Relationships with problems


#1

I have read this a couple of times and I’m still not sure if I’m expressing myself correctly, but anyway, here I go.

Romance… it seems like one of the most valued things in Choice of Games, almost every game has a romantic subplot. However I wanted to discuss how love and relationships are usually portrayed.

I think that most of the time love is portrayed in a really romanticized way, and why shouldn’t it? That’s why it’s called romance. But here’s the thing, in real life, romance isn’t that ideal, it’s usually a mess, we tend to have high standards for love and romantic relationships that usually don’t match reality, and part of the reason might be because of the way that relationships are portrayed in media.

And I think that most players don’t feel too attracted to the idea of exploring a more complex - and maybe more realistic - views of love. I get it, a lot of us want escapism, I do to, and love in a game is like a fantasy you can get involved with. We need things like that, I’m not asking for get rid of them.

However I think that exploring problems in a romantic path might allow experiencing a type of romance that, although it’s less idealized, might be also more rewarding. Most of the games seem to “punish” the player if they get in an argument with they love interest by losing relationships points in the stats, and I think there are few chances of reconciliation after a break up, which I think is kind of limiting, because most players would want to avoid this kind of scenarios. Also, because of the high standards we have about love, we might consider that things like arguing are a sign that “love is dead”, which I also doubt.

What about trying to help a partner to a serious issue? The romantic idea proposes that love is about acceptance, but I also think that it’s about becoming better people; maybe through a romantic path you can help someone overcome character flaws. I remember that some time ago I played a visual novel in which the love interest was suffering from a depression and the main character and the love interest got into some serious stuff, the love in that visual novel wasn’t a fun sexy thing, but I also found the game very interesting and engaging.

There is also the possibility of feeling things like betrayal… but this also might lead to stories about forgiveness…

What I want to ask you, fellow players and authors, is how would you feel about playing games with less “romantic” romances? How do you think that it can be done right? How do you feel about the possibility of getting in arguments with a RO without ruining the love experience? And what do you think about portraying such things like cheating, break ups, disagreements, toxic relationships… all that not so fun love stuff?


#2

This post is actually a lot bigger than what I originally intended.


#3

Ok so how about 5 options?

  • Ok yeah, I’ll get right on that.
  • Ok yeah, I’ll get right on that (sarcastic).
  • Why do you always have to nag me about that?
  • I’ve had enough of your crap [breakup].
  • You need to leave right now [breakup].

But the breakup options can lead to getting back together if you work it out somehow.
Did you mean something like that?


#4

This is a really interesting question and idea, and tbh I would very much love to play a romance similar to what you’ve described–more realistic, more problem solving, more “arguments” and discussions that don’t just take off relationship points but actually spark development …

I think the main thrust of the issue is that relationships are, in general, side plots. And while there are more CoGs that are serialized–Versus, Lost Heir, Heroes Rise, CCH come to mind–most of them are still one-off games, which just doesn’t leave all that much room for romance-specific development. Having a good, satisfying romance is of course something games should aim for, but having them just romanticized so that there’s a hurdle or two and you get over it and everything is fine feels like the best way to portray a good, fun romance that the audience will enjoy without either making it feel like things are unresolved at the end, or just making the game waay longer and have it being half romantic content and half the actual plot of the game.

As well, some of the uglier stuff that you mentioned:

some of that is dealbreakers for players or characters (other than disagreements). Having a romance where my MC gets cheated on partway through would make my MC want to break up and stay broken up with them–but then, with an average length CoG, chances are there won’t be another opportunity to start a new romance. And if there is, it probably wouldn’t be as deep or satisfying as it would have been had it begun as early as the one that ended.

Honestly, I think in terms of relationships that feel real and well-developed, including the less pretty sides of things, are Verity Chen from Deathless: The City’s Thirst, and Black Magic from Heroes Rise (granted that the latter has some pretty valid reasons to be avoided).

With Verity, the relationship begins with the explicit statement that she can’t be in a romantic relationship with you, she doesn’t have the emotional capacity to handle it at the moment and she doesn’t feel like she has the free time to be a satisfying partner (I might be misremembering details, but that’s the thrust of the scene) and so the relationship begins as a more or less “co-workers with benefits” thing that develops into a more committed relationship as the game goes on. It feels like a natural build, and somewhat cleverly reverses the more common video game romance formula of “emotional commitment building into a culminating, climax (heh) sex scene” by making the climax of the relationship a moment of emotional connection and honesty that confirms that Verity is committed to the MC.

