Sometimes the GamesBeat staff is a microcosm of the world of gamers and other real people. This week, Jeff Grubb, our PC gaming editor, called the rest of us nerds because we were talking knowledgeably about Shelob, a major character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings novels and one of the major characters in Middle-earth: Shadow of War, a major video game coming October 10 from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and developer Monolith.
This is going to be a big game, with high production values and big sales — no matter what I say about it in an upcoming review. It has been 63 years since The Lord of the Rings was published, 44 years since Tolkien died, and three years since the last Peter Jackson movie appeared (The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, in 2014). And to me, The Lord of the Rings is bigger than ever. I have high expectations for this game, because the time has come for a video game to carry on the Tolkien legacy.
That isn’t really a joke. Gary Whitta, co-writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, spoke at our GamesBeat Summit 2017 event in May and said that the Star Wars video games kept the franchise alive during the years after George Lucas had finished his first six films, and those games carried the franchise forward until Disney came along and acquired Lucasfilm.
Jason Wilson, my boss, seemed a little disappointed that I hadn’t made more progress in playing the game yet. In my defense, I had to split my time among Total War: Warhammer II — a clearly inferior universe to Tolkien’s — and I also had to prove I could get past the tutorial in a little “challenging” game called Cuphead. (In fact, it is quite possible it will take me longer to finish Cuphead than Shadow of War — a fact that could bring the Eye of Sauron down upon me). Jason wondered if he should start playing it too (and perhaps pass me up). He said we should watch for any problems with the game violating the lore of the Tolkien fantasy universe. In our meeting, we asked who had the most knowledge of Tolkien. I piped in that I had probably read the series seven or eight times, as I am the oldest living GamesBeat team member.
Mike Minotti, a GamesBeat writer and faithless doubter, asked me if I had also read The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, which relate a lot of the backstory of Middle-earth and Beleriand. In fact, I will go as far as saying I like The Silmarillion better than The Lord of the Rings.
Had we carried on this conversation longer, I would have said that I had read those too, and I read aloud the entire trilogy and those two books to my eldest child. I also read aloud the trilogy to my middle child, and I had at least started reading The Hobbit to my youngest. I told Bing Gordon years ago that Electronic Arts should create a beautiful map to go with its version of The Lord of the Rings games. Every five years or so, I listen to the trilogy in the car or read it again. And once in a while, I brave the video ads and I listen to Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire song on YouTube.
In college, the only play I’ve ever written included Tolkien as one of the characters. And in an interview with Troy Baker, the voice of Talion in Shadow of War, I digressed and related my theory of how the tragic story of Talion would unfold in the video game. You see, I should have been recruited to write the story for the Middle-earth series.
I am a Tolkien nerd. To all of you people out there who think we are nerds, I believe we outnumber you. You call us nerds. We do not forget. We do not forgive. We are coming for you. Expect us.
You might scoff at my humor. But in our GamesBeat team of five, we have three card-carrying Tolkien nerds. We outnumber Jeff, and I’m not sure about Stephanie Chan but she was noticeably quiet during our conversation. Now the people who think we are nerds clearly think they outnumber us.
Conan O’Brien treaded into this turf with his most recent “Clueless Gamer” segment, where he plays a game with someone famous and makes hilarious fun of the game. O’Brien tackled Shadow of War with Kumail Nanjiani, a comedian and cast member of HBO’s Silicon Valley. O’Brien took the Jeff Grubb position and asked Nanjiani, “Are you a fan of this stuff?”
“I love fantasy, and I love The Lord of the Rings stuff,” Nanjiani replied.
“So me mocking it is very insulting to you?” O’Brien asked.
“No, it’s not my religion. I just like it,” Nanjiani said, who played the voice for the Orc captain Dug the Agonizer.
Nanjiani plays, and O’Brien said, “It’s so clear to me you have never been outside.”
Little does O’Brien know, but Nanjiani is part of one of the largest fan communities ever. Box Office Mojo reports that The Lord of the Rings films generated more than $1.65 billion to date, adjusted for inflation. The Hobbit films generated another $816 million. Since 1954, The Lord of the Rings books have sold an estimated 150 million copies. You might successfully argue that many of those people are now dead and that all the kids are reading Harry Potter these days (including my traitorous child). The Lord of the Rings is the seventh most popular book (OK, trilogy) of all time.
All of this is to suggest that Warner Bros. and Monolith should feel no pressure. I would guess that we have a trilogy of video games that will happen here, and those games are going to have to carry us Tolkien fans forward, at least until Peter Jackson gets his hands on the rights to make The Silmarillion movies. Heck, if Monolith does a good enough job here, maybe Peter Jackson can make the Shadow of War movies.
I’m making my way through the game. As for the lore, I do have a little question for the game writers about Celebrimbor fibbing that it was his war against Sauron in the Second Age, during The Last Alliance of Elves and Men. We all know it was Gil-Galad’s war. What gives? Aren’t you making this game for the nerds among us? Kidding aside, I am enjoying my run through Middle-earth. Let’s hope this will help make the Tolkien fan community into the largest fan base on earth.