Recently I’ve realized a lot of people will ask for Romantic Options (ROs) in games. However I do believe there are game ideas where finding love would never be able to fit in with the storyline. It’s the reason neither of my games have ROs and never will.
Both of mine involve an orphaned young teenager (13-15) going to a mansion that has a two-faced owner who co-operates with Satan (I never was the most original person here). Killers and traps are breathing down your neck all the time; if you drop it for smoochy-smooch the traps and killers easily catch up and you’re dead. Since the settings of my games never change until the ending, plus the fact that the whole game takes place on the same night, this means the whole time you have interactivity, the best you can do with communication is build a friendship. I feel no remorse or regret quoting Elsa (Frozen):
“You can’t marry a man you just met.”
That doesn’t mean an idea always doesn’t work with romance. A game that spawns weeks would have an opportunity to start a relationship. Romance-themed games without romance are quite obviously going to be like school lunches.
But where do you think the line between romance and no romance should be drawn? Is it thick, and has a “bad romance” (again, I regret nothing) atmosphere to it, or is it a fence and it’s either one or the other?
Romance should exist in a game where the writer puts it in.
I disagree with the idea that “realism” ever means that romance needs to take a backseat, because movies have been setting up romances in 90 minutes or less for decades, and we the viewers are mostly willing to accept the handwave even when the movie takes place over only a couple of days. If you want to have a romance in Satan’s Murder Mansion, then ten minutes in a safe closet are enough time to have some smoochy-smooch. To quote Speed:
Jack: I have to warn you, I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.
Annie: OK. We’ll have to base it on sex then.
Jokes aside, the games that have romances in them have romances in them because the writer thinks that they’ll contribute something; sometimes, of course, they’re in there because they’re expected to be there.
Affairs of the Court is about romance, of course, and Guenevere (still under construction) is about life as a married woman. Vampire is a game where your choice to romance or not to romance (and the tragedy that doing so will involve) is a defining element of your character. Life of a Wizard is intended to be a simulation of someone’s 80-year life and could hardly not have a romance somewhere. And Slammed! is a game about the lines between actor and character, and romance is a part of that. Meanwhile, Choice of the Dragon’s romance is utterly tacked on and relevant to absolutely nothing else (this is an example of romance done badly), and Choice of the Deathless’ romance makes for an interesting subplot, but the game could have been done without romance just as easily.
Contrariwise, Choice of Zombies decides that the action movie will not include romance, and The Fleet wouldn’t work with a romance because the player is almost completely depersonalized and their role as Fleet Captain is more important than who they are as a person. Both are also valid choices.
So if the game doesn’t have a pressing need to have a romance or to not have a romance, then the writer can add a romance or not add one. That said, Bioware has set the pattern, and romances can be entertaining (and are also very easy to half-ass and pad out a vignette with if all else fails), so I imagine most CoGs will continue to have them.
My game isn’t going to have romance. It’s a police investigation that runs over the course of 2-3 days. You will meet plenty of characters of the opposite sex, but none of them will really be romance options. I don’t see myself being able to fit in that sort of thing naturally.