Black Magic, on the other hand, does (usually, you can avoid it) begin with a sex scene and lead more or less into a committed relationship that then spans the series, but the issues that the characters brings in are linked to self worth and esteem. There’s an inability to confront them with their issues because their mindset is a polarized “with me or against me” one. I’m definitely going to say that I’m not saying that this is healthy, but it is a relationship that isn’t just pretty and romantic as you said above. The development of the relationship comes as the MC continually proves that they’re willing to stand by Black Magic, that they’re committed and devoted, and (although I definitely would not advocate someone having a relationship like that in real life, I want to stress that) it makes it satisfying at the end of the romance arc when Black Magic takes self improvement into their own hands. They see that the MC is worth being with and that the MC does have their interests at heart, and so resolve to become a better person of their own volition. It isn’t an arc that the MC has a hand in the way you described, but it’s definitely unique and memorable and portrays some of the uglier sides of long term relationship.


#5

Since I love me some drama, I’m saying yes to all the bad romance :heart_eyes:


#6

#7

I’m with @HomingPidgeon, the reason the ROs feel limited is because they are side plots. I think what you’re asking for would work in a story about being in a relationship, not so much about fighting against your evil father who wants to kill every bee on the planet --also, he happens to be the devil–.

I’m all about romancing the NPCs and having plenty to pick from, but I’m not sure everybody cares about that part in the games. Would it be off putting if you’ve been, let’s say following your father around, attempting to foil his plans, training all your bees and then your RO is mad at you because you forgot you were going to watch netflix together? Like when GTA makes you go bowling with your cousin. That kind of what-the-hell moment for the person that’s playing your game.

It’s a cool concept tho.


#8

@HomingPidgeon hits the nail in the head - romances in most videogames are seen as nothing more than fun gimmicks or side-content for the main plot. I would even go so far as to call them “fan-service”. The videogame community in general is pretty much split when it comes to this - some think its a nice add and / or because they like romance, others think its a waste of time and resources and couldn’t careless about a bunch of pixels kissing each other.

We’ve got Bioware to thank for for opening our minds (and hearts) to videogame romance but its still far from being the norm even among other RPGs (except for the Witcher series). CoG does it because its pretty much one of their marketing slogans and ideologies, the whole “living through our character” sort of deal. Not to mention they’re trying to reach out to all sorts of individuals and their preferences (within reason of course) so gender-identity is kind of a must, both for our characters and those we wish to romance.

With that in mind, can you imagine the level of complexity CoG games would have if we were to include relationship woes, including those from the LGBT community and derived of? You could write an entire game and then some just solely dedicated to that… and most of it wouldn’t be exactly pretty (persecution, society’s standards, etc). So in order to avoind the dark grimmy reality of love, most people just stick with the simple and somewhat effective, short-term cheesy romance.


#9

Let me join you. I live for the drama. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

HOWEVER, romance plots in CoG/HG are usually just optional side-quests. And as such, they are not given that many scenes (after all, the main story has to advance).
I think every writer should keep that in mind before trying to portray some very seriously dysfunctional relationships in their RO-routes. Or deal with things like persecution and discrimination.

What I am saying is, I personally don’t mind reading problematic or angsty stuff at all.
But please know what you are doing and be very open to feedback.

P.S. They are not ROs, but I remember Carl and Candace’s relationship in Zombie Exodus was a mess. With the possibility of leading to Jason’s murder and all.


#10

I think it’s significant as well that in many (most?) CoG games, the game only covers the initial stage of the relationship - meeting one another, deciding you like one another, that sort of area. And, in reality, that’s not typically where relationships become complicated or problematic. In my own experience, couples who have known each other for less than a couple of years still aren’t best-equipped to analyse the more fundamental issues that might create problems down the line.

It’s conceivable that a game could start out from a situation along the lines of, ‘Okay, you and your partner have been together for five years already…’ But this would impose a lot of already-made choices on the player. Yes, the game could potentially gender-flip the player’s partner - it could allow the player to specify whether his or her partner is a man or a woman, gay or straight. But looking at this in the sense of, ‘*if partner = man’, is still only addressing it in a fairly superficial way. To really address deeper relationship problems, the game would have to include a large amount of extra content - for example, if you consider the issue of whether the player and his/her partner want to have children, a straight man and a gay woman are likely to have profoundly different experiences.

So, either the game would have to limit the player’s choices about the type of partner they prefer to be with - which goes against the ethos of good interactive fiction, and CoG games in particular - or it would have to be large enough to cover a wide, wide range of experiences, which becomes technically demanding for the writer.

Plus there’s also the issue that if the player ever decided to definitively break up with his/her partner, the game would immediately have to end.


#11

"It’s been 7 days since you broke up with ${partner}. Just then you hear someone knocking on your front door.

