210: A Risk of Romance

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A Risk of Romance

If videogame publishers want to extend their reach beyond the standard 18- to 34-year-old male demographic, they may want to form development teams with fewer gamers and more romance novelists. Colin Rowsell exhorts game developers to inject some fresh ideas into the design process.

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This reminds me a bit of my girlfriend's experience playing Grand Theft Auto IV. She loved learning how to drive around the city and murdered many a pedestrian with her awkward three-point turns while mastering the controls. Then she met Michelle and her sole purpose in the game was to a) take Michelle on dates, or b) call Michelle every five minutes trying to ask her out.

Unfortunately, one day a planned moped drive along the boardwalk ended in tragedy. The moped struck a lamp post and Michelle was hurled into the sea. Needless to say, Michelle was not down for any further excursions. Glumly my girlfriend progressed into the rest of the game only to realize that she didn't want to shoot anybody. As soon as Niko got a gun, she put down the controller, never to return.

Think there could be a market for a sandbox dating game?

Don't we already have dating sims? I know you can find a number of 'em on any flash game website and they're frickin' boring.

Clemenstation:
This reminds me a bit of my girlfriend's experience playing Grand Theft Auto IV. She loved learning how to drive around the city and murdered many a pedestrian with her awkward three-point turns while mastering the controls. Then she met Michelle and her sole purpose in the game was to a) take Michelle on dates, or b) call Michelle every five minutes trying to ask her out.

Unfortunately, one day a planned moped drive along the boardwalk ended in tragedy. The moped struck a lamp post and Michelle was hurled into the sea. Needless to say, Michelle was not down for any further excursions. Glumly my girlfriend progressed into the rest of the game only to realize that she didn't want to shoot anybody. As soon as Niko got a gun, she put down the controller, never to return.

Think there could be a market for a sandbox dating game?

Did you tell her about

How would the sandbox romance game work? Isn't the point of a sandbox game to incorporate as many elements as possible?

Pseudonym2:

How would the sandbox romance game work? Isn't the point of a sandbox game to incorporate as many elements as possible?

Even then the creators think of things they'd like to include and exclude. You don't have the ability to create the plague in GTA, do you? That's because it doesn't fit the setting, just as there's no ability to build muscle in populous 2. A sandbox game centered on romance would likely bear some similarities to the sims: going to parties and such, except in it might be better if the player controlled only 1 avatar, instead of multiple sims.

Well, its untrodden ground. Maybe make a game much like the romance subplots in every BioWare game, except a lot less action more Myst like point and click perhaps? Moving thorough the game world, making friends and enemies, trying to solve the games myriad puzzles. Except instead of finding away to to open a door its trying to get two people to get along or trying to woo the countess or whatever. Its a solid Ideas it would just need a whole to of trial-and-error idea bouncing before something actually forms from the incorporeal entity that is an idea.

If you're not too kind about romance, but still think it has some place in a game without putting a foot into the syrupy bland stories of Final Fantasy, I'd say that Project Zero series have enough romance in the background to be noticed and matter, without distracting from the main constituents of the games.
One of my favorite series.

What a great idea - expanding both game content and gameplay. Romance is fine, but, more than the idea of "romance", I like the idea of doing something different, in a game. If it can be done on the Nintendo DS, I don't see why it can't be done on other platforms. What a lovely idea - expanding the market for games.

I'd also like that to extend to MMOs, but I'm not super hopeful, unless we really think about online games, expand our idea of what an online game is, and also think about who works on games. I remember the article The Escapist did where they all talked about (Escapist staff included) how much fun it was to jerk people around in online worlds - hey, part of gameplay! I'm paraphrasing, but the whole tenor seem to be "games are like that, cheat, kill (virtually), and just make people's virtual lives unpleasant - all great fun"! Now, I'm not like that - so perhaps I can hope that, one day, there will be more different types of MMOs on the market where that sort of thing is just not done. Hey - a person can hope!

