being almost completely original instead of adaptive. But the final season in particular has drawn a considerable backlash. I think it would be beneficial to conduct a ‘postmortem’ of sorts into the final season of Game of Thrones: why exactly was it inferior to prior seasons and what could be done to avoid the same pitfalls in the future?

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How Men vs Women Write Feminist Novels https://the-artifice.com/how-men-vs-women-write-feminist-novels/ https://the-artifice.com/how-men-vs-women-write-feminist-novels/#respond Tue, 21 Jan 2020 22:26:33 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/how-men-vs-women-write-feminist-novels/ When reading a feminist novel, or one based on that movement, if differentiates greatly between the gender of the author. Women, I find, speak more passionately about the subject, and are willing to stand up and ridicule the opposite sex with great meaning and intention. However, when a man is writing a book about feminism, it’s through an entirely new set of eyes. He may or may not judge the patriarchy as harshly or express similar views, even though it’s the same concept.

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What makes a ‘good’ story? https://the-artifice.com/what-makes-a-good-story/ Tue, 21 Jan 2020 17:26:05 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/what-makes-a-good-story/ The art and craft of storytelling isn’t something that is ‘known’ but something a writer becomes to learn, with practice. However, stories (as a whole) can be extremely subjective; not every story/narrative is going to be loved by every reader. So: what makes a story ‘great’? What elements of traditional storytelling constitute a good story? Are authors who attempt to undermine these traditions ‘good’ storytellers?

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An Analysis into Screen Adaptations https://the-artifice.com/screen-adaptations/ https://the-artifice.com/screen-adaptations/#comments Tue, 21 Jan 2020 14:42:25 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/?p=136750

As the count of screen adaptations arise, many fans of literature are on the edge of their seats, awaiting their favorite series to be turned into a movie/TV series. The experience of connecting with fictional characters through the telling of their experiences, whether heartbreaking or joyous, creates a bond that motivates a reader to follow the series to a film. Once it is adapted, it can skyrocket in earnings and views, or plummet and fail miserably, and it can be heartbreaking for both loyal readers and directors as well.

However, there is no direct formula or checklist for creating a successful screen adaptation; since, I’ve pondered and compared 4 film/TV series adaptations that were undoubtedly successful, and others that unfortunately were not. Through a broad look at The Twilight Saga, Percy Jackson & the Olympians, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and Game of Thrones the requirements for a successful screen adaptation will be sought for.

Twihards. (source)

The films/series selected have a few things in common besides originating from books. They’re all fiction, and most importantly had a humongous fan base even before being considered for adaptations. All of these book series are best sellers, with millions in sold copies and were the inspiration of other authors, fan fictions, and now the film industry. In most cases, like with Game of Thrones or The Twilight Saga, the film adaptation pleased the existing fanbase and catapulted an increase in the number of fans. On the other hand, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Percy Jackson & The Olympians are examples of the frustration of existing fans as well as the lack of interest of a possible new audience. Here I’ll be opening this discussion by analyzing the different takes in translation from literature to the screen, and the result in numbers.

Be advised that this article contains spoilers for Twilight, Percy Jackson, The Mortal Instruments and Game of Thrones.


The Twilight Saga

The Twilight Saga from left to right: Twilight (2008), New Moon (2009), Breaking Dawn: Part 2 (2012), Breaking Dawn: Part 1 (2011), and Eclipse (2010). (source)

Based on Stephanie Meyer’s 4-book series of the same name, The Twilight Saga directed by Catherine Hardwick (1), Chris Weitz (2), David Slade (3), and Bill Condon (4-5) stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner 1 The story is centered around Bella Swan’s return to Forks, Washington, coming across the Cullen family, and sparking a relationship with Edward Cullen: “Edward warns Bella that she should leave him, but she refuses to listen and to understand why he is saying this. Bella learns his secret. He is a vampire; however, she is not afraid of his blood-thirsty needs and the fact he could kill her at any moment. Bella is afraid of losing him, the love of her life.” 2 Throughout the series, Bella and Edward attempt to maintain their relationship despite obstacles surrounding their differences as vampire and human.

