Wednesday, August 20, 2008

(Lack of) Romance in Role Play Games

Role play games typically utilize genres that in literature contain romance. RPGs rarely contain romance. In games that I've participated in - at most - characters list that they have a lover or spouse, but this is seen as equal detail to what color of eyes the character has. I don't write this to encourage more romance in rpgs, but just question why they haven't been present. 

I do not base this on any surveys or empirical data, so this is purely speculative, but I'm assuming that in many cases most pen and paper gaming groups are male so romance would uncomfortably  force homoeroticism onto the group.

Is it a problem that rpgs don't contain much romance? 
No. I don't mean to judge groups that do have some form of romance in their game successfully (and if you do, please share how you go about it) but lets go over how romance in games could work out: 

1. Two same sex players can have characters in love (either both male, both female, or male and female). 
2. Two opposite sex players can have characters in love. 
3. The GM can have an NPC in love with a player's character (male or female). 

One could add further options with polyamorous groups of lovers and the transgendered, but I'll stick with the above three. In 1. I've already mentioned that homoeroticism in gaming could just creep some players out - even if they're fine with homosexuals that doesn't mean they want to pretend to be in a gay relationship. In 2. this could weird one of the players out, or even if it didn't it might make the rest of the gaming group feel awkward - though this isn't necessarily the case. In the third option this meets the same problems as 1 and 2. 

I will say that I do think it's odd though that we very easily will kill vast numbers of fictional beings in games, but acting out something meaningful like a relationship or pleasurable like sex intuitively feels very weird and inappropriate. I take these intuitions are common. Am I wrong? 
However, I will note that this is different than in mmorpgs. I've attended weddings of characters on rp servers for WoW. This seems to be easier online, and I assume it's because we're not connected to other people at the personal level we are with players around a gaming table. Any other thoughts on this? 

Books on this topic: 
Blue Rose offers romance in the more general sense that is often found within the fantasy genre. The game focuses less on combat and more on role play and interacting with others. The kingdom within the game is very sexually open of gay/lesbian/transgender lifestyles as well as causes like environmentalism. 

Book of Erotic Fantasy offers more of a practical guide on how erotic romance can be put into games. The book also covers everything from playing a character who's pregnant to the often overly sexual nature of actual polytheistic belief systems and the absence of this sexual element in the polytheistic systems in most games. 

Breaking the Ice: Actually looks like a really fun date rpg. In that context, a romance game would be appropriate and probably a great way to get to know one another. 


Typhinius said...

Another thing to consider is that romance, generally speaking, is a personal thing between two people. With a group of 5 people sitting around a table, it no is personal. Romance in MMOs generally doesn't involve a whole bunch of people. The online wedding might, but a wedding really isn't romance, it's more of a symbol of the romance...a milestone. I'd be much more willing to RP out a wedding in a PnP session than the romance behind it. Just my 2cents.

Zach L said...

The problem, as typhinius touched on, is that you're with multiple people.

Firstly, the typical group of gamers has a disproportionate number of males to females (usually no females at all). This means that someone is going to be gay. If any of the players are actually gay, then it's not going to be as much of an issue, but as you said, a lot of straight gamers aren't comfortable enough to sacrifice their assumed "masculinity" to do something so extreme, for fear it will lessen their standing in the group.

Secondly, in the group, there are too many opportunities for awkwardness. A lot of people have had bad experiences with friends in relationships turning into utter assholes. Roleplaying out milestones -- dates, weddings, etc -- works, but in the context of an actual relationship, there's a lot of pull and push between your significant other and your friends. A lot of PnP games teach you to emphasize your friends (party) over all, and as a result naturally seek to minimize interaction with your significant other.

The only solution to this is, of course, for your significant other to be a part OF the party, but that means -- again -- you're roleplaying a relationship with a PC, who is likely to be the same gender as you (even if they're not PLAYING a character of the same gender, which is certainly something to bring up in another post), and who you have no romantic inclinations towards in real life. It's very difficult to roleplay that sort of thing well, and it becomes awkward.

Thirdly, if anyone has ever gamed with two people who actually are dating, they will ALWAYS write up characters that are also in love, and it is almost always without fail obnoxious, frustrating, and to the detriment of the group. They'll be lovey-dovey and plot against the other players so they can come out on top; they'll assume things without asking the rest of the group; the list goes on and on. This has happened in several games I've been in, and I've heard stories from others. It's of course no guaranteed thing, but it is, as far as I can tell, the statistical norm.

All this adds up to a very difficult situation if you want to add romance to a game. Having two NPCs in love and a story about that seems to work out fine; but the second you bring the PCs into it, everyone starts shuffling their feet.

(N.B.: if you're roleplaying the character kicking ass and then bedding a character, there's usually no problems there. Again, sex is another milestone; you can do it and then get on with the mission and get back to your friends.)

D said...

I agree with Zach's comment that romance complicates the rest of relationships, and Typhinius' comment about the public nature of group gaming is also very relevant (you can find at least a modicum of privacy in an MMO).

I think the reason that romance complicates things so much is that it brings out the strongest of emotions in people: if the involved parties are able to suspend disbelief, they will be invested in the experience, and it can play out just as messily as an actual romance (because that's more or less what it's become, as a relationship). But what's more likely is that the parties will not be willing to suspend disbelief, and will therefore be divorced from the experience, and unlikely to feel enriched by it. Some inkling of this is probably what makes people unwilling to pursue it as a course of action. That, and it's way easier to make fun of someone for getting all hot and bothered over imaginary people - this is unfair and an oversimplification, but there's probably an asshole in nearly every circle of friends who would go there.

If you can find that magical mix of personal investment in a character's development without identifying heavily with said character, then romance is perfectly valid as a source of gameplay. But not only is that a huge "if," it's also laden with a bunch of caveats about compatibility that aren't as easy to identify and asses as those involved in your general hackenslash.

Does that make sense?