This is a perspective we need. Shooters are fun, but when it's the ONLY thing out there it gets old fast. My favorite games are the ones that have "Tried Weird Sh*t", like Dark Cloud's town construction component, Katamari Damacy, Animal Crossing, even Chibi Robo.

I think having a parkour-based game would be fun. Freerunning was the only part I enjoyed about Assassin's Creed, so why not make an entire game of it? You could include points for skill and photo-taking missions, or just explore a detailed cityscape with well-written individual NPCs to interact with.

I'm a little pessimistic about making romance the main focus of a game. However, the rewards are too small to carry a game.

OK, the reward at the end of the game is getting the girl, but what if the gamer isn't into the kind of girl in the game. But one person's princess is another guy's spoilt brat IMO.

But then there needs to be a sense of danger and risk. How could this be created in the game? Could the girl already be love with a gangster or something and it would be your role in the game to cut in and steal the girl while avoiding the gangster's goons?

However, if such a game was to be created - I can imagine it being very similar to Mass Effect in terms of it's dialogue. But there would have to be a load of action to balance things out.

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read and comment so far - this was a tough piece to put together but I'm glad it's working well.

Though my original spark was romance, I got more interested in the broader idea of consciously bringing a bunch of unexpected/uncharted creative backgrounds into videogame development. If you were going to add something to the mix in this way (something that hasn't been seen before or hasn't really been pushed) what might it be?

Cheers

Colin

canadamus_prime:
Don't we already have dating sims?

yes we do.

canadamus_prime:
I know you can find a number of 'em on any flash game website and they're frickin' boring.

that's the problem. they're also mostly made by lonely nerds in their basements. a better approach would be getting a bunch of men and women together, look at what makes dating sims in Japan so successful (besides the cartoon porn) and try to figure out how to translate that into a game palatable to Western audiences.

Personally I'd like to see more games about "life" than action and violence. Wouldn't it be cool to play a "coming of age" game?

Gunner 51:
I'm a little pessimistic about making romance the main focus of a game. However, the rewards are too small to carry a game.

OK, the reward at the end of the game is getting the girl, but what if the gamer isn't into the kind of girl in the game. But one person's princess is another guy's spoilt brat IMO.

But then there needs to be a sense of danger and risk. How could this be created in the game? Could the girl already be love with a gangster or something and it would be your role in the game to cut in and steal the girl while avoiding the gangster's goons?

However, if such a game was to be created - I can imagine it being very similar to Mass Effect in terms of it's dialogue. But there would have to be a load of action to balance things out.

No offense, but it seems like your opinion of a romance game is a bit colored by the fact that you don't particularly like romance.

cobra_ky:

canadamus_prime:
I know you can find a number of 'em on any flash game website and they're frickin' boring.

that's the problem. they're also mostly made by lonely nerds in their basements. a better approach would be getting a bunch of men and women together, look at what makes dating sims in Japan so successful (besides the cartoon porn) and try to figure out how to translate that into a game palatable to Western audiences.

I assure you, the only reason dating sims are so successful in Japan is because they are made for lonely nerds living in basements. I don't know many people outside of the "Otaku" subculture that play those games.

I've worked for a company which tried to hire people from outside the industry. We hired a film director and someone from the automobile industry. Four months later our studio was closed down and we were out of a job. Obviously there were other factors at play, but it's not hard to see a relationship.

It all worked out well for us in the end, but if my current company ever hired a romance writer, I'd be looking for a new place to work, because I would know the company wouldn't be around for much longer.

These ideas are fine for the huge companies, until of course something like the global economic crisis comes along. Or for that matter anything else which effects income streams of investors.

I understand the desires you have for the industry to open up, but the problem is the games industry doesn't pay well. To be attractive to these outside people, they've got to offer competitive salaries.

So they hire these new people with high salaries, and what happens? There's less money for making the actual game. Slipping quality, missing milestones, and heads are going to roll.

And the biggest problem is those people who are from outside the industry can weather losing their job, go back to doing whatever old crap they did.