A major point linking the film to the books is that the series remains fairly accurate to the original text. As mentioned, Meyer’s The Twilight Saga had a large fan base prior to the films, and instantly, the first film gathered $392.6 million worldwide at the box office 3, clearly showing the support of its already existing fans. When comparing the films to the text, the changes made to any of the films were minor, keeping the backstories in forms of flashbacks and in a fairly similar sequence of events.

Rosalie Hale (Nikki Reed) takes revenge on her abusive fiancé and his friends in a flashback. (source)

Summit Entertainment and the directors of the film wrote the films to be exactly as pictured by Stephanie Meyer, even having her as one of the producers, creating a consistency between the already existing fanbase and newer fans. This made the film clear in their target audience, and extremely successful, serving as an extension of the existing story rather than a new entity shooting darts at a hopefully loving new fan base.

Many critics arose from this series, criticizing the book/film cliché, antifeminist, and as concluded by The Guardian’s author Kate Muir, “looked at through the lens of the #MeToo generation, there is something to be said for a boy who is not pressuring a teenage girl to have sex. Although it’s worth remembering that although Edward looks 17, he is, in fact, 109 in vampire years… Silverstein also points out that ‘women were angered by Edward’s overprotection and Bella’s acquiescence. Where is her independent streak with Edward that she displays so fervently with her father and friends? Let’s also not forget that Edward watches (some sites have used the word stalk) Bella sleep in her bedroom’.” 4

However, I’ve come to think that what the directors of Twilight (2008) did right above all was to specify their audience. They never meant to please adult women/men, feminists, or to portray a healthy relationship between healthy people. It may be that their target audience, later known as Twihards, which consisted of teenage girls and “Twilight moms” 5 felt enamored by the portrayal of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen’s Romeo and Juliet codependency and obsession. By catering to Twilight’s already existing fan base, it only grew further, which can be seen in numbers as the films went on.

The Twilight Saga cast (from left to right), Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner at the Breaking Dawn: Part 1 Premiere in Los Angeles. (source)

Twilight (2008) was the first of the 5-part film series and gathered a box office of $402 million, and ended with the film’s series finale The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn– Part 2 (2012) with $829 million. 6 In total, The Twilight Saga amassed $3.3 billion in the small amount of five films. 7


Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. (source)

The Lightning Thief first published in 2005 is the first of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians book series. The movie adaptation titled Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief directed by Chris Columbus starred Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, and Brandon T. Jackson. 8 Rick Riordan’s book is based on Percy Jackson’s journey after discovering he’s a half-blood; a half mortal, half God, more specifically the son of a woman and the Greek God Poseidon. In the series, he and his friends Grover Underwood and Annabeth Chase go through a series of challenges that became a refuge of literature to many children.

I should begin by addressing the elephant in the room for anyone who’s familiar with both the book and the film adaptation. It was immensely disappointing, to many Percy Jackson fans, when the take on an immensely adored book was rather inaccurate. To give perspective, Percy, Annabeth and Grover are middle schoolers, so around 12 years old. However, in the film, the actors are grown-ups in their late twenties-early thirties playing high schoolers. When comparing the book and the film, it is still considered an adaptation, but some may argue it is a very loose one. The existing fans were alas disappointed, and their interest in another sequel plummeted just as fast as its box office, since Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief was already so far off the original story of Percy Jackson.

Percy Jackson fan art: Grover, Annabeth and Percy, from left to right. (source)

Since the original audience of The Lightning Thief lost interest in another sequel of the book’s telling of Percy’s story, a newer audience was hard to get. The film adaptation’s target audience is a mismatch of children but also adults; since it does not exactly target the children who’ve read the story, adults or older fans of Percy also have difficulty with the concepts for children. It seems for this one, the director threw a dart at a target audience, and missed the preexisting fans as well as new ones. Though the film was not a total loss, with a budget of $95 million and box office of $223 million worldwide 9, it seems like a gain, though not to its full potential. The sequel, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013) also had a similar budget and had worse results than the first movie. 10

Rick Riordan signing a few of his already sold 20 million copies. (source)

Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympian series, posted this on his website about the film, and why it failed:

