Marked romantic/flirting choices

A few WIPs I’ve read recently have made use of symbols such as :heart: to designate choices as being flirtatious. I’ve also played a couple complete games where choices are marked with [Start Character romance], indicating that you’re open to pursuing that character further.

What are folks’ opinions of these methods? Like, does having :heart: help to determine the tone of the choice, or would you rather work off of context and the actual dialogue? Do you feel pressured towards selecting the :heart: if you’re interested in the character at all? With the square brackets style, is it reassuring to have that explicit statement that yes, this is a character’s romantic route?

I’m a little in two minds about it. I think there’s been maybe once in all my time playing IF that I flirted with a character by accident, and weirdly, having something state that it’s starting a romance has made me second guess if I’m committing to a RO or it’s just that I’m interested in them. (in the examples I can think of, it’s not actually been ‘locking in’ the romance)

I guess that’s another similar question; if there’s a point of no return with a romance, is that something folks prefer to pick up via the context, or is it best when it’s laid out [I’m selecting this romance]? (or another third thing!)


I’ve used [Start Romance] and I am continuing to use it in Honor Bound, but I’m not totally sold on how I did it in Royal Affairs; I think in some cases it showed up a bit too early in the relationships, and maybe made players think it was the only time they’d be able to start the romance, or similar. As you mention, it doesn’t always mean “I’m solely committing to this person” and different games will mean different things by it (in RA it doesn’t mean locking-in, in Noblesse Oblige it’s closer to locking-in). It’s something I’m still mulling over a bit and will probably tweak in Honor Bound as I go.

I think [End Romance] is the most useful, because it’s a reassurance that if you don’t pick that option, even if you’re having a fight with a character, you’re not necessarily going to cut off the romance by disagreeing about something or being cross with them. Plus if you’ve realised you’re not actually into this character, it’s a really clear way of cutting off a romance that you’re not into.

I don’t entirely love :heart: options because I think if you’re in a flirty or romantic relationship with someone, even a designated “non-romantic” option can have romance overtones, and it feels like it reduces that ambiguity/excitement of discovery a bit; it also makes me go “oh! I need to pick that option as a priority otherwise maybe the game won’t recognise it or I’ll miss it later!”. It feels perhaps more helpful in a AAA game where conversational dialogue isn’t the biggest part of the game and it’s easier to miss out on romantic dialogue (I’m thinking in particular of the “heart” options in Dragon Age 2 or Dragon Age: Inquisition).

I also see some games where there’s a wide variety of symbols for tones and attitudes, and I struggle to keep them clear in my head - I find it hard to remember what means what. When I’m writing, I try to make tones as clear as I can so that symbols aren’t needed (mileage will vary on how successful that is) - but I know plenty of players find symbols really useful for clarity.


I noticed that it has become popular and more and more new WIPs have these markings. Some even involve breaking up relationship, poly, platonic…

Eh. If you must know my opinion - I don’t like any emojis in choices. Even :heart: for romance. It’s distracting and irritating. I don’t need the author to show me which option means what, because I can guess it myself. And even if it’s not that clear and I have to think for a sec - that’s part of the fun.

Some people need it though…? The best solution would be to add an enable / disable option at the beginning of the game.


This. So much. Not everyone is good at reading tone (and even less the author-intended tone!) of the choices.


I totally understand the tone thing - I think for me, though, I find it easier to parse something like:

	#I grin flirtatiously. "Sure, I'm happy to do that for you."
	#I look away miserably. "All right. Yes."
	#I glare at them. "Fine. I'll do it."

…than I would if it was dialogue lines plus symbols denoting “flirty”, “sad”, “angry” or similar. I just find it hard to remember what symbols mean if there’s lots of them :sweat_smile:


I’m not entirely sold on indicators for the same reasons :sweat_smile: even though I like to play with them, most of the time (I’m a control freak like that). I think emojis in choicescript look - forgive me, everyone - ugly. Visuals in choicescript are a tricky thing.
For that reason, I like the style of indicators more as something the player wasn’t supposed to see.


Even if an author doesn’t use emotes, some kind of tone indicator to hint what the author intended that choice to mean is necessary. It’s literally the difference between finishing that 20 chapter 800k book, and having the frustration of a hard restart because of thinking a choice meant something different from what the author intends on chapter 18. Not even just for romance choices, either, though I have had the “unwanted kiss scene” because of trying to be nice to a character I knew was having a hard time, and I wanted to reassure them as a friend. Even if it is just words, it matters.


Ahh, the “Mass Effect 1” situation, I have encountered this sometimes. Yes, it can be jarring to accidentally walk into a romance that you didn’t realise you were heading towards!


Yeah I suck at reading the tone…soooo many times I have selected a choice that I think is fine but it is secretly meant in a mean tone :face_with_peeking_eye: so these symbols really help me as a reader to understand things better.

I guess it’s just personal preference. I find them useful and like I said, especially the tone ones e.g star means sarcastic as I can have my mc react in the right way :slightly_smiling_face:


This, exactly. I’m terrible with reading social situations and I need it, but even I’d want to turn it off sometimes.


