Believe it or not, there once was a time when many, many people thought that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was better than Advance Wars. Thankfully, those days are over now. According to my numbers, 89.6% of those who once suffered from the false belief that Kevin Spacey's upcoming AAA blockbuster competitive murder-spree is better than Nintendo's classic cartoon general simulator have been successfully converted to the truth. Though it's hard to be sure just how responsible I am for this turn of events, it's fair to guess that I'm largely responsible, because why not? You're welcome everybody.
But a cowboy's work is never done. There are still many poor souls out there suffering from the delusion that a thing that they like is better than a thing that I like. Case in point -- Game of Thrones. Apparently, many of of you out there believe this show/book series is as good as, or even better than, the new death-trap stuntman 2D platformer Aban Hawkins and the 1001 Spikes.
Sorry Throners, but you're about to get pwned(ers).
Death with a purpose
Game of Thrones and 1001 Spikes are known for their surprise deaths. In Game of Thrones, these deaths usually manifest by witnessing one or more characters who were once pivotal to the larger narrative being maimed or murdered in a graphic and disturbing fashion. In 1001 Spikes, death usually pops up in the the form of a sharp object suddenly piercing into your flesh, resulting in an adorable and gruesome spray of blood-red pixels.
Both types of deaths work to send the message that no one is ever safe. That's all well and good, but that message in and of itself doesn't say anything particularly novel. The world is a hostile place filled with lethal problems. We're all going to die. No one is safe. Water is wet. Hamburgers are not actually made of ham. These are all truths, but telling the truth is not in itself very compelling. There needs to be a message beyond the gimmick, an idea behind the violence for it to hold any lasting emotional resonance.
Sadly, Game of Thrones doesn't manage to pull that off. Like so many other aspects of the show, its deaths are dressed up to appear sophisticated and meaningful but are really just softcore porn, in this case, of the gore-porn variety. After the shock and awe has passed, the drama continues, with no lessons learned or philosophies shared.
In 1001 Spikes, every death is a lesson. Every surprise stabbing is an opportunity for growth. Those who start the game with a feeling of dread and hopelessness may learn, through many hardships, that they are smarter, stronger, and more capable of survival than they would have ever thought possible. Game of Thrones is a largely nihilistic one-note tune, where even the survivors end up emotionally/ethically dead on the inside in no time flat. 1001 Spikes is a celebration of the negative space that death offers to our mortal experience, and how it shapes every moment of brilliance, inspiration, and virtual athleticism that brings life to its fullest.
Escape from the victim/victimizer/protector triangle
You know what's hot in entertainment right now? Trauma and victimization. The Walking Dead, Orange is the New Black, 24, and of course Game of Thrones all chronicle the experiences of those in a constant state of fight-or-flight response. Our society is currently fascinated with witnessing what lies beneath society's veneer of civility and compassion.
Why are we so obsessed with turning over the rocks of the human soul and seeing how gross the bugs are underneath? I'm guessing it's because we're living in the least safe time in human history. Everyone is spying on everyone. We can't go a month without hearing about another young man violently attacking a group of strangers. Drones are in our air space. Terrorists are in our news feed. Hackers are stealing our credit card information. Everyone is at everyone on Twitter/Facebook/Tinder and we're all thinking about how stupid, fat, and ugly everyone else is.
When people are under threat, their minds naturally shift towards grouping everything around them into one of three categories: the victims, the victimizers, and the protectors. You see this all the time online. People take on victim posture in order to drum up sympathy and entitlement to attention and care, or abuse and threaten each other to give themselves the illusion of power and safety, or lash out at others that they deem to be victimizers, granting themselves entitlement to be as destructive and hostile as they want "for the greater good." This is exactly what we see happening in shows like Game of Thrones. Every character is moving around within this triangle, taking on victim, victimizer, or protector posture depending on what works best for them at the moment.
The question is, where does it get anyone? Either dead, angry, alone, or evil. Those are the only options for an endgame in the victim/victimizer/protector structure. There is no room for empathy in that triangle. There's no room for enlightenment. There's only room for conflict.
There is another way, though. There is a road out of the triangle's trap. There is the path of the victor. This is the path that 1001 Spikes presents us with. In 1001 Spikes, the environment is the victimizer, and Aban is the victim. In time, he learns to be the protector, actively fighting back against the forces working to render him powerless. That's not the end though. As any 1001 Spikes expert knows, truly mastering one of the game's levels doesn't feel like a fight. It feels like a conversation. The developer is communicating through their level design, and the player communicate back through their actions, and the back and forth gradually transforms from an angry screaming match to a beautiful duet. To get to know and love the developer through surviving, and eventually then thriving, the world of challenges that they created with you feels a lot like love. When you're able to elude every trap, make every jump, hit every note with pitch-perfect accuracy, you join with the developer in a way that the Spice Girls once sang about.
That's not just surviving. That's living. That's living life right.
A hunger that leads to improved nutrition
Most of the aspects of Game of Thrones and 1001 Spikes affect us on an deep, guttural level. Human beings are suckers for the guttural. We spend so much time being self conscious, or worried about our futures, or obsessing about mistakes we made in the past that when something can help us turn off our brains for a while and grab us by the balls (or nipples, or whatever), it's intoxicating.
Game of Thrones grabs our balls in multiple ways. Sex, violence, taboos, mythologies, drama -- all things that capture our attention on primitive level. But what do they offer us for emotional/psychological sustenance? Sadly, not much. If you're lucky, the story may help you to conceptualize and gain insight into your own relationship problems. Through witnessing the ugliness on display in Game of Thrones, you may become more aware of the ugliness in your own life.
How is that fun?
It's not, and it's also not why most people watch Game of Thrones. It's because it hooks them in a world of constant negative stimulus, constant emptiness and pain, and dangles a carrot in their faces promising that things might get better, that they might gain some emotional sustenance if they watch just one more episode. Stories like Game of Thrones (and certain videogames) are designed like sour candy. They start off sweet, with fun stuff like sex, intrigue, and power fantasy, but leave you hurting, with the sour taste of trauma and sorrow in your mouth. That sour leaves you hungry for an antidote to cancel out the sour, something like the sweet sex/power/intrigue that got you watching the show in the first place. So the cycle of sweetness, sourness continues, leaving the audience continually hungry and never truly fed.
1001 Spikes grabs you by these instincts as well, but it's all in the service of feeding you something real. 1001 Spikes and Game of Thrones both inspire a similar morbid curiosity for how bad things can possibly get next, but where Game of Thrones leaves you feeling like the world and everyone in it are horrible, 1001 Spikes inspires you to believe that you (and every one else) are capable of anything. Game of Thrones is a syrupy, acidic, sweet and sour soup made from anger, hopelessness, and nihilism. 1001 Spikes is a bitter but hearty broth that inspires patience, problem solving, and the knowledge that as long as you believe in yourself, anything is possible.
So if you've got some internalized victim/victimizer/protector issues that you'd like to work out externally, stay away from Game of Thrones. It will only work to reinforce that maladaptive power dynamic and leave you hollow inside. Instead, try 1001 Spikes. While it's not as easy to digest as a show that invites you to sit back and passively watch as the atrocities unfold before you, it's well worth the effort if you're at all interested in becoming a more psychologically well-aligned and resilient person.