Bad writing is bad

This year I was able to play more choice of game and hosted games and realized something that bothers me a little.

The problem is that many new games happen in universes where social problems and prejudices are poorly developed, fictional or don’t even exist.

Most old games managed to balance reality and fiction very well but many new games seem to just want to give a place where the player can escape the real world.

Don’t get me wrong, I would like to live in a world where I wouldn’t be judged for who I am or like what I like, but I don’t live in such a world.

In addition to not being able to develop a connection with the characters, this causes many games to waste character development and drama.

All new games have at least one of these problems:

1: All characters with whom the player’s character can have romantic relationships are bi.

(I like to be able to choose any person to have a relationship, but it seemed more real if characters who thinks they are straight got into conflict with theyself for starting to have romantic feelings for the player’s character who is of the same gender.

All characters being bi and being aware of it seems to be just lazy and, as I said, wastes drama and character development)

2: if the player’s character is from a different social class than the character with whom he chooses to have a relationship, there are no consequences.

(another missed chance for drama and character development)

3: if the player’s character is of a different race than the character with whom he has a relationship, there are no consequences.

(Again, waste of drama and character development)

4: if the character is from a different social class than the character with whom he has a relationship and are of the same gender, there are no consequences.

(This is a great opportunity to create drama and develop characters but only one game used it)

5: the main characters have very superficial flaws.

(people have flaws whether they want it or not)

6: rivals and villains have very superficial flaws.

(they should have flaws!)

7: the motivations of villains and rivals are very superficial.

(… do I need to comment?)

Maybe it’s just me who thinks that, but I would like to know what you think about it.

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I recommend taking up specific constructive critiques of individual games in their respective threads. This is too general to lead to a good conversation–if you say people’s motivations are “very superficial” there’s nothing to discuss–we all agree that superficial writing is bad.

All new games have at least one of these problems:

1: All characters with whom the player’s character can have romantic relationships are bi.

I have noticed many games (not ChoiceScript games) that have the terrible problem that all characters with whom the player’s character can have romantic relationships are straight. Bad writing needs to be addressed.

Finally, I would just note from the Moderation and Forum Norms page that I am totally bored with the “Is it Historically Accurate to have X in a game about Y???” topic. It is always a circular conversation that may be searched for elsewhere on this forum.

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Yeah I take issue with this. In fiction these days we are increasingly seeing an inability to not include some aspects of our current climate in some form or other, to the extent that escapism from that seems to be not allowed or frowned upon. By all means we can have such fiction to confront issues in specific ways but when everyone does so in increasingly less subtle manners, escapism is less attainable a thing. I think a healthy mixture of game types should be encouraged and explored.

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Ironically, I think that your definition of bad writing is itself fairly superficial. I’m in disagreement with many of your main points, but most importantly I think the two main premises of your argument — firstly that the high-level conceptual stuff is what makes a piece of writing good or bad, and secondly that the determinant of whether something is good or bad is how thoroughly its premise was milked for drama — is fundamentally mistaken. In my opinion, good writing is in the implementation.

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Or a bisexual character who’s aware of their sexuality and confident in it is just as impactful as someone who might be questioning their sexuality.

I personally am tired of seeing the overused trope of the ‘coming out’ story because it’s just been so oversaturated at this point. I want to see stories about same sex couples who’ve been married for 10 or 20 years, have kids, or are in retirement.

What do you mean consequences? Are you referring to the social consequences? Like the example of someone who married someone in a lower class than themselves?

Drama can happen that doesn’t rely purely on outside physical features. I think most people want to avoid any possibility of racist undertones when playing these games.

Again. A possibly fair point. But there are only no consequences in that specific area you are focusing on.

Depends on your definition of superficial. I don’t really care if it’s ‘superficial’ or even ‘stupid’ as long as it’s implemented well into the story.

Recently I played some D&D with some friends and a big fight broke out between two players versus the rest of the party. You know why? All because of a misunderstanding in communication.

That was really fun, not going to lie. In that moment? It was realistic because communication errors happen all the time and you can see the explosive consequences.

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I would largely agree with the premise that many stories lack the social problems that, in my opinion, are what determine if a piece is memorable or not.

I am a little more charitable in that several games have mentioned such problems even if they are not the defining feature. I have been able to enjoy them as long as such topics are addressed.

But, as someone from a low-income family growing up, many stories generally treat what what should be key, foundational identity markers - race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality - in a way that is hard to take seriously. You don’t have to write stories that deal with real categories but fictional worlds should have structures that represent reality and humanity’s tribal nature.

I can imagine, for instance, Tierra from Cataphrak’s games existing, as it has defined class systems, unique but historically analogous social and cultural systems, and a believable system for relationships to form. There are many games who nations, monarchs, societies I would struggle to remember, and that’s generally because of a lack of realistic construction.