I think it’s the best when they are optional and can be turned on and off. Symbols and text in brackets can be quite distracting for some and really helpful for the others.


I tend to like them because they help me avoid the ROs I don’t care about. If a writer gives me a meaningful variety of romantic dialogue (shy vs. flirty, for example), it also increases the entertainment value for me and might even get me to replay the same romance, only with a difference in tone. Example: The Passenger. My first romantic playthrough was Jonny with a shy MC. It’s still my favorite Jonny combo but I also really enjoyed getting him flustered with a bold MC.

That said, sometimes I’m afraid to use “normal” options, even though they would fit my MC’s personality better, for fear of losing out on precious relationship points or maybe even a special romance scene that I might not get to see if I choose the non-romantic option instead. I wish fewer romantic moments were tied specifically to one dialogue option. I don’t want to have to flirt 24/7 in order to get all the romance content (but maybe that’s just me).


Personally, I wouldn’t prefer this. Authors do have an annoying tendency to overestimate the mind-reading skills of their readers at times.

Each to their own, but I prefer clearly marked warnings. My game has two consecutive warnings before a player can start a romance. My style might not be the best, although I’d probably add that games like Cyberpunk and Fallout NV also display very explicit warnings when you’re about to cross the point of no return.

Like others have said, the on/off option might be the best compromise.


Indications of romance feel weird to me. Like, if I didn’t like a character as a romance, surely I would not have bothered with them to start with. I usually always zero in my preferred pair and never waver, even if it doesn’t sounds wise to romance them at all.

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As a player, I don’t particularly care for flirt/romance indicators. Usually flirt options are extremely telegraphed, so adding a :heart: to “‘Looking good, hot stuff,’ I say, winking’” or “‘T-t-thank you’, I mumble, as my cheeks heat up like I’d just stuck my head in an oven” isn’t really adding any information. Even if the phrasing is ambiguous, I feel it’s easy enough to indicate tone in the option text. E.g., “‘Do you come here often?’ I ask, flirtatiously”.

This is a me problem, but I find when indicators are used, I tend to parse them first and the story text gets a little lost. It becomes a game of “scan for the stat X option” and “smash that :heart: option to progress the romance”. Of course, I’d never begrudge it as an accessibility feature ― tone is challenging and English isn’t everyone’s first language ― but an option to toggle the indicators off is greatly appreciated.

Sort of an aside, but if a game is going to use unusual Unicode symbols, I’m a strong believer in coding those in as variables and offering an all text version. Mainly for players with screenreaders, but also for players whose devices cannot display certain symbols or display symbols strangely. I’ve seen at least one WIP that used half a dozen symbols that were indistinguishable at the size my browser displayed them at.

Even with basic symbols, keep in mind many screenreaders skip symbols entirely or interpret them in a way that’s less helpful. “Flirt” is better than “:heart:” (which would be read out as “heart”). Greatly Increase Finesse" is much nicer than “Finesse+++” (which would be read out as “Finesse Plus Plus Plus”). “Moderate Decrease to Brute Force” is better than “--Brute Force” (read out as “Brute Force” as hyphens (-) are generally not voiced since it’d be annoying if they were for words like “part-time”, “ex-lawyer”, etc). Using a real minus sign () is better, but making your players listen for the number of minuses is still worse than offering a text alternative, IMO.

From a creation perspective, I don’t do :heart: indicators because I’d find it too limiting to think of options as the flirt option, friendship option, jerk option, etc. The same dialogue choice could lead to a friendship moment, a bit of romance, or bit of rivalry depending on the context of the PC/NPC relationship.

Plus, I like ambiguity. I like leaving the door open a crack for player interpretation. If you want to do a running leap into the arms of an NPC, who am I to tell you if it’s romantic or platonic or somewhere in between? Though

  • Leap into Max’s arms (Romantic)
  • Leap into Max’s arms (Platonic)
  • Leap into Max’s arms (Vindictive)

would be a fun comedy bit.


Having the same exact dialogue/action but with a different tag (such as truth/lie) is fully one of my favourite things :smile:

I did wonder about screen readers actually. I had a feeling that such indicators might come over strangely in that format.


That’s the same meaning at least (or maybe it’s just my software dev brain), unlike with a lot of symbols.

New Vegas had romances? That’s news to me unless you are talking about mods :grin:. All the games had before 4 at most was just casual sex

I wasn’t clear. I meant that the game gave explicit warnings when you were about to approach the point of no return at the end of the game, instead of leaving it to the player to figure it out or make deductions from the dialogue.

I don’t mind indicators for romance, especially if the choices are ambiguous. For example, if the choice is “I hug Alex to comfort them”, I would be shocked if Alex tried to kiss me as a response to this choice, since I enjoy giving and receiving platonic hugs from my friends, and wouldn’t see the hug as a come-on. I also would like if there was a toggle to display whether the choices are romantic or not at the beginning of the game.