I’ve spent the last four years touring the country, talking about the movie. I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of kids. They are all excited about the movie, but they are also anxious. Most of these kids have no idea which studio produces which film, but everywhere I go, they say the same thing: Please don’t let them do to the Lightning Thief what they did to XXXX(another movie from the same producers)Don’t let them change the story. These kids are the seed audience for the movie. They are the ones who will show up first with their families, then tell their friends to go, or not go, depending on how they liked it. They are looking for one thing: How faithful was the movie to the book? Make Percy seventeen, and that battle is lost before filming even begins. 11


The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. (source)

The Mortal Instruments is a series composed of 6 books written by New Yorker Cassandra Clare between 2007 and 2014. The film adaptation, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is an adaptation of the first book, and was directed by Harald Zwart starring Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, and Robert Sheehan. 12 The film as well as the books’ premises consist of Clary Fray (Lily Collins) discovering upon her mother’s kidnapping that she is the daughter of Shadowhunters: a hidden specie part human part angel that keep our world safe from evil creatures such as demons. Clary now must adapt to this new world that her mother hid from her by suppressing her memories, while also searching for her mother with the help of Shadowhunter Jace.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is a case similar to Percy Jackson. The film adaptation was… somewhat accurate to the books: the events in the book happen, though not in the same sequence or portrayal as in the books, and some change entirely. There were also many scenes depicted differently, from description of the supernatural to how “things go down”, and also an acceleration of events. But most importantly, in my opinion, there was very little background of who was who and why does it matter, which all builds up and creates this sub-world so many fans adore. Some examples are: parabatais never get mentioned in the movie, we never get a real sense of Valentine’s relation to other Shadowhunters and the Shadowhunter world other than he’s just the antagonist, we are immediately told Jace and Clary are not related, Simon (Clary’s best friend) turns into a vampire way too soon, and Valentine gets tricked with the Mortal Cup at the end. Unfortunately, all these changes may have cost what could’ve been a successful film series.

Lily Collins with fans at The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones premiere in Berlin. (source)

The target audience is more concrete than Percy Jackson’s, which is why I’d call TMI’s film adaptation a “grayer area”. However, if the target audience was the existing demographic for TMI’s loyal fan base, why change so many aspects in the film?

The movie adaptation, from a budget of $60 million, made $75.9 at the box office. 13 As it can be imagined, there was not a sequel.

Shadowhunters cast members (from left to right) Dominic Sherwood, Katherine McNamara, Matthew Daddario, and Emeraude Toubia. (source)

I’ll briefly mention another adaptation of The Mortal Instruments, a tv series called Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments (2016-2019) created by Ed Decter starring Katherine McNamara, Dominic Sherwood, and Alberto Rosende. 14 The series aimed for TMI’s audience and was successful for three consecutive seasons. However, prefixing my statement with a disclaimer, I personally observed that as the series continued and the events, scenes, and plot of the books were changed, so was there a decreasing interest in the series. Having The Mortal Instruments, which is a very multi-dimensional world be broken down into episodes was brilliant. The first season was fairly accurate to the books, but by the second season, much of the plot had changed.


Game of Thrones

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) with her dragon, Drogon. (source)

Based on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones is a well-known TV series created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, also known as D&D. It stars Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams. 15 It is centered around Westeros, a fantasy world where whoever sits upon the Iron Throne becomes the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, and Game of Thrones tells the tale of many points of views surrounding this game for the throne. Of course, there is more to it, such as the return of an ancient creature that’s been dormant for decades, but that’s part of Game of Thrones’ many dimensions.

Game of Thrones cast members (from left to right) Maisie Williams, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner and Kit Harington at the 2006 Emmys.(source)

I include Game of Thrones as my last source to analyze the failures and successes of screen adaptations because it is one of the most, if not the most, successful translation of text to film. Regardless of whether one is a fan or not, it is commendable the amount of success in numbers and publicity that Game of Thrones has gathered over the years.

From season 1 to 7, the series adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire has been fairly accurate, if not directly in tune with the books pacing, sequence of events, descriptions, et cetera. Of course, it is not an exact tell-a-tale of the books; there are changes in scenes and characters’ physicality, and not all of the background information of Westeros is revealed. But we get background of Westeros, the families, and we see them develop throughout the series.

