What Game of Thrones Does Well

For a while, I’ve been wondering what makes Game the TV show work as well as it does. The viewership of Game of Thrones has increased each successive year. Something about the show accounts for that. I tried for a really long time to figure something out, beyond the basic stuff. I hadn’t started watching the show up until a few months ago. Then a book gave me what I was missing.

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Historically, channels like HBO chose shows with a narrower market than network television. Fewer viewers, but more dedicated viewers. Game of Thrones grew far beyond the expectations. A fantasy series isn’t supposed to have 25 million paid viewers. Something special was there. This is my understanding of what makes Game of Thrones successful.

 

Most pieces of wildly successful fiction arrive in time to resonate with a trend in society. Take Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It was released at a point where it could get traction. The thriller genre was filled with long established authors. The readers wanted something new. That desire mobilized a high number of sales. Also, there was a push to talk more about the lives of woman. How the world’s expectations of woman could start to be discussed and deconstructed. The other aspects of its success are probably lost on me. A good story, prior books, and an established voice are all prerequisites, but lucky timing takes a book one step further.

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A few events can be inferred as the reason Game of Thrones was so successful. The fear of terrorism is increasing. It seems like every year, some terrorist action takes place. There’s increasing fear of allowing in refugees displaced because of war. Small groups of people have more capability to hurt others. The number of mass shooting around America is troubling. Everything just seems less safe. And Game of Thrones resonates with that uncertainty. The plot of Game of Thrones is basically who should be King. No choice of successor feels right.

 

This is a time of uncertainty. Russia is making a power play in Ukraine, Syria, and maybe even in America. The United States isn’t as powerful as it once was simply because of the active conflicts we’re involved in at this time. America has been in a continual war since 2001. Then the emergence of China as a superpower and the possibility of India joining that rank somewhere down the line. Such a huge shuffling of power hasn’t happened for a quarter of a century. Again the uncertainty echoes with the story of Game of Thrones.

 

The power of the internet is finally getting recognized. Everyone now has a voice to say anything they want. It’s highly likely that at least some like-minded people will agree with your voice. We’re in a world where anything can be printed with the authority of a newspaper without any truth based sources. There are so many distractions than ever before, and people are becoming numb to it. We want to go back to a time of less confusion. We want more clarity. That gives rise to the interest in mindfulness and other meditative practices. In the world of Game of Thrones, everything is much clearer. Everyone knows there place, whether Lord, King, or peasant. Everyone has clearer allegiances than in the world we live in. And it’s very difficult for one person to change anything. We find the stability comforting at times. Things changing about when we expect them to.

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The threat of hacking is troubling. The average computer user finds the whole thing unnerving. Everything that seems stable could suddenly crumble with a misplaced click. For years, we didn’t really have to worry about computer security. Now, it routinely hits the news. A big company is hacked and customer information is lost. The possibility that hacking played a role in the previous election. Sometimes wouldn’t it be nice if we could see our enemies coming at us? In Game of Thrones, you always see it coming. That’s all I could come up with at the time of writing this.

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Recently, I’ve been reading The Mists of Avalon. I found a ton of similarities between the book, Mists of Avalon and the TV show, Game of Thrones. Everything I’ve heard says the show basically follows the plot of the book. Game of Thrones is just a handful of iterations beyond Mists of Avalon as Mists of Avalon is a few iterations beyond Le Morte d’Arthur.  Both stories have a similar geographic and political setting. We have a High King or King of the Seven Kingdoms. Then a lot of Lesser Kings or Lords rule under the principle King. We have a wall protecting the Kingdom from Northern invaders. Then finally a horde attacking from across the sea. The Norseman or Dynerays fills that role.

That paradigm has been repeated over and over again throughout history. We have ancient China. The Great wall protected China from the Mongols. South of the Great Wall, we had a country ruled by the feudal system. Then that of Japan before the Meiji Era. Japan had a feudal system sheltered against foreign invaders by the ocean surrounding the island. After the Meiji Era, the feudal period ended. Then the case of India which was largely protected by the Himalayas. India had a feudal system before British colonization/occupation. Then the Greek civilization. Protected by the Alps, they also had a feudal system. I would probably even argue that a feudal system only arises when some wall or natural barrier protects the civilization from frequent outside attack. Nothing unites people better than a common enemy.