Where is a games tester or level designer going to find a new career??

FunkyJ:
I've worked for a company which tried to hire people from outside the industry. We hired a film director and someone from the automobile industry. Four months later our studio was closed down and we were out of a job. Obviously there were other factors at play, but it's not hard to see a relationship.

It all worked out well for us in the end, but if my current company ever hired a romance writer, I'd be looking for a new place to work, because I would know the company wouldn't be around for much longer.

These ideas are fine for the huge companies, until of course something like the global economic crisis comes along. Or for that matter anything else which effects income streams of investors.

I understand the desires you have for the industry to open up, but the problem is the games industry doesn't pay well. To be attractive to these outside people, they've got to offer competitive salaries.

So they hire these new people with high salaries, and what happens? There's less money for making the actual game. Slipping quality, missing milestones, and heads are going to roll.

And the biggest problem is those people who are from outside the industry can weather losing their job, go back to doing whatever old crap they did.

Where is a games tester or level designer going to find a new career??

the idea isn't to grab some random architect or romance novelist and tell them "ok, you're a game designer now." the idea is to reach outside the industry and find people with unique backgrounds who are interested in making games. Your company hired a film director and it didn't work out; EA got Steven Spielberg and they came up with Boom Blox.

Anyone who has played Baldur's Gate 2 knows that in depth Romances in games can work well. Although woman were a little under catered for in that game, they only had one option whilst men could choose between three different ladies. Nevertheless the romances in Bioware games always seem to be popular amongst players and I'm not sure why other western developers haven't caught on. Hopefully Dragon Age can live up to this legacy.

I'd love to see this go into effect. It would be interesting if the romance option could be an optional thing--like a side quest that actually effects the game. If the gaming industry would branch out to people temporarily, though, where mkaing these new additions isn't their full time job, but something they contribute to when a decent game comes 'round, I think it would have a better effect in the long run. Bring in a few romance artists to work out the details of the side quest/subplots, maybe some engineers to discuss bold new concepts for travel, then sit back and think to themselves 'hm, what now?', while supplying the most variable content but not overcrowding it, investors should see some return, the game would embrace varying audiences, and, feasibly, would be deemed a success. With that in mind, I can only fervently hope that we start seeing this kind of thing pretty soon.

boholikeu:
Personally I'd like to see more games about "life" than action and violence. Wouldn't it be cool to play a "coming of age" game?

Gunner 51:
I'm a little pessimistic about making romance the main focus of a game. However, the rewards are too small to carry a game.

OK, the reward at the end of the game is getting the girl, but what if the gamer isn't into the kind of girl in the game. But one person's princess is another guy's spoilt brat IMO.

But then there needs to be a sense of danger and risk. How could this be created in the game? Could the girl already be love with a gangster or something and it would be your role in the game to cut in and steal the girl while avoiding the gangster's goons?

However, if such a game was to be created - I can imagine it being very similar to Mass Effect in terms of it's dialogue. But there would have to be a load of action to balance things out.

No offense, but it seems like your opinion of a romance game is a bit colored by the fact that you don't particularly like romance.

No offense taken. :)

I certainly don't mind romance, but I think it's all down to where and when it's used. Though I'm of the opinion that romance should only be used between two people interacting between each other.

Between boyfriend and girl friend out in the world or even a cyber-relationship is good for romance. After all, one can see their OH's eyes glinting with love through a webcam or gazing into her eyes across the restaurant table. And one can read from eyes alone that the person who are seeing really cares for you and she can see the same with you.

I guess cyber and real-life romance work because there's someone physically tangible with their own thoughts and feelings on the other end.

But romance in a game is IMO stretching it a bit - at least with currently existing technology. Come a romance based game, you know deep down that there's no-one really there. No one that cares or feels the same way about the gamer as the gamer feels about the character.

But that's just my worthless opinion. :)

Thanks for a really interesting and long overdue angle. Ah, the vexed question of how to get females to play games.