I believe that, being accurate is not a necessity but perhaps screen adaptations “owe respect”, or a faithfulness to the fan base they’re presenting to. I think an example of this lack of faithfulness is Game of Thrones’ season 8. By season 5 (2015), D&D had to write the series without the guidance of the novels and George R. R. Martin acting as consultant. Without divulging into it too much and attempting to withhold my personal opinion on the season, without a book to go by and little input from George R. R. Martin (as well as his indecisive book ending), season 8 is David Benioff and D. B. Weiss’ telling of how Game of Thrones comes to an end.

In a shift of creation, we lost answers, character arches, more questions arose (where did Drogon take Dany?) and the fan base was left so frustrated that a petition with more than 1.8 million signatures for a remake of the season arose. 16

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) in Game of Thrones’ Season 8 Episode 5. (source)

But overall, Game of Thrones was outstanding in catering to A Song of Ice and Fire’s target audience. Many call it a “pornographic series with a story” but A Song of Ice and Fire was intended for adults, so it’d be bound to have gory violence, some nudity, politics, scandalous plot twists, et cetera. And like Twilight, it delivered exactly what the already existing audience expected. CNN Business author Frank Pallotta wrote, “The viewership for ‘The Iron Throne’ [Game of Thrones’ last episode] includes 13.6 million people who watched the episode on HBO at 9 p.m. Sunday night, making it the most-watched telecast in the network’s history, according to HBO.” 17


While analyzing the subject of what truly encompasses a successful screen adaptation, the one factor I kept coming back to was the importance and power fan bases have. Regardless of how the films turned out at the box office, they gathered an audience the moment the books were chosen for adaptations.

The Mortal Instruments fans. (source)

As Cassandra Clare wrote in her book Clockwork Princess, “One must always be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” 18 Indeed, words on books have transcended pages and expanded to on-screen media where it can change the lives of others. In this expansion, fan bases grow, and said communities grow larger, embracing different people connected by a loyalty or passion for a fantasy world that in hearts, are very much real.

Works Cited

  1. MBheee24. “The Twilight Saga | Film Series.”IMDb, 14 Apr. 2017, https://www.imdb.com/list/ls069069166/.
  2. “Twilight.”IMDb, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1099212/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ql_stry_2.
  3. “Twilight.”Box Office Mojo, https://www.boxofficemojo.com/release/rl58099201/.
  4. Muir, Kate. “Ten Years of Twilight: the Extraordinary Feminist Legacy of the Panned Vampire Saga.”The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 Nov. 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/nov/02/ten-years-of-twilight-the-extraordinary-feminist-legacy-of-the-panned-vampire-saga.
  5. Marks, Lisa. “Lisa Marks: Twilight Spawns a New Film Demographic.”The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 Nov. 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2008/nov/06/twilight-film-demographic.
  6. “Box Office History for Twilight Movies.”The Numbers – Where Data and Movies Meet, https://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Twilight#tab=summary.
  7. “Box Office History for Twilight Movies.”The Numbers – Where Data and Movies Meet, https://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Twilight#tab=summary.
  8. “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”IMDb, 10 Feb. 2010, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0814255/.
  9. “Box Office History for Percy Jackson Movies.”The Numbers – Where Data and Movies Meet, https://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Percy-Jackson#tab=summary.
  10. “Box Office History for Percy Jackson Movies.”The Numbers – Where Data and Movies Meet, https://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Percy-Jackson#tab=summary.
  11. Riordan, Rick. “Memories from My TV/Movie Experience.”Rick Riordan, 16 Nov. 2018, http://rickriordan.com/2018/11/memories-from-my-tv-movie-experience/.
  12. “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.”IMDb, 21 Aug. 2013, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1538403/.
  13. “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013) – Financial Information.”The Numbers, 21 Aug. 2013, https://www.the-numbers.com/movie/Mortal-Instruments-City-of-Bones-The#tab=international.
  14. “Shadowhunters.”IMDb, 12 Jan. 2016, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4145054/.
  15. “Game of Thrones.”IMDb, 17 Apr. 2011, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0944947/.
  16. “Sign the Petition.”Change.org, https://www.change.org/p/hbo-remake-game-of-thrones-season-8-with-competent-writers.
  17. Pallotta, Frank. “’Game of Thrones’ Finale Sets New Viewership Record.”CNN, Cable News Network, 20 May 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/20/media/game-of-thrones-finale-ratings/index.html.
  18. “Cassandra Clare Quotes (Author of City of Bones).”Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/150038.Cassandra_Clare.
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Out of the Ashes: Building New Societies in The Walking Dead https://the-artifice.com/out-of-the-ashes-building-new-societies-in-the-walking-dead/ Mon, 20 Jan 2020 13:34:01 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/out-of-the-ashes-building-new-societies-in-the-walking-dead/ The Walking Dead comic series shows various groups of people trying to form new societies in order to survive the zombie apocalypse. Examine the different types of societies in the show (Woodbury, The Kingdom, The Hill, Terminus, etc.) and how they form and sustain their societies as well as the flaws that inevitably lead to their downfall at the hands of the Walkers.

