A tweet can start a war, make no mistake.
Since I follow anime anthropologist and geek-academia god Charles Dunbar (and boy, you really should be too), I saw his retweet of the postulate by @TheifofHearts that “Game of Thrones is a mature fantasy, not because of the sex and violence. God of War is not a mature fantasy even if it features those.”
This sparked a discussion between the living embodiment of geek knowledge and myself, about that. Specifically, I asserted the opposite was true: God of War is the more-mature fantasy than Game of Thrones.
Before we begin, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what we’re talking about. Game of Thrones is a television series based off the Song of Ice and Fire book series by George R R Martin. The story revolves around political intrigue over supreme command of the lands of Westeros and Essos, while also confronting the invasion of winter and all the evils that come with it.
God of War is a video game series very loosely based off Greek mythology and follows a Spartan Warrior who is repeatedly tricked and betrayed, and subsequently seeks revenge for the skullduggery.
So, both stories are fantasy series that contain rather egregious amounts of violence and sex/nudity. So why is one story ‘more mature’ than the other?
Now, key to this discussion is the vernacular which we should iron out, and specifically what ‘mature’ means and does not mean. For the purposes of this discussion, we will be distinguishing between adult and mature. This is a critical distinction to be made, like ‘dangerous’ versus ‘harmful’. The two terms can be used interchangeably, but in this context (or at least the context of this essay), we’re going to define ‘adult’ as ‘excessive’. An adult film is one geared towards hyper-emphasizing some element. Not merely sex (though that is often where the term ‘adult film’ is applied); an adult topic or substance is looking to take something out of proportion, whether for analysis or consideration (like satire and metaphor) or just to get overloaded by it. An adult product is meant, in essence, for those looking to damage themselves because they are extravagant and extraordinary over the regular world.
Mature, on the other hand, is at the heart of this discussion. Maturity is about confronting one’s own reality. It is, in essence, ‘concerning real-world constructs’. The difference between a show meant for children and a show meant for adults is how much of the real world and its consequences are presented. It is the evolved and higher sensibilities that come from experience and knowledge/wisdom. It is about facing reality directly.
It is my assertion that what passes for maturity in Game of Thrones is a veil of civility, primarily based around a status quo that is to be as closely maintained as possible while still allowing for advantageous advancement of a select few characters. It is quiet machinations and careful subtlety. It is maneuvering others to achieve goals.
But a byproduct of this is that these characters also don’t, well, do anything. By incessantly relying on civility and the veil of reason, the various characters and even whole states in Game of Thrones don’t handle their affairs; they lead others to handle matters, to the point where a vast network of favors and movements occur to facilitate the generation of more favors and more debts. And what was begun as a social contract turns into a web of deceit and constant deception, to the point where most every character is committed to getting as much for themselves as possible while trying to avoid getting one’s hands dirty and to make sure blame always fall elsewhere.
It is upon this view that I believe God of War to be more mature than Game of Thrones because, simply, the titular character Kratos handles his business himself. He doesn’t look to make backroom alliances so that someone else can deal with a problem; he deals with it. He confronts reality.
When you think of a child in trouble, what do you imagine? Odds are, it’s of that child crying to someone else (maybe a parent) to deal with a problem that they cannot. It is the reliance on an external force to make problems go away. And that is just about all that goes on in Game of Thrones: incessant politicking to avoid getting one’s hands dirty. That isn’t a depiction of maturity; it’s a depiction of childishness.
To handle one’s affairs honestly and directly, and with minimal input and aid from others, is the essence of maturity. To be able to do for yourself. Few scenes in Game of Thrones depict this, and it is upon this construct that God of War is built.
Both series are excessive and exaggerated, and are at their heart escapist fantasies, but God of War is honest in one thing: Kratos handles his own problems directly. Game of Thrones is almost a nonstop litany of backstabbing and conniving to have as many others do as much for you as you can manage, while doing as little as possible yourself. That is not an adult; this is a selfish child who is expending his energy to convince others to solve his problem for him.