I've been a successful romance novelist since 1986. I've been gaming since 1994. I've thought a lot about games, gamers and game developers, having spent most of my online life among them. Hardcore gamers are brilliant and strange and kinda romantic in their own right. (Which makes me snort a bit at the idea of romance authors providing nimble adaptation to changing technology. We think Twitter is cutting edge.)

So of course I've thought about romance in games. I even participated in a hobby MMO dev project for a time. No question the gaming industry has no clue What Women Want. But a romance novel, and the story and character skills involved, are quite different than the elements involved in games. Not to say they can't have some relationship and adaptation, but if you try to make a game about romance directed toward women, you will end up with some sort of pink puffy Barbie Saves Ken and They Fall in Love thing, a sort of interactive novel that is the worst of both worlds. Or the dating games. These have been tried and failed miserably because neither world wants them.

Game devs really do miss the boat for female players, but mostly in the same way that romance novelists miss the boat for male readers. They each just target to what their perceived audience wants. In the case of male gamers it action action action, challenge, tension, glory, speed, dominance, competition, with some cool puzzles and a bit of story framework in case they happen to want it to make sense. But mostly they don't care about the story.

Games do not really center on characterization or plot. They pay lip service to stories that take the player through the game, and sometimes those stories are reasonably entertaining, but the stories are peripheral to the play and the rewards and challenge of the play itself.

Can you romanticize that play itself by throwing in romantic story lines? I don't know that it can't be done but I think it's the wrong way to bring women into games. The right way is to appeal to the things women enjoy--social frameworks, cooperation (vs competition), creativity within an environment, attachment. In any MMO, the crafting, housing, clothing and retail will be where many female players congregate. We love beauty and we dislike ugliness. Of course female players will PvP and many are outstanding players of ferociously difficult end-game content, but that's not what will attract more female players.

We do want to attach to something. We will attach to our damn horses with great affection if the devs don't give us anything else. I will never forget the dog I tamed in Ultima Online that limped along behind me so loyally. That was instant love. And then I had to leave him onshore because I had to take a boat and he couldn't come with me. I was utterly devastated. Intellectually I knew it was a bunch of pixels but the graphic of that dog was brilliant. He broke my heart waiting there onshore for me as I sailed away.

He wasn't there when I got back. If he had been, or if he had found me, then maybe you have the beginning of a love story in a game. Get it?

Like there are bad games, there are bad romance novels. There are also brilliant ones. You can't judge the romance genre on a few books or authors chosen at random anymore than you can go into Gamestop, grab some random boxes off the shelves and judge games and gamers.

And by the way, I do not write silly books. ;P

Laura Kinsale

Gunner 51:

But romance in a game is IMO stretching it a bit - at least with currently existing technology. Come a romance based game, you know deep down that there's no-one really there. No one that cares or feels the same way about the gamer as the gamer feels about the character.

But that's just my worthless opinion. :)

Who says you have to be the recipient of the romance in the game? =) Acting as a "matchmaker" could be a fun game, and it probably wouldn't require an AI as good as a game where you are meant to fall in love with the npc.

Laura Kinsale:

Can you romanticize that play itself by throwing in romantic story lines? I don't know that it can't be done but I think it's the wrong way to bring women into games. The right way is to appeal to the things women enjoy--social frameworks, cooperation (vs competition), creativity within an environment, attachment.

Hey Laura,

Thanks so much for taking the time to sign up and write such an interesting comment! I agree with your breakdown of male and female motivations in gaming, and the point about not just bolting on 'new' elements to existing structures. Romance publishing still does strike me as way ahead of the curve, though, in a bunch of areas - and one thing romance novels & games both do very well at is occasional inspired silliness :-)

Cheers

Colin

Great article, but why do you think publishers have to take risks on multiple AAA titles before we nail down the mechanics for a successful romance game? Why not experiment with the concept in smaller games before testing it with a big-budget title?