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When the protagonist is the most interesting character https://the-artifice.com/when-the-protagonist-is-the-most-interesting-character/ Sat, 18 Jan 2020 13:33:55 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/when-the-protagonist-is-the-most-interesting-character/ It’s almost a cliche at this point that the central characters in any story are rarely the most interesting ones. More often than not they tend to be relatively bland, and the story grows out of their interactions with a cast of more interesting side characters. However, every so often a protagonist will end up being the most interesting character in their story. For instance, in Osamu Tezuka’s “Buddha” manga, the Buddha is actually one of the more well-rounded and relatable characters, even given that the legends about him tend to paint him as an almost perfect, untouchable being. What are some other examples of this phenomenon, where the main protagonist really is the most interesting, or one of the most interesting, characters? What is it about them that makes them so interesting?

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In Defense of the Absurd in comedy https://the-artifice.com/in-defense-of-the-absurd-in-comedy/ Fri, 17 Jan 2020 13:38:25 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/in-defense-of-the-absurd-in-comedy/ The early forms of comedy in mass entertainment (vaudeville, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges) were unapologetically absurd. They embraced silliness. We see that tradition in more modern British comedy (Monty Python, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore). And yet, American comedy seems to suffer from an unwillingness to be silly, as if silliness is somehow beneath us. There are notable exceptions of course (The Simpsons, Steve Martin’s early standup), but, by and large, we seem to be mired in a bog of socially relevant comedy, or rigidly responsible satire. Where’s the silliness? Is comedy allowed to be funny for funny’s sake? And here, I’m referring mostly to film and sitcoms, not to stand up comedians who are as varied in their style as they have always been.

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Identity and Loss: Beloved https://the-artifice.com/identity-and-loss-beloved/ Fri, 17 Jan 2020 13:37:20 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/identity-and-loss-beloved/ Explore the nature of personal identity in Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved.” This could include the nature of the character Beloved, notably in her relationships with other characters (most importantly Sethe) and her opaque origins. Additionally, the book can be examined for commentary on the dehumanizing effect of American slavery on African American identity, and how this effect lingers, thus making “Beloved” resonant.

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Crusader Kings II: The Necessary Evils of Medieval Politics https://the-artifice.com/crusader-kings-ii/ https://the-artifice.com/crusader-kings-ii/#comments Fri, 17 Jan 2020 12:58:01 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/?p=137003 Crusader Kings II

Transcending time and reality, video games as a medium provide an utterly unique glimpse of life in historical periods and other worlds, while calling upon our unique knowledge and experiences to invoke our alter egos. But sometimes in doing so, they manage to arouse, indulge, and even encouragesome of our darkest impulses.Suchis so inCrusader Kings II(CKII),a medieval grand strategy game wherein the player guides a family of nobility through the trials and tribulations of the Dark Ages. In doing so, one quickly learns the intense dangers of the world they inhabit: war, famine, disease, intrigue, rebellion, chaos and death are the rules rather than the exceptions. Survival hinges on one using every lever of power available to them, exploiting every weakness, and eschewing every moral boundary that would hold you back. In the chaotic world of the Dark Ages,CKII urges you towards whatever is necessary to cling onto the relative safety of the throne, and in doing so, highlights how ignoble nobility truly was.

