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Can fantasy movies like The Green Knight ever measure up to Dungeons & Dragons?

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A look at A24’s new film transcends into a look at A24’s new tabletop game

Graphic featuring an image of people on a Zoom call and a still of Dev Patel in The Green Knight movie Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

Even more so than Space Jam: A New Legacy, David Lowery’s film The Green Knight runs on game logic. Dev Patel’s Sir Gawain traipses from side quest to side quest, losing and regaining various items and power-ups. There’s also — spoiler alert? — a full-on close-up of Gawain’s seminal fluid. I won’t tell you where, because I like to preserve the magic of cinema. This is probably something you won’t see in a game anytime soon.

Sure, the film is chock-full of meaning, symbolism, and allusion, but its medieval, Arthurian storyline is also the perfect launching point for a game. Except, that game isn’t a video game. It’s an immersive role-playing game.

The interactivity of gaming is hard to beat, and RPGs take that to the next level by requiring you to create a character mostly out of thin air. Until recently, I’d never played a full-blown, Dungeons & Dragons-like tabletop. Don’t be mad at me. I had an Etsy store that required my attention. Custom beer koozies with characters from Bosch on them. You know the hustle never ends, folks.

Anyway, thanks to the good folks of Polygon’s video team — Jenna Stoeber, Simone de Rochefort, and Josh Rios — I got to play my first RPG. And as thoughts of Lowery’s film raced through my mind, it made perfect sense for us to play A24’s Green Knight game. My character, Sir Willie the Contemptible, has a lot in common with the real me. Willie is perfect and the absolute best at everything he does.

This week’s episode of Galaxy Brains features our playthrough of the Green Knight game and my truly remarkable character. If you listen, you’ll get to hear me do the right, honorable, kind thing every single time. But before you do, Jonah Ray and I had a spirited debate about The Green Knight and fantasy films versus games. Jonah may have drawn me to his side by the end. Here’s a snippet of the conversation, edited and condensed to be slightly less weird. And next week, look out for the full video version of our playthrough on Polygon’s YouTube page.

Dave: This movie can only be read if you think about it in the context of gaming.

Jonah: That feels right. It is very quest heavy. It is very “Oh, no, you’ve been tied up by marauders. What do you do now?” “Oh, you died.” “OK, and moving on now, you have to help the lady get her head back and then so on and so forth.”

Dave: So I’ve got to ask you, as somebody who maybe was a little off with the movie because it didn’t have enough action, would you have preferred if this was a game thing?

Jonah: So I think I would have enjoyed it if it was a hanging out with some friends playing as the Lord, Joel Edgerton’s character. I would love to live as the Lord. You know, that’s the thing. It’s like I couldn’t find myself anywhere in the story. But like, when you play it, you know, a story is a game you can find yourself in and you can feel what you would do and what you would do in these situations. I think that’s much better.

Dave: Sure, sure. But at the same time, this is a movie that’s so heavy on symbols and literary allusions that I could just watch it over and over again and not catch everything.

Jonah: Yeah, I mean, you could do that, but you could also play the RPG and have more fun. You know, you could just play the game version of this with your friends and you just have a blast as opposed to watching both an actor and director come all over the screen.

Dave: But games don’t have the sheer artistry of a film like this, like the grenade, you know.

Jonah: But roleplaying games allow you to create your own worlds, you know, theater of the mind, Dave. You know, you can make your own characters your own action. Fantasy movies, they need action. Role playing games are exciting, unlike this movie.

Dave: Not everything has to be a thrill-a-minute violent romp.

Jonah: But when they remake Robocop and it’s 90 minutes of Alex Murphy and a mainframe computer debating the meaning of existence, you’ll understand what I mean. Roleplaying games offer a creative thrill that movies never can.