Hate to be a spoilsport (...who am I kidding... I love it) but romance novels are essentially the literature equivalent of FPS's. They follow a simple, sistematic, foreseeable path, following along certain key elements liked by a very wide and easy to please target audience, and as a result can be successful despite their shortcomings in the big picture. Oh, sure, I'm sure some romance books are awesome pearls of literature. Some FPS are also awesome pearls of video gaming. But for each big awesome FPS there are twenty "UR A MANLY MAN GET THIS BIG GUN AND KILL GUYS OH NO THIS GUY WHO WAS HELPING YOU IS ACTUALLY HITLER" just as for each interesting, well-written romance story there are twenty "OMG THIS GIRL LUVS THIS GUY AND HE LUVS HER BUT PLOT ELEMENT A WON'T LET THEM STAY ALONG BUT THEIR LOVE MAKE THEM CONQUER IT AND OH NO NOW PLOT ELEMENT B WILL KEEP THEM APART AND THEY'LL NEVER BE HAPPY NEVER MIND THEY'RE HAPPY EVER AFTER". What I'm saying here is, I'm intrigued as to why you'd choose that, precisely, as a token of how games need innovation.

Okay, one, better stories are not the one thing games need to jump into the next generation of gaming, because, as I once said in a comment that was posted on the Letters to the Editor and thus makes me A Superior Human Being To You, games can also evolve towards the gameplay, as NetHack, Spelunky, or the strangely often mentioned as of recently Dwarf Fortress. These games have no great story but they have great gameplay instead. "Oh, but games should have both!" Except they can't because a well-told story needs things that an immersive experience can't have, such as timing. Either you tell a great story, or you let the player create their own - it's impossible to have both, unless you are some sort of internet dwelling cyber intelligence, in which case you would not be interested in games because you know the only winning move is not to play.

Two, publishers will not take risk on AAA titles. It's too much cost for too little payoff. A book that goes badly doesn't cost much to an editor. Hell, if it looks artsy enough it doesn't even hurt the author - post-modernism is essentially trying to write something as impossible to read as possible, and it's my personal school of literature. If an AAA title goes badly, millions go down the drain. Even the movie industry doesn't do that any more - and even if they do, if they make a simple movie they can drop the cost to a percent of what a blockbuster would cost, and not sacrifice anything for it, except maybe for a few well-known stars they really don't need if their movie is pushing the boundaries well enough and wouldn't save them if they weren't. But in a game, you can't make a modest game with a lower budget - it suffers for it.

(Plus, what would an expert on cars, or on Pacific islands geography, help on a game? A transcending experience has to push heavily on story, or gameplay, or both; just having the game have really cool cars or take into account the complex politics of semi-independent insular countries won't cut it, at least not by itself.)

Fear not, though. The indie games are here for this. Indie games are all about experimentantion. They're all about trying to do things no one has done before with games. Be with weird gameplay mechanics or settings and themes the mainstream won't consider touching even in its fever dreams, they're the ones stretching out the boundaries, with their often grainy graphics and dull sounds we all love so dearly. (Well, I do.) And every once in a blue moon, the makers of a really good indie game get snatched by an industry visionaire, after one of their experiments succeed. (That's how Portal got made, or so I'm told.)

...Hey, the Escapist should totally do an edition on indie games! That's overdue.

Craig Ostrin:
Great article, but why do you think publishers have to take risks on multiple AAA titles before we nail down the mechanics for a successful romance game? Why not experiment with the concept in smaller games before testing it with a big-budget title?

By bring new ideas in 'on a AAA scale' I'm meaning to say on a level that showed large commercial publishers taking them seriously. As others have said, there are dozens of independent experiments in weird genres, plus various levels of window dressing in larger titles, but none of them represents the kind of paradigm shift that Laura Kinsale so elegantly expresses above.

I absolutely agree that were Valve, say, to commit to a 10 year push into somethng different, they'd likely start off experimenting with smaller games and work their way up. But the overall commitment (if followed through), both in time and money, would be on a AAA level.