*choice
#Answer the door.
*goto A
#Look out the peephole.
*goto B
#Ignore the knocking and go back to bed.
*goto C

*label A
${partner} is standing in front of you demanding an explanation.
What do you do?
(more choices here)

*label B
${partner} is standing behind the door with their hands behind their back, as if concealing something.
What do you do?
(more choices here)

*label C
You try to ignore the knocking, but the sound only gets louder and more intense. After a few minutes of silence, you hear the sound of your front door being unlocked. You race to lock it once more, but are too late. The door is open, and you are now face to face with ${partner}.
What do you do?
(more choices here)


#12

That’s why I say ‘definitively’. Yes, you can spin the story out a little more, but if the player absolutely doesn’t want to get back with his/her partner, then the game has fundamentally shifted in tone - at this point, it’s become a game about getting over somebody (or even about an ex-partner stalking the player, which is kind of a dark avenue to go down).


#13

Oh, no stalking involved.
${partner} just wanted to return a book…!
(That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.) :wink:


#14

I agree with what others have said that the most CS games and main steam video games don’t devote the time to their romantic sub plots for those relationships to develop past the falling in love stage.

I can’t honestly claim to have much experience with them, but even the few dating-simple type games I’ve played ended at what is really the beginning of the relationship.

Maybe a way to tell a story with a deeper partnership is to choose your partner the way you chose your character. From the beginning you’re in a relationship. Your partner could still be tied up in the main plot as most RO’s are, and the romantic sub-plot could be about how the adenture effects your relationship, or how you handle it together.


#15

That’s a issue as old as narrative–stories, especially ones with comic resolutions, often end with falling in love, or engagement, or maybe marriage, but not often beyond.

There is a lot of design space beyond that point, but it hasn’t often been done. I often say to my students that nobody wants to read about Beatrice and Benedick talking about whose turn it is to do the dishes.


#16

In your field of study my friend doesn’t romance come in three flavors comedic tragic and the classic happy ending


#17

Plus (and this might or might not be relevant? I know romance novels =/= novels with romance and the audiences might be different) a year or two ago I read a lot of romance novels to try out the genre. I also popped onto a few forums because that’s me. From what I’ve seen, most romance series tend to change their main characters.

Like the first book will be about Delilah and the second will be about her spinster bridesmaid. Delilah might have a cameo, at most, and that’s because romance readers are less likely to tune in after the couple get together. Probably because the idea is that the relationship will be boring without problems and it kinda ruins the fairytale happily ever after for people. Like, what if they break up?? Though maybe choicescript’s audience doesn’t really overlap with romance novels.

Personally, I’m really interested in games that shake up the present formula. Anything that adds some flesh to a romance and I love drama, so this thread’s suggestion works for me. Though I’m more interested in things like toxic relationships and helping each other through personal issues than like deciding whether or not to make a joint bank account, obviously. Annnnd one way to solve the problem of stories here not being about romance could be to make the romance about the story? I know this probably won’t always work out, but characters should be relevant to the plot. So it wouldn’t be ridiculous to expect them to have some plot-relevant detail that could be explored through a close relationship, I think. I dunno. I’ve never written game.


#18

Oh please, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that all games, or neither most games, would benefit of exploring this concepts. There are perfect good reasons for not doing it such as length, tone, whether it makes sense in the narrative or not. In fact, I hate when stories that would have been perfectly decent otherwise, feel the need to include some forced conflict of this type.

But I do still think that is an interesting concept, that I haven’t seen explored too much. And games that would like to touch specifically in these subjects as a main plot point could offer some variety and try to communicate new messages to the players, that they might have not considered otherwise.

And of course as subplots, they might not work as well. But I still think that it can be done right if those subplots are connected thematically or narratively to the main one. There has been a while since I played Choice of Robots, but I sort of remember that the romance options could feel alienated at some points by the choices of the main character, wich connected pretty well to the main theme of the game and made me revalute the choices I was making.

However, I think that the problem might be that I’m trying to discuss this subject in general and without providing very specific examples. And since this is a subject that not all games should consider exploring, maybe it would be the best trying to discuss each case individually if a game wants to portray things like this.


#19

Another theme that I was also considering is: the romance is up to the player but each romance entails a different challenge (something like each character having a fatal flaw that they need to overcome) and through the choices, the main character could get involved in “good scenes” or “bad scenes”.


#20

Can you elaborate on what you mean by this? Do you mean that they would depend on how good of a job the MC is doing helping this character work through their issues?

Are these flaws something that the characters themselves are aware of? Like, off the top of my head, does Person A know that they need help to better live with their anxiety, and are they looking in the MC for a partner that can help with that? Because then you could definitely bring into it an aspect that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen in a CoG–if the MC is a bad partner, their RO could break it off with them. If Person A went into this relationship trying to help get better and the MC isn’t doing a good job dealing with that, they very well might just end the relationship for their own mental health.