Baby Steps in the Shadows

The core gameplay element ofCKIIconsists of you – the head of a medieval noble house – expanding the power and influence of your family across the world. ‘Why do I want to?’ you may ask. The answer is brutally simple: if you don’t, others will! There are literallyhundredsof other families in the world vying for the same thing, so it’s only a matter of time before the fragmented lands of the 8thcentury start to form large kingdoms; you’d do well to be one of them. Otherwise, you will wind up a vassal of one such kingdom; forced to abide by their laws and decrees under the threat of having your lands, freedom, and/or head taken from you.

Crusader Kings II
Work like this is what a player will typically use to begin forging their empire in Crusader Kings II.

With that goal in mind, the first goal one typically works towards in a new game is to subjugate their neighbor. One needs a claim on the land to do this. There do exist legally permissible ways of acquiring one: you could marry into the ruling family with the hopes of them having a child of your dynasty with a claim on the land, you could have the head of your faith sanction a claim upon them, and the like. But by far the easiest, quickest, and most common method of getting a claim is to send your chancellor – your realm’s head diplomat – to fabricate one via “bribing, cajoling, extorting, threatening, and forging documents…” 1. To do so is as easy as clicking a few buttons, and despite its fabricated nature, the claim is just as good as any other. The ease of this action makes it the go-to option for early expansion; to forgo this method would be a severe handicap upon the player. In making this illegal, clandestine option the most accessible and rapid, the game is implicitly encouraging players to utilize it over other methods which may take longer, have more prerequisites, and may not even work in the end due to unforeseen events. It is at this moment in time, when one realizes how easy it can be to grasp for greater power, that the game starts to encourage the amoral side of its players.

Speak Softly and Carry a Small Dagger

Whilst your realm begins to take shape, you will sooner or later be forced to contend with troublesome individuals who in some way threaten your rule. These can take the form of powerful vassals who are discontent with you, foreigners who hold a claim to your throne, invasive neighbors, marauding adventurers, and the like. In all cases, there exist several options for one to contain the situation at hand. But perhaps the most straightforward method is to simply arrange an “accident” for the troublemaker in the form of a Plot. An Assassination Plot involves several individuals working in tandem to kill off a common rival of theirs. Successfully assassinating a character without being caught can instantly end several problems; a rowdy vassal may be replaced with a more content one, a troublesome contender can be put down forever, a war can be ended in a single day.

Crusader Kings II
Notice the small knife icon to the top left of the textbox. This is the button to plot an end to another’s life…

The benefits are aplenty, and the game does not shy away from this fact; indeed, it againimplicitlyencourages said behavior by making these actions especially accessible. It is possible to target almost anyone with an Assassination Plotfor any reason you wish, whereas other options may have prerequisites to enact or may simply beunavailableif the threat is a distant one. The ‘Arrange Plot’ button is also shown right on the character screen, the first window you see when selecting someone, while other diplomatic options are hidden in menus several clicks away. To top it all off, a failure to kill the target doesn’t necessarily entail a complete loss; the plotters will simply try again. Even if you are outed as a conspirator, the consequencesvary wildly depending on the circumstances.You may very well lose your head or end up in a brig, but sometimes you’ll just get a firm finger-waggling, or an order to stop by your liege lord. You may even get away with it entirely, as those responsible for reprimanding you may be otherwise busy with their own affairs. If you happen to be the lord of your own independent realm, you oftentimes sufferno consequencesat all, since foreign threats may not be in a position to challenge you and domestic ones can’t really complain to authorities that work for you!

The Promised Land of Gold

Crusader Kings II

The implicit endorsement of amoral behavior and thought inCKIIis so thorough, it even manages to rear its head in the game’s titular feature: Crusades, Jihads, and Great Holy Wars. These massive events trigger on a regular basis every few decades, pitting entire faiths against one another in what quickly become the largest conflicts of any given game. Only the head of a given faith – the Catholic Pope, the Caliph of Islam, theKohenGadolof Judaism,etc. – may declare these wars, calling upon all their faithful to fight in the name ofGod! Butoften times,this motive hits a set of familiar snags: these wars aretypicallyfought over hotly contested regions that – depending on your location – may be thousands of miles away, involve tens of thousands of soldiers, and can drag on for years without end.