Cheers

Colin

The random one - That's a v interestng post with a lot of thought behind it. I won't answer note for note, but my overall response would be this:

Imagine the total ideaspace of what videogames could be - all the workable possibilities. In about 35 years of development, commercial titles have charted out an incredibly small section of this. It's like a dense city in the corner of a vast wilderness (several people have said the same about Western comics). Lots of people enjoy them, publishers make money, but the potential has barely been scratched. Videogames IMO could easily be a multi-hundred billion dollar industry with appeal for virtually everyone on the planet.

So how do you really expand the medium to that extent? My argument is that consciously absorbing strong outside influences is the key. It's not really that videogames need 'better stories' written by romance novelists, it's that romance writing is just one example of a completely different set of creative assumptions that, if assimilated, would push videogames in new and awesomely powerful directions. The problem is that truly absorbing outside influences beyond the level of window dressing is very costly and painful in the short-medium term. Few companies have both the resources and the willlpower to do it, when there's still lots of money to be made 'inside the city'.

Cheers

Colin

The Random One:
Hate to be a spoilsport (...who am I kidding... I love it) but romance novels are essentially the literature equivalent of FPS's. They follow a simple, sistematic, foreseeable path, following along certain key elements liked by a very wide and easy to please target audience, and as a result can be successful despite their shortcomings in the big picture.

Yeah but all you are saying here is that both are genre entertainment. And when you get down to it, everything is a genre, from various styles of poetry to music to literature to games.

As a genre writer, I can say that having the framework actually provides the drive to use it in new and creative ways. If you sit down to create a novel (or a game) and decide you can do anything you please with no restrictions, you quickly become very self-indulgent and frankly often pretty weird. Remember the guy who put pink plastic around coral islands and called it art?

The framework of the genre is your touchstone with the reader (or player). But just because you meet there, and the reader/player brings their expectations, doesn't mean you have to stay there. The thing I love to do most, the thing I feel most gratified by as an author, is to write something that is so absorbing and powerful that I can damn well drag the reader with me to places they never thought they'd go or knew they wanted to. And they sit up all night doing it, knowing they have to get up for work in the morning.

At the end I play (mostly) fair, though, and in a romance I get the hero and heroine together, I don't kill one of them off or let the bad guy win. Those are basics, yes. But they are basics not because they're conveniently systematic and theoretically (just try it) easy to follow. They are "rules of the genre" because they are the frikken REASON people read romance--the reader leaves the book with a feeling of having lived another life, seen another world, experienced moral and emotional dilemmas, and come out whole.

If you cheat and kill off the good guys, leave the couple apart, you destroy that wholeness that the reader had the right to expect from a genre romance. That is what female readers look for in romance, cause we like it.

Same thing with a game, there are unwritten basics. You DO get to kill the monster in the end. There IS a way to do, even if it's incredibly hard. No game where the player is guaranteed to come out a loser is going to succeed. Because guys don't want to fail either; guys like to win. So you can be sure that any game you buy has some way to win or you are gonna be pissed.

So the point is, it's not the framework, it's what you do with the framework, and bringing in powerful stuff wherever you can find and adapt it is worth studying. There is no way I can bring my skill as a writer *fully* to bear in a game, because as someone said above, a novel is under the control of the author in terms of plot and timing--the reader is essentially passive.

But what I can do, and do all the time, is identify and put to use the elements of my particular framework--and in many ways they are the same elements as a successful game: goal + obstacle = conflict.

So what goal does the game provide the player? Do male and female players respond to different goals, or respond differently to the same goals? What about the obstacles? What resources do they demand from the player? Reaction time? Verbal skill? Persistence? Accumulated objects? Creativity? What's the payoff? Moving forward in the game? Creating things that other players can see? Becoming a character known to others, and/or desired by others?

A happy ending for an FPS is killin' the Boss. Is there any other possible way to make the player feel whole and satisfied? If the player is female, is another angle?

That's how I'd go about it. Those are the questions I'd ask.