That further detracts from relationships, because those relationships don’t seem particularly serious when such serious subject matters (and I am in a cross-race, cross-class relationship myself) can be huge stumbling blocks.

I would trace most of this error not “bad writing” but a general fear of authors of tackling such subject matter. I would encourage authors too afraid of addressing, for instance, race in a real context to instead create analogous problems with fictional races, in a fictional society, so that no reader is legitimately off put so long as the writing itself is not racist.

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I would say that is pretty genre and style dependent. Some genres and styles call for such things, while others don’t. Many genres and authorial styles very much don’t have as their goal the representation of reality.

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That’s fair, but for me, personally, if a story lacks such structure it is difficult to take any of its contents particularly seriously, and begins to feel like fantastical escapism (which I recognize is a valid goal).

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eh… drama ≠ good writing. and not all stories can or should tackle certain realistic themes, nor do all writers necessarily have any business attempting to. escapism isn’t inherently bad; though i do understand wanting a diversity in portrayals of realism on this format. (meaningless MC customization comes to mind.) though in that same vein,

i do find this worth pointing out, though i don’t think for the same reasons as you:

i’ll quote myself in a different thread on this:

i don’t think this format necessarily* needs more “i’m straight but omg maybe im not uwu” storytelling. there’s nothing wrong with confident/comfortable bi characters? but more realistic and nuanced portrayals of bi and pan romance options would be dope. 'cause romance pronoun swaps are startin to feel lazy to me, ngl…

*lol i had to add ‘necessarily’ because my own WIP is going to have both straight and gay takes on this :sweat_smile:

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Sure, or comic writing, let’s say. We can agree that we’ve all got different tastes in fiction! I guess I’m just wanting to make the (obvious, I think) point that objections raised by the OP are not really bad things so much as things that a given person may require from their stories rather than must-haves.

I hear you and agree in principle, but I’m at almost 1.2 million words here. In an ideal world I would make every combination of every relationship have a bespoke path. But as it is, I have to go with pronoun swap and a careful dedication to making sure that all romance paths feel great to play and feel fleshed out and interesting in all variants. So the tradeoff I have to use is pronoun oriented. Can we call it “a possible solution in this imperfect world” rather than “lazy”?

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Bad writing is bad But none of the parameters put in the original post has nothing to do with Bad or good writing, They only address what the OP likes as a genre.

The fact X don’t like escapism and want all the stories to have to be about thoughtful dramatically designed social reality with all Ro coming out the closet … That can make good games or Propaganda de game only focused on SOCIAL INJUSTICE and none in the game it is supposed to be.

Due to that definition, Terry Pratchet books are bad writing. The life of Brian is a bad movie. Or Gower Midnight summer game or Tally oh. When all of that are masterpieces.

Being Dramatic doesn’t make something automatically good

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i think you’re misunderstanding what’s at the core of my gripe with this? i’m not saying that every variation of MC gender should have different routes or special/additional flavor text. i’m saying that ROs, perhaps specifically cisgender ones, do not feel, or are not being written, like actual bisexual and queer people. characters are falling flat because the only way they are bi is in the context of the MC not being the opposite sex and cisgender. that’s my issue with the pronoun swap. not every game or writer needs to be attempting to make The Perfect LGBT Romance game, and I especially don’t take issue with games that are not mainly about romance doing pronoun swaps.

@malinryden same???

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That makes sense, and it’s a lot less writing than a bespoke path or storyline. I’d be really interested to talk about specific games and relationships, because it’s hard for me to talk about writing like this out of context. So much of this seems genre dependent to me.

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I’m not sure I could write a straight person even if I tried.

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You could try asking others to see if they read okay? I prefer to do that whenever I write a character who isn’t white and straight and male like me.

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From my understanding you raise two broader issues in your post. First, you state there is a lack of struggle in games that fail to reflect real life. And secondly, that characters seem to be superficial. I cannot say much for the latter without examples - do share them, I’d be happy to discuss it more :slight_smile:

But because of that, I’ll only add something to the first part, particularly about romance:

I’ve seen it come up a lot how romance and sexuality should be dealt with in stories. I always feel like, in the end, the vague answer is “Every author can decide for themself”. Like @hotmess.exe explained, this forum (and many games) are very open-minded and inclusive which is why there’s a tendency to ignore issues that people might face in real life, or rather, a world is created where these issues don’t exist. Which is why, as you point out, games lack conflict in regarding to their gender, race, class etc.

And, to be honest, I see a lot of value in that.

