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At King Arthur’s Christmas Feast

At King Arthur’s Christmas Feast is a retelling, in Choicescript, of the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I wasn’t that familiar with the original story, so I went into the game with only a hazy sense of what would be happening. I also don’t know how faithful the game is to its source material. But I found myself quite enjoying At King Arthur’s Christmas Feast. In particular, it was an interesting and fun challenge to play as Gawain. He’s a knight who adheres to a well-defined chivalric code—one that forces him not only into situations that tempt him to break that code but also into a promise to submit willingly to what will likely be his own death.

In the first chapter a mysterious stranger appears at King Arthur’s Christmas feast and goads Arthur into making a rash bargain, one whose consequences could lead to Arthur’s death and thus spell disaster for Camelot. You, as Arthur’s knight Sir Gawain, volunteer to take Arthur’s place and suffer the consequences yourself. This is an interesting setup, but it was also the slowest part of the game for me. I think this was because I wasn’t fully invested in the story yet but also because at this point the game won’t let you make a choice with major long-term consequences: Gawain has to agree to the bargain for the story to proceed. But Gawain’s choice here (forced by the game) is completely consistent with his knightly character.

The game is also explicit about that character. Clicking on “Show Stats” tells you that knights must be magnanimous, exhibit a spirit of fellowship, and be chaste, courteous, and pious. While there does appear to be some stat-tracking under the hood, this description of Gawain’s fundamental value system never changes. He will, however, continually find his faithfulness to this code tested over the course of the game. What would a true knight do in all of these situations? Sometimes the answer is clear, sometimes it isn’t at all, and sometimes the code leads to a course of action that puts Gawain at serious risk of breaking other parts of his vows. This was all fascinating to play, especially since knightly chivalry is rather foreign to those of us living in 2021, as well as the fact that the stakes for Gawain are extremely high.

At King Arthur’s Christmas Feast also features a tone appropriate to its themes and historical setting. Sir Gawain is played straight, as he should be, without a whiff of snark. Perhaps it’s just me, but this feels rare for 2021. The game’s language tends to be on the formal side as well, with only the occasional tonally-off word choice (such as “ginormous”). The text even breaks into verse in several places. In general, the game’s tone did a good job of helping me inhabit Gawain as a character.

All in all, I quite enjoyed At King Arthur’s Christmas Feast. Gawain’s adherence to his cultural code sets up a situation in which his commitment to that code is repeatedly tested—and where the consequences for Gawain himself could be quite severe. Consequently, it was fun to imagine myself as Gawain and think carefully through how he might respond in each situation. The game’s establishment of tone and mood made it easy for me to settle into being Gawain, and it was refreshingly different to play as a chivalrous knight, too. Overall, a lot of fun.

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