Laura Kinsale: Well said. It is my belief that art can be created within any framework, provided the artist is skilled/creative enough.

boholikeu:

Gunner 51:

But romance in a game is IMO stretching it a bit - at least with currently existing technology. Come a romance based game, you know deep down that there's no-one really there. No one that cares or feels the same way about the gamer as the gamer feels about the character.

But that's just my worthless opinion. :)

Who says you have to be the recipient of the romance in the game? =) Acting as a "matchmaker" could be a fun game, and it probably wouldn't require an AI as good as a game where you are meant to fall in love with the npc.

Acting like a modern day Cupid or Eros sounds like a good idea. But what would be the reward for the player? Perhaps at the end of the game an NPC may think of the player's actions as wonderfully altruistic and fall for them. Thus the morale of the story being "good things come to nice people."

I'll be thinking of this all day now. :)

Gunner 51:

boholikeu:

Gunner 51:

But romance in a game is IMO stretching it a bit - at least with currently existing technology. Come a romance based game, you know deep down that there's no-one really there. No one that cares or feels the same way about the gamer as the gamer feels about the character.

But that's just my worthless opinion. :)

Who says you have to be the recipient of the romance in the game? =) Acting as a "matchmaker" could be a fun game, and it probably wouldn't require an AI as good as a game where you are meant to fall in love with the npc.

Acting like a modern day Cupid or Eros sounds like a good idea. But what would be the reward for the player?

A good story, perhaps?

I know, it's a bit far-fetched in a video game, but sometimes you have to shoot for the stars! =)

boholikeu:

Gunner 51:

boholikeu:

Gunner 51:

But romance in a game is IMO stretching it a bit - at least with currently existing technology. Come a romance based game, you know deep down that there's no-one really there. No one that cares or feels the same way about the gamer as the gamer feels about the character.

But that's just my worthless opinion. :)

Who says you have to be the recipient of the romance in the game? =) Acting as a "matchmaker" could be a fun game, and it probably wouldn't require an AI as good as a game where you are meant to fall in love with the npc.

Acting like a modern day Cupid or Eros sounds like a good idea. But what would be the reward for the player?

A good story, perhaps?

I know, it's a bit far-fetched in a video game, but sometimes you have to shoot for the stars! =)

You raise a good point. Aiming for the stars is the kind of thinking that got humanity into space. (No pun intended.)

The more I think of it, Mass Effect had the right idea with a romance sub-plot. If nothing else, something like this in more games could be beneficial to gaming as it would deepen the storylines.

I realize it's tough to mix story with gameplay, but I'm not giving up on story. A good story, and interesting characters - it's what I remember about games. Note to self - I've got to play more Bioware games!

I'm more of a fantasy MMORPGer myself, but I am interested in Bioware's upcoming Star Wars: the Old Republic. From what I've read, it's story driven, both overall story and your own personal story. From what I've read, along with interacting with other players you will interact with NPCs who will actually function like characters instead of placeholders, and how you respond to them will change how they respond to you. I think that gameplay is going to be the traditional MMORPG combat stuff, but at least there will be different character interactions, also, from what I've read, lots of dialogue.

Then there's Fable and Fable 2 (still haven't played it) where your character can get married and have a family. I think that's interesting.

Along with more story and characters (romance sub-plot in Mass Effect, great idea) - I'd like it, if somehow, game developers could mix up what we do in a game, the gameplay. You have your Sims games, your sandbox Second Life, your adventure games (small genre, lots of indies, still popular in a niche way), your RPGs, your action games. I'd like it, if for example, in an MMORPG - I could move myself along in the game by something other than crafting or fighting monsters, though I do like fighting monsters. I wish game developers could find a way to mix it up. For some reason, I think about expanding gameplay when I think about more story and characters. As an example (got the idea from another poster) - I don't see why I can't advance in an RPG or an MMORPG by being a matchmaker to the local AI townfolk. What an interesting thought!

I'd also like it if your character (MMO or solo player) had relationships in a game, apart from the friends you make with real people