Mar. 23rd, 2010

telerib: (Default)
I have role-played romances at tabletop games in person, between tabletop games via email, in online play-by-post games and now in a video RPG. For my money, the last two are the most effective, albeit in very different ways.

Let's face it: most role-players are not comfortable with doing the mushy bits at the table. When the table is all (straight) men... it often is just not pretty. I'll leave it at that*. Even when a woman is present, as player or as GM, to provide a more acceptable interlocutor... RPers are geeks. The Awkward is strong in us. (And let's also never mind the difficulty some people have with understanding that flirting in-character is not flirting out-of-character... both flirters and flirtees can misuse this.) It's frankly amazing that we can manage it at all, let alone manage it well.

Using email between games provides some space. It's less immediate, which lessens the emotional impact, but it also provides a sense of security that allows for more expression of emotion. It's easier to type the "corny" lines than to actually say them while looking at another person. Online play-by-post gaming extends this, providing a forum where extensive (and sometimes purple) prose is encouraged.

The video RPG experience takes it even farther. The actual other human being involved is a professional voice actor; you are looking at an animated avatar. Nobody you know is going to snicker at you for being a sap, or be shocked if you're cruel. The digital avatar, ironically, can express more emotion than your average RPer, if the animation is decent and the voice work is good. The voice actor is a professional, after all, and has no trouble emoting deeply and on cue.

However, the video RPG has definite drawbacks. First, in my mind, is the limited number of responses the player can make. The format of the video game requires that the player's response be a sentence or two. This means you will often get your romantic interest delivering a nicely-written, nuanced declaration of sentiment, and you get to reply, "I feel the same way." As someone who enjoys wordplay, I find this to be a problem.

Second, it borders some creepy territory. Maybe all role-playing does - we certainly have the reputation of non-functioning losers who retreat into imaginary fantasy lives to escape reality. It just seems like a short trip from "digital romance for fun"-land to "digital romance because my Polyhedral Prince/ss will never disappoint me like a real person"-land. There's the aspect of investing emotional energy in a construct... and yes, fanfic along those lines is also bordering on creepy to me.**

Maybe in the end, it's comparing apples and oranges. One activity is social, the other is not. (But it pretends to be, which is maybe what's weird about it.) On the whole... I've scripted some play-by-posts that I can reread years later and still find touching (rather than cringe-worthy, and I'm a fairly hard judge of my own writing). With a good co-writer working opposite, those are probably the best romantic moments I've managed to create in an RPG. The romance options in Dragon Age: Origins have an advantage of visual and auditory immediacy, giving a moderately interactive first-person experience which surpasses that commonly found at a gaming table, where forays into the subject are often furtive and clumsy.

That suggests some lessons learned...

*Your Mileage May Vary and all that. I concede that in the entire universe there may well be an all-guy RP group that manages to rise above the typical "Is she hot? I wanna bang her!" dynamic that takes over. I have not yet met them. At best, love and lust are simply excised from the game.

**I probably have friends who write/enjoy self-insert romantic fanfic. I don't want to get into it here, but I said "bordering on" for a reason. I mean that I find most of it not-creepy (although not to my taste) but that I can see creepy from here. Just like role-playing games.

August 2014

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