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Both stories are about the end of polytheism and the beginning of monotheism. In Game of Thrones, we have the Septons as the priests for the Seven Old Gods. The Melisandre for the Lord of Light, the one true God. In Mists, we have the Goddess and the Horned One. They each take on different forms depending on their duties. Then, the God of the Christian faith.

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There’s a character that’s capable of uniting people more than anyone else in history. We have King Arthur and Daenerys Targaryen. In Mists, Arthur unites the people of Avalon, the people of the Lesser Kings, the Hill People, and a few other groups. Daenerys has the backing of disaffected people from the Seven Kingdoms, a few of the Dothraki, a mass of freed slaves, a group of mercenaries, and she’ll probably gather more followers before attaching the Seven Kingdoms.

 

In both pieces of fiction, the side we’re rooting for always loses. The protagonist of Mists is frequently Morgaine or Morgan Le Fey. She is a representative of the Old Religion. In Mists, we know that Christianity ultimately overthrows what came before. Marion Zimmerman Bradley tries giving a positive end through the epilogue, but it still feels like defeat to me. We know it’s going to happen, but the side of the protagonist loses. In Game of Thrones, a few characters seem slightly better than the average. We invariably root for those characters. An idea about Game of Thrones is that the good guys lose and the most ruthless win. We can’t help but want the good people to win. Frequently that doesn’t happen, but we still hope.

We never really know who’s going to survive. That happened once in Mists too. In most TV shows, the show runners always survive. Captain Kirk is never killed unless they can revive him. Usually, disposable characters are invented right before they die. Game of Thrones changes that usual dynamic. Frequently, show runners or major characters are killed off. Granted that only happens in the last two episodes of a season, but one or multiple characters could be on the chopping block. That adds a little excitement whenever there’s a fight. Any blow could mean death.

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I think Game of Thrones works because it came at the right time. Society is in such a way that people are drawn to the show this post has been about. And it tells a nearly timeless story. A country feuding on internal matters and forgetting threats from the outside. Good storytelling is of paramount importance. None of the other aspects matter if the story isn’t good in its own right.

 

The next question is, can that example be used to inform fiction writing? How do we write a story that resonates with society? I think it’s about luck. Writing something within a few months of an event is nearly impossible. I think luck is the only way. Knowing about the trends in society might help. Writing more books helps. Getting out helps. Knowing things helps. Writing different things helps. Getting something published, getting your name out there, finding an audience are all prerequisites of course.

 

What about writing an ageless story? There are already a few out there. A small force overcoming a bigger enemy. Someone triggering an event accidentally while trying to stop it. Getting people to join a cause and fight by your side. People surviving by hurting others. The darker tendencies that come out under pressure. That alone won’t get you anywhere.

 

I think I’ll just write what I feel passionate about. Maybe that won’t work so well. But just maybe it will.

Chocolate Dreams as Nightmare

A warm oak booth surrounds me. We wait in some eating place, Claire and I, holding hands across the narrow table. Someone drops off a plate of chocolate, containing one piece, shaped into a lightning bolt. We each grasp a side and break it off. The chocolate held on the precipice of our mouths, offers us a reflection of each other. We communicate words to each other by some inexplicable means. We know each other so well.

Are you ready?

What about you?

Do it.

Do it together.

We nod in unison. The chocolate falls off the precipice into the abyss below. We intensely look at each other, any wavering destined to failure as the chocolate tests us with temptation. I feel drowsy as the sinister effect starts taking to which I look more closely at her. Everything about that face, every describable detail fills my head. There must be something else.

I focus on her eyes. The cornea, a thin covering of a sensitive looking glass, shines back at me a mini reflection of the environs, a whole universe. The iris forever protects the pupil from extremes in light, gracefully changing to match the needs of its partner. Dark brown in its nature. They are incredibly more exquisite than that, the dance between varying colors of olive, ochre, and onyx. The iris is but a simple ring of innumerable complexity enhanced with a fade to dark at the edge.

The chocolate is too strong for me. This isn’t the end, tis more work needed between us. I drown in the taste, the extreme sweetness of white chocolate — nothing getting in the way, except more coco butter. The richness of it gives way to nutty flavor, the sweetness receding to a more complex sensation. The gradation moves to the darker end, flavors swinging further, more coffee like. A burnt taste takes over the amorphous completely. I can’t breathe.

I try to cough, signal anyone with Claire’s eyes closed in enjoyment. I rise up and find some help. Nothing working, I desperately return to the booth. Claire approaches me. My plight apparent, she grabs my arm with a soft touch so I feel pain and collapse.

