The best way to handle love interests?


#1

When making a text game that contains romance options in it, what do you think is the best way to handle the suitor characters? With the option of you picking your preferences (you like men/you like women), what do you think is the best way to offer love interests for differing preferences?

For better understanding, did you like the way it was handled in Choice of Romance where with your preference, the character still stood, just name and gender switched (Example: King Agustin/Queen Agustina). OR, is it better to have separate characters of difference genders to choose from.

Which appeals the best to you? Holly turning into Hollis after clicking “I prefer men”, or Holly is an unchanging female character you can have a romance with; with a separate character named Jack to be the male love interest?


#2

Personally I prefer different romance options for each gender, so Holly for a male PC Jack for a female PC and have other options for players who want same sex relationships.

It is a lot more work but gives more personality for each specific character.


#3

On the one hand sex swapping love interests based on your character’s sexual preferences do make things simpler to write and code, I’d assume. But on the other hand I think Fixed sex/sexual preference love interests add a lot more verisimilitude to the world, and for instance, make it possible to be friends with the lesbian character as a male character even though you aren’t romantically involved. It also allows the non-player characters to have much more consistent personalities without the rather verisimilitude breaking idea that men and women are functionally identical.

On the other hand, it’s quite possible to keep verisimilitude without consistency if you’re a good enough writer, it’s just not possible to keep quite as much.


#4

My approach is to make each romance option their own character, which means they have their own preferences in relationship choice. And because the setting I’m currently working with does not assume heteronormatativity, I am free to open them up to all sexes.


#5

Hm, actually my last statement is not what I meant to say. I didn’t mean to say consistency, I meant to say consistency of character sex and sexual preferences. I don’t think it’s actually possible to keep verisimilitude without at least a mostly consistent setting.


#6

I’m writing a combination of Holly/Hollis and Holly/Jack. (Isn’t Hollis also a girl’s name?) For some non-player characters – mainly, the really significant love interests – their sex will flip according to the reader’s choices. That way, no reader misses out on a fully fledged love plot just because of their choice of sex and preference.

Other characters will be written with a fixed sex and preference, and (where it makes character sense) the reader will be given the choice to try to seduce them or not. But that will be less of an opportunity for a romance and more an opportunity for a fling… no time to write full-fledged romance for all the NPCs!


#7

@Shoelip: you’re right that having identical social roles for the sexes breaks historical verisimilitude, for better and worse. If you want to write historical fiction, you have to write characters who are shaped by the gender roles of the period (whether they stick to them, challenge them, or flagrantly break them). Ditto if you want to write fantasy fiction that closely copies a specific Earth society, though that’s much trickier ground.**

Still, that doesn’t mean that characters’ personalities are wholly or even mostly determined by those social roles. Having characters whose personalities hew closely to gender stereotypes is usually poor writing. I’ve found it helpful to write characters whose personalities, descriptions, and dialogue have to make sense whether they’re male or female. So even for CoG writers who want to write a story with “verisimilitude” in gender roles, I’d encourage them to try having some characters whose sex does vary by player preference – where the male and female versions of the character vary in their social role, but not in their fundamental personality. It’s a useful way to fend off the over-friendly cliche.

**Take the influential (and compulsively readable) fantasy of George RR Martin, whose style is often described as “gritty realism” based on what medieval Europe was “really” like (in contrast to e.g. Tolkien’s mythic version). Of course, what Martin actually does is picks and chooses bits of history plus non-historical tropes he likes… resulting in “Oriental” cultures that bear far less relationship to any real-world counterpart than they do to a host of ugly Western stereotypes, and a “Western” culture whose gender roles are a mixed bag that just happen to facilitate a whole lot of female t&a. Martin wouldn’t get to play the “verisimilitude” card in explaining why he chooses to tell the stories he does. Nor, I suggest, would most CoG writers.


#8

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that characters’ personalities should be defined by their sex/gender/sexual preferences… I’m saying that ignoring those things often times leads to dull characters who don’t have much personality because they have to be designed to be completely interchangeable regardless of those things. There are lots of subtle things that you lose in those instances.


#9

I too am not particularly fond of the gender swap option, as it reduces any. . . prescence the characters may have. It makes them less than characters and more tools of the plot.


#10

Hmm…these are all very good points, the gender swap option does have a lot of problems. I was very disappointed with it in CoR, though I loved that you could have more people to choose from of your sexual preference, but it was awkward when I then played as a boy who liked women to see the deference. Being chased by the King was interesting and fun, but when the Queen does it in the same way just felt…awkward… But that was my findings. Gender swap has it’s perks of like I said, more options! When there is only one character for your sexual preference…if you don’t his or her as a character, you might feel stuck with the person or noone at all. Is it possible to have several different gender swap characters with their own personalities, but for their gender, apply changes to the codes to change some dialogue… Like make the character as a male handle things more masculine or as a female more feminine to fit the gender, but not lose that personality truly to them?

It was interesting how they handled romances through the Dragon Age games for example. The first game had four romance options, two heterosexuals and two homosexuals to woo. Though that brings to light that same problem, if you don’t like the character for that role, you don’t have different options or rejected from the character you do fancy because he/she is set to except a certain gender character. Though…Dragon Age 2 was handled interestingly. There were several romance options to choose from, men and women characters set with their own plots and personalities, but they were all set as bisexual. Overlooking your gender unflinchingly left lots of interesting possibilities , romancing the character just on your fancy of their personality alone. Though that does pose problems for people making historical games, Dragon Age could play with those liberties being set in a fantasy world but in realistic historical settings…it’s bit more difficult.


