Somewhere along the line, it happened. The name changed. George R.R. Martin's celebrated fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire more-or-less officially became known as Game of Thrones.
We can probably blame HBO; their hugely successful TV series Game of Thrones is what launched Martin's books into the public consciousness. Since the show's debut, A Song of Ice and Fire has been relegated to status as a footnote during a credits sequence, or a small note on the box.
Now we have board games, card games, video games of every stripe, and all manner of memes, merchandise and miscellany, all under the Game of Thrones banner. But how did this happen, and why?
The first book in A Song of Ice and Fire, titled A Game of Thrones, was published sixteen years ago. Since then, Martin has published four more books, and each entry has won him more fans. But everything changed with the arrival of the 2010 HBO series. That show, of course, was called Game of Thrones. It wasn't called A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones; it wasn't even called A Game of Thrones like the book. Just Game of Thrones.
Soon after that we got the announcement of several video games, the real-time strategy game Game of Thrones: Genesis and the upcoming Game of Thrones RPG based on the property. We've also got a Game of Thrones card game, as well as the hugely complex and diabolically fun Game of Thrones board game. That the board game in fact concerns characters introduced in the first three books doesn't matter; Game of Thrones is no longer a book; it's a brand.
Countless memes, blogs, licensed products, and fan-art collections go under the Game of Thrones title. Even the awesomely-titled Blog of Ice and Fire has added a sub-header including both titles.
I think that the new title is an improvement. For a while, I wasn't so sure; back when I was pondering what a great Game of Thrones game would look like, I even said that I thought that the game should be "properly" titled A Song of Ice and Fire. I've changed my mind. People have latched onto Game of Thrones because it really is a better name for the series. Here are some reasons why:
- It's cooler-sounding. Nothing is as much of a turn-off as a wordy, overcooked fantasy name. A Song of Ice and Fire sounds like it could be any clichéd fantasy book; it conjures images of the sorts of tales that those who aren't already fans of high fantasy generally avoid. Game of Thrones is much easier to say. Removing the "A" was also a good call: the unnecessary article adds a surprisingly intense layer of self-serious dorkiness.
- It's evocative. "Game of Thrones." What does that mean? It calls to mind all sorts of interesting imagery—throne-shaped chess pieces moving about a board, kings fighting for control of a kingdom. Which of course is entirely true to the story at the heart of these books, because…
- It's accurate. Sure, it could be said that Martin's books are about ice and fire. They're about dragons and the snow, the ice-covered great wall and the sands of Dorne. But that's not what they're really about—they're really about a bunch of people conniving and manipulating one another in a bloodthirsty quest for power. While the first book may be called A Game of Thrones, the game itself plays out over all of the books, or at least, the first five. The overarching story is about a Game of Thrones.
- It's part of one of the series' most famous quotes. "In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die." It's one of the most recognizable quotes from the whole series (perhaps behind "winter is coming"), and also the truest—that's what's really going on here. A fight to the death for power. Musical albums often have what I call the "Money Line," where the artist sings the hidden lyric that contains the name of the album. (e.g. "Under the Table and Dreaming" or "Chutes Too Narrow.") This quote is the equivalent of that—the line encapsulates the series and contains its title.
This isn't the first time this has happened with an overcooked fantasy title. People like to simplify things, and we've done it plenty of times in the past. Knights of the Old Republic became "KotOR," World of Warcraft became "WoW." As we watched the ongoing and just-resolved legal battle between Mojang and Zenimax over the term "Scrolls," who among us didn't say "Well, why do they even care? No one calls Elder Scrolls games The Elder Scrolls anyway."
It's true: If I'm at a party and I start talking about the latest Elder Scrolls game, no one is going to have a clue what I'm talking about. But if start talking about Skyrim, even the haughtiest non-gamer will be on the same page. The same goes for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which has a title so terrible that no one has quite figured out what to do with it: Do we call it Amalur? Or Reckoning? Or do we simply not talk about it at all?
The lovely iPad game Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was my favorite game of last year, but that doesn't mean I loved the title. It was purposefully ungainly, but it was a joke that lost its luster after the fifth or sixth time I had to type it. Fortunately, the guys who made it left that one word, the misspelled "Sworcery," able to stand in for the whole title.
It's never easy to name things. Everyone who's ever named a band or a website can tell you—you sit forever, poking holes in your ideas, trying to imagine how this name will work in the real world, how it will sound five years from now. One of the things that often comes up when naming something is how people will shorten it.
The question is: Will this new title always be appropriate to the series? Sure, Game of Thrones encapsulates the first five books better than A Song of Ice and Fire. But will that always be the case? Without spoiling too much, I could easily imagine that at some point, these stories stop concerning themselves with kingdoms and lineage and start concerning themselves with a broader, more traditionally epic battle for survival. Or not. No one but George R.R. Martin knows what will happen in the final two books. Or, as it has been fretted, maybe he doesn't even know.
I think Game of Thrones implies a much more interesting story than A Song of Ice and Fire. The first one sounds like an intense story of political intrigue, the second one sounds like tired high fantasy. Whether the adopted title will always be accurate is something we'll only know once the final two books, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring are published.
For now, the merchandising machine is fully underway, and it's too late to turn back. The TV show's possibly great, possibly disappointing second season will be out in a matter of weeks, and I'm sure that a plethora of Game of Thrones-branded toys, clothing, games, and other tie-ins will follow.
The title of a series' first entry has somehow usurped the title of the series itself. The age of A Song of Ice and Fire has ended. Now is the time of Game of Thrones.