People who have little contact with LGBT+ people might make their first experience on this forum or through these games. Seeing it as something normal that doesn’t need to be questioned helps a lot, in my opinion. This applies to many, including people who might come to terms with their sexuality through a story, as well as people who are comfortable with their gender, but have simply never encountered non-binary people in real life. To give you more context: there aren’t even any non-binary pronouns in my language, so I first learned about other gender pronouns in the game VERSUS.

So, yes, all this might be described as escapism. Or: fiction influences the world around us and it can make it better. By presenting a world without these struggles, we can take a step towards them by familiarizing ourselves with those concepts.

Naturally, romance was just a little part of your original post. But I think my example can be expanded to your statements about class and race.

Also, this post doesn’t reflect my full opinion. However: it’s an important aspect to be considered when saying games lack struggles.

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For that conversation, may I humbly request that those interested go here: https://forum.choiceofgames.com/t/discrimination-and-escapism-in-interactive-fiction/25323/10

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But, on a more serious note about the first post, it all depends on what the focus of the book is. Sure, I’d love to have a lot more discussions and relationship drama since I like reading that if it’s written well, but I’m not sure that would be very interesting in a let’s say, James Bond type agent book focused on a dangerous mission.

Regardless of tastes, I think the thing I sometimes see in the stories here is the need to include things just because it’s expected. For example, add a romance even though it doesn’t really get any time to grow, or feel like it matters. And sometimes when I encounter things like that, I also get annoyed and feel ‘I wish they had focused on this, it would have been a really cool dynamic if they took X into account’. And yes, yes it would, but would it have fitted into the story?

I’m trying to do a lot of these things myself because I’m interested in them, but that also means I now have a story with 12x as much or more words than the text the player gets to read because things snowball. If my story hadn’t focused around identity, it would have been ridiculous to go that extra length.

There’s a place for soft, uncomplicated escapism, and for dark, messy and real. They’re just different stories.

That being said, I have two things to add:

1, pronoun swaps are NOT lazy, this is a hill I will die on. Demanding that people should be written to some arbitrary gender binary in the name of realism is. Individuals vary a lot more than genders, same text with a pronoun swap will give two very different impressions of a character because of the reader’s preconceptions.

2, the idea that somehow people can see who’s straight or cis is ridiculous. That’s got nothing to do with reality, that’s just the the straight reader assuming that everyone is like them. I mean for me, the basic assumption is that every character is bisexual to some degree, because that’s me and my friends. For me, the notion to force some of them to be straight is weird. Just sitting here and trying to figure out what traits a character should have to be considered straight is… head scratching.

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I think a problem with the OP, as others have pointed out, is that the author seems to be presenting their own preferences for story types as objectively “better” than other people’s preferences. I actually like games which do attempt to tackle real-world issues and forms of discrimination - but I also like pure escapism too. We can all see that choice games can be a “broad church”, which can accommodate both types of story, as well as stories which aim to do a bit of both.

What I would be interested in hearing, however, are the reasons why Sandro thinks that recent COG games are getting less “realistic” and more “escapist”, because I myself don’t see any evidence of this trend. Just look at recently-released games out there. The Aegis Saga deals with hostility to out-groups which can easily find analogues in the “real world”; Ironheart tackles religious hatred; Journey into Darkness represents European colonialism (admittedly not in a very gritty way); it’s hard to think of a game that could be any more current and real-world relevant than Mask of the Plague Doctor! Maybe gritty real-world issues and themes of discrimination and its consequences aren’t coming through so much in the romances on offer, but that’s not the only way that authors can engage with these sorts of issues.

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If I may, I would like to add something.

While yes, I would agree with most of your points here (wasted potential, lack of depth, superficial motivation), I would also, at the same time, disagree with you on one point, that it is NOT bad writing that a story does not contain these.

As @will said, a high-level concept does not make the story interesting all alone. There needs to be a good implementation of it too, otherwise it’s gonna fall flat and even worse, may risk offending someone.

Second of all, as @hotmess.exe said, drama does NOT equal to good writing, there needs to be, again, a good implementation. In fact, I would argue that unnecessary drama will cause your story to be more, well to put it in layman’s term, cringy and bad. Drama for drama’s sake is NOT GOOD. While yes, I would agree that some of these things does not get much representation here, it depends upon what the author wants to achieve with their story.

Which brings me to my third point, escapism. A lot of the readers here are here to escape our sometimes shitty and unfair reality. While many of us would enjoy a story with all the whistles and bells of RL, including me, sometimes, it’s just better for us to forget all of that and just indulge in our fantasies. Which many of the stories here offer.

Last of all, a story is an author’s creative property. We cannot cross into their property and tell them to change the content, just because it’s “not real”. That is the author’s decision. We are just here for the ride. If someone doesn’t enjoy it, they might as well just get off. It’s not like somebody’s forcing them to read it.

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