With this in mind, ‘fight in the name of God!’ may not be a strong incentive for the player, who must still contend with threats much closer to home. In fact, there once was a time wherein it was more advantageousnotto embark on Crusades,as this made it easier to assail rivals who did decide to participate; now helpless with theirtroopsmonths away from home. This recently became apparent to the game’s developers – Paradox Interactive – who then decided to patch in a baser, yet much more powerful alternative motive: ‘fight for theriches’.

Crusader Kings II
The top left value under “War Chest” indicates the total gold accrued by the attacking side. It represents an immense fortune; one that could set a family up for generations.

As of the most recent version of the game, Crusades and their equivalents feature amassivecache of resources assembled some years before the war begins. If the Crusade is won, that cache is distributed to the victorson the basis ofparticipation in the war. If the Crusade is lost,allof it is wasted. Thus, the player is incentivized to fight for victory as hard as they can, not in the name of God, but for the chance at a treasure trove that could set their family above all others for several generations. You also face little retribution for hostile actions against religious enemies during Crusades; letting your soldiers rob merchants of their wares is usually considered atrocious, but it is forgiven when on a Crusade against that merchant’s faith. All these factors compound to make these ‘holy wars’ holy in name and name alone, as the real motives of such are typically far from holy and firmly rooted in personal gain.

The Demons Wear the Crowns

Withall this being said, letus take a moment to consider what history has said of kings:

The state of monarchy is thesupremestthing upon earth, for kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself they are called gods… In the Scriptures, kings are called gods, and so their power, after a certain relation, compared to the Divine power. Kings are also compared to fathers of families; for a king is trulyparenspatriae [parent of the country], the politic father of his people. And lastly, kings are compared to the head of this microcosm of the body of man…

– James I of England 2
Crusader Kings II

I am born in a rank which recognizes no superior but God, to whom alone I am responsible for my actions; but they are so pure and honorable that I voluntarily and cheerfully render an account of them to the whole world.

Richard I of England 3

Such lofty language is indeed consistent with the theory of the divine right of kings, which declares that a king is chosen by God or may even be divine himself. As being such, he is validated at the highest level as being ‘pure’, ‘honorable’, and ‘the politic father of his people’. He is the beacon of light on Earth that all men should aspire to be. Never has this theory met a mangling more savage than the one given to it byCKII. This game utterly shatters the notion that a king – or any aristocrat for that matter – is inherently righteous, honorable, or good. To be a noble in this game means to forsake whatever notions of morality you have in a day-to-day battle for survival. Murder, bribery, blackmail, theft, warmongering, and more are what define a medieval ruler’s reign. The pretense to nobility is exactly that; a pretense and nothing more.CKIIillustrates this by taking its players and dropping them headfirst into the hellish quagmire of the Dark Ages and asks them to tame it the best way they see fit. But what it stays silent on is that thebestways are almost always thebadones, and in doing so, itdemonstrates tous what it really meant to sit upon a throne with a goldencrown rested on your brow. 4

Works Cited

  1. Crusader Kings II, 3.3.0(XDS W), PC, 2012 (original release), Paradox Interactive
  2. Prothero, G.W. “James I.” Then Again, 2005, www.thenagain.info/Classes/Sources/JamesI.html.
  3. Duncan, Jonathan. “The Dukes of Normandy, from the Times of Rolls to the Expulsion of King John.” The Dukes of Normandy, from the Times of Rolls to the Expulsion of King John, edited by Joseph Rickerby, pp. 290–291.
  4. SPECIAL MENTIONS: I would like to personally thank Professor Edward Wesp of Western New England University for helping me in the initial formulation of this piece and his tutelage in gaming narrative, and my friend Laurie Messer for her help in editing and proofreading.
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The Masked Hero https://the-artifice.com/the-masked-hero/ Thu, 16 Jan 2020 12:16:48 +0000 https://the-artifice.com/the-masked-hero/ With The Mandalorian being so successful, what other examples of a protagonist concealing their identity have really struck a chord with audiences? Obviously, an intriguing trait in terms of mystery, are there any other reasons why this has been successful in The Mandalorian? Moreover, what’s the purpose of using a masked hero? What changes when the main protagonist is unmasked? Is there a downside?

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