A room meets my opening eyes, a room open to the high jungle, continually bathed in mist, moisture beading on the white walls, carved stone like. The small room houses a dozen or so tropical plants growing up from the ground. I sit at a table aside Claire, a table dominated by its floral inhabitance. It stands as a topiary cradling an iridescent glass covered tray. The perfect place for the resident moss, submerged in a pool of water, rippling and shimmering. Someone else sits across the table though I can never figure out whom.

“Mr. Abby, you have a swallowing dysfunction. I recommend monthly treatment with moss to prevent continually choking. Would you like to try some?”

The who opens up the moss habitat. I reach in the cool water — a welcome break from the hot, humid room — grasp a piece and let it disconnect from the colony. Still dripping, I position it under my tongue, wipe my face with the back of my arm, and shake it off. I fish out the moss and gently reintroduce it to the environment. Claire looks at me.

Are you ready to attempt eating something?

Yes.

Here’s a cracker.

Thank you.

The cracker goes in my mouth. The salt comes on first, the mild sweetness, and as digestion begins, grows sweeter. The crunch of the dry cracker, broken, breaking down into crumbs sounds through my ears until I chew everything out thoroughly as choking is not an option.

I swallow it in small portions. Everything goes well. First one is good, now, on to the next allocation, swallow, try to make it go down right, and fail. I can’t breathe. I try getting help. They aren’t looking. I try everything, nothing working. Claire holds my hand with both of hers, oblivious to my situation. I feel myself fading away.

The Influx of Technology and How it Changes Us.

Technology has changed so much in the span of my lifetime. From 1989 to 2017 isn’t that long, and everything before took much longer than the span of a life. In 1995, we were using Apple II’s and Windows 95 on absurdly expense desktops. A monitor a CRT monitor, a tube TV hooked up to a box the size of a handful of college textbooks. And no internet except that annoying sound of a dial-up connection that wasn’t easy to use. Then fast forward 5 years, and we have the first laptops that people actually use in everyday life. Then 7 years more and we have smartphones. Now almost everyone has a cell phone. It doesn’t matter where you look across the globe. In some places, they skipped the whole personal computer and went straight to phones instead.

 

This blog post isn’t about the technology, but what it does to people. What having an internet connection always at our fingertips does to us? That quickly gets to the idea that it matters what we do with the available tech out there. Technology is a tool and the effects are controlled by the user. The technology isn’t evil. The way we use it can be.

 

We’re connected all the time, and there’s an expectation that we’ll be reachable at most times. It seems unusual that someone can’t be reached unless they don’t want to be. But connection is still possible. And distance doesn’t mean what it used to. From across the world, it can feel like you’re in the same room. Using things like video chat, texting, e-mail, and phone calls. The latency, the time between sending something a receiving a reply, has really shortened. A letter takes anywhere from 3 to 7 days, and an e-mail takes a few seconds, and it’s free. Things could get even better with telepresence. Where you can remotely control a robot and facetime with anybody you run into or your robot runs into.

 

I should probably say I’m a smartphone Luddite, because I lack the physical ability to use one. I have a smartphone and use another person’s help to operate the device. I use a laptop with a drawing tablet and click with the other hand. That’s how I’ve written everything as a writer. The mental overhead of using an on-screen keyboard is exhaustive, but you can adjust to anything, right? I check my phone three times a day and that’s basically all the interaction I have with the smartphone thing.

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Stock from Unsplash, Adam Birkett. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

The other side of that is the constant distraction. A smartphone is a device designed to get your attention when something important happens. I know phones have a ton of settings about when and how to get your attention. The issue with that is the average user doesn’t meddle with deeper settings except for ringer volume. We’ll talk about a typical user. The phone is always with you and asking for attention. Unlike an actual person, you don’t actually know why the device wants your attention. And the whole thing is addictive. I’m probably using too strong a word.

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Stock from Unsplash, Rosalind Chang. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

When your phone rings, there’s a need to answer. After five rings, the person calling goes to voicemail. Something like a text doesn’t carry the same urgency. There’s more time between each action. There’s an associated sound when each message comes. And each time that beep goes off, you know a message came in. It’s basically training. The beep is slowly associated with a message and eventually what you feel reading a message. Reading a message feels good. And then we crave that beep. Sometimes something strange happens. You hear that distinctive beep, check your phone, and there isn’t a message. Or something else makes a similar beep and you suddenly feel happy.

 

And the beep isn’t the end of it. If you don’t check the message it really bugs you. You’re constantly wondering what the message says. You think of possible messages that could have come in. And you can’t stop thinking about it until you read the message. That all depends on how frequently you get messages. The novelty can wear off depending.

 

That device designed to get your attention is always with you. Quickly pulling you out of a conversation or anything you’re focusing on. This is happening more now than before.

 

We can be reached at any time. That’s a good thing when nothing is going on. Interrupting a conversation to check your phone is quickly becoming a social taboo. And a distraction that frequently follows us. Multitasking has taken on a whole new meaning. Younger people are slowly specializing in multi-tasking. Switching between different tasks decreases the ability to focus on one task. It never feels like multitasking reduces how well we do things. But multitasking is actually switching between tasks multiple times. Getting refocused takes a long time. And now we’re searching for the zone or flow state. Multitasking reduces access to that state. Imagine being in that flow state all the time. How would that feel? Probably how multitasking feels except the results are better.

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Stock from Unsplash, Juliette Leufke. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

We’re slowly moving away from being present. Being focused on the situation happening right before you is getting really hard. Ignoring a text message is really difficult and impossible at times. Not checking your phone is tough. It takes a special kind of person to decide differently. It’s like saving money. We save money for some future event and have less in the present. The ability to save can easily separate poverty from a better life. And saving money is historically a difficult thing. Credit card debt, insufficient retirement funds, college loans, and adjustable rate mortgages are all symptoms of the inability to save money. And reversing that is going to be really hard. Not being present is just as difficult a problem to fix.

 

The internet gives us access to information that would be unimaginable twenty years ago. A quick internet search could define verdigris in seconds. A fraction of a sec faster, you could remember if you already know the answer. The information in more readily available than ever before. It’s like the argument about calculators. Sure they make students terrible at mental math. They don’t need to do mental math every day. They know addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Practice changes nothing. Well, using a calculator for basic stuff took longer than doing it in my head. It was difficult for me to operate a calculator and do the math on paper. Practice is the only thing separating any of us in my belief.

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Stock from Unsplash, Prateek Verma. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

Looking up something isn’t everything. Memorization isn’t the mark of intelligence. In it’s simplest terms intelligence is how quickly you can bridge various things you’ve learned, and use what you have learned. The more disparate those ideas you connect moves into genius territory. That ability to make connections isn’t easily taught. In fact, we are taught specialization and compartmentalization. That goes to the fact that researching something isn’t the same as understanding. Memory versus intelligence. Take an encyclopedia. You need to know some things before using such a tool. Like the ability to read, and the ability to spell the topic you want to find. Knowledge helps you acquire more knowledge. Looking up something is throw away knowledge. It’s like studying for a test and forgetting everything. There’s no real point unless you use and understand the knowledge you find.

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Stock from Unsplash, Edho Pratama. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

This recent push to understand something quickly without too much effort is bothering me. Things like infographics, listicles, and tweets. They offer this tantalizing proposition of understanding something complex very simply. Infographics help show complex things in a way people understand. Except, a portion of the data is lost in the process. And the source can easily distort the data in that way. They choose what data to show and present it in a different way. Listicles bug me. They very rarely drill down to anything of substance. They thrive on presenting a wide array of information so that something works for the reader. Listicles promise understanding, a feeling of belonging, and quick/easy knowledge. They deliver not much of the promise generally. When there’s something useful it’s small.

 

The internet gives everyone a voice. You can find viewpoints you’ve never been exposed to. Like what it’s like to be a woman in tech. What it’s like when someone steals your cultural identity? What is it like to have an STI? What is it like having BPD? But there’s also the flip side to that. We frequently set up situations where we only hear the people that agree with us and completely dismiss other opinions as foolish. Then the nastiness that anonymity brings out. People frequently say stuff remotely through the web they would never say in person. #Gamergate, Trumpism, Fake News, Alt-Right, and so many other things wouldn’t be possible without the internet.

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Stock from Unsplash, Mark Solarski. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

The change in technology over my lifetime is massive. Now we have to figure out where to go from here. It’s a personal choice how we use technology. We have to decide to take in the good and search out what we’re missing. The goal is to understand people and not alienate them. The future is bright if we take it there. The world is filled with possible catastrophe around every corner it seems, but it’s up to us. We have to choose for ourselves where we want our little corners of the world to go.

 

Featured image stock from Unsplash, Roland Larsson. Enhancement by Graham Kar.