#11

Actually I thought it was just laziness to make all the romance characters bisexual in Dragon Age 2. The only one I felt it really worked for was Isabella due to her free spirited personality. Seemed sort of forced with rest of them and it still didn’t please everyone because people were still complaining that they couldn’t romance Varrik or Aveline (Or gay guys couldn’t romance Sebastian)

I’d say if you’re going to do romance stuff, make each choice their own character with their own personality. Yeah, it’ll be more work and some people won’t like the choices you’ve made available, but it’s your story and the character will be better off for it and not just seem like a cookie cut out with minor pronoun changes in the dialogue.


#12

Oh yes, because it’s so completely realistic to have a party full of heterosexuals but it’s completely unfathomable to have a party consisting of more than two bisexuals.


#13

Didn’t say it was unfathomable in fact they had two bisexuals in the first Dragon Age and it worked out fine because they actually took time to flesh out the characters. The characters in DA2 just weren’t written well and the romances were cookie cutter in that regard. One would think that you’d actually want better written characters overall regardless of what orientation/gender they are.

However, if you want to get overly sensitive about the subject and deliberately misinterpret what I said as hate speech and proceed with the next step of calling me some gay/bi bashing bigot, go right ahead I won’t be offended. I’ll stick by my statement that it was still laziness on Bioware’s part.


#14

Scarlet does have a point. Personally I dislike gender swap. I like to see characters how they are, One of the games I think did it right was Mass Effect.

They gave you a variety of character, some characters were even polar opposites of each other. But each were intresting in there own way, and thats why I played all three of them. Just to see how they turned out.


#15

Because as a queer person I am obviously being too overly sensitive about an argument which has been used to disregard queer representation and simply want to pick a fight instead of, you know, being genuinely hurt by it.

You may be right about the laziness though, but I still think it worked for the best.

EDIT: Then again, I have heard that if you play a woman while romancing Anders, he is hetero-ised instead of bisexual, which would be more clear if you’re playing male. Can someone confirm this?


#16

@ScarletGeisha

I don’t know exactly what your asking but this should help.


#17

I remember my wife had him as a romance when she played through. I’m not remembering a lot of the exact dialogue, but I always felt they already heteroized Anders in Awakenings that might’ve been why I didn’t really see him as bi or gay. I think everyone I knew agreed he was a big whiner no matter what though. Heh.

I dunno, I just think if Bioware REALLY wanted to be ground breaking they should’ve just made Hawke straight up gay (regardless of gender). Not like we’ve had a solely gay player protagonist in an RPG before, well not a western one anyway. Not sure about some of the JRPGs out there. The only one that’s coming to mind is an old man from an old shoot 'em game called Gunbird which wasn’t an RPG. (That one even had a pedo player character. Yikes!)

Personally, I wanted my Hawke to be able to romance his sister, but then I’m twisted like that. Lol.


#18

“If Hawke is male, he will mention that Karl was his “first.” If Hawke is female, he does not mention Karl romantically.”

That’s precisely what I meant. They took extra effort.

Besides, I don’t think of Bioware as being really progressive. One step forward, one step back!


#19

@KageTehVamp: What you just said, about it feeling “awkward” to be pursued by the Queen in the same way as the King, because that doesn’t distinguish masculine/feminine ways of “handling things”… that feeling of having gender assumptions turned upside down is part of what Adam and Heather were aiming for in AotC. If they had written out separate, sex-specific personalities for Agustin/Agustina, I’m guessing they would have kept the current aggressive approach for the Queen and made the King play hard-to-get, requiring active wooing on your part if you wanted to seduce him!

Most Western entertainment still feeds us the idea that sexually, men pursue the partners they desire while women either wait to be pursued or use indirect, subtle means of seduction. It’s linked with related ideas like “men desire/need sex more than women,” and “women who have lots of sex should feel shame; men who have lots of sex should feel proud.” And real-world gender roles and power frameworks are built on those ideas.

But those ideas aren’t universal across human societies, let alone fundamental truths that come with our chromosomes. I’ve worked for years in a country (Afghanistan) where the assumption that “women desire sex more than men” is a cornerstone of gender relations (and has of course led to its own set of famously screwed-up power frameworks). There’s no reason why a fantasy story set in a different world – even one that in many ways mirrors medieval Iberia in our own – should play by current Western ideas of what masculinity and femininity mean.

Even if you don’t agree with me that our Western gender ideas need flipping on their head because they justify unjust privilege and power for straight men, you might see if you can enjoy that “awkward” feeling – to my mind, the best fantasy and sci fi creates worlds that weird us out a little, because they offer an alternative to our ingrained ideas of what it is to be male, female, heroic, human, etc.


#20

@EndMaster: If a character has been written with a detailed, compelling personality, but that personality doesn’t change depending on the character’s sex, do you really think it’s fair to call it “cookie cutter” writing? In this case, I’m imagining a really elaborate cookie cutter that makes a very pretty, distinctive cookie, which you use exactly twice (once for your male cookie, once for your female cookie). Does that metaphorical situation really deserve the insult “cookie cutter”? :slight_smile:

I’d have thought that gendered writing is more in danger of drifting into real cookie cutter syndrome. When I last checked in with Robert Jordan’s fantasy novels (Wheel of Time book 9 or so?) all his male characters and all his female characters had started sounding like each other, because they all had the same gendered quirks.

Ditto @13ventrm: Is “tools of the plot” really what you mean? Presumably in the games you’re talking about, the plot doesn’t change at all based on character gender… so how is a gender-swappable character a tool of the plot?

I’m not saying there aren’t good reasons to prefer characters that are written with a specific, fixed gender – especially in games where historical verisimilitude is important – but I’m finding it hard to make sense of some of the rationales that have been tossed out here.


Is being able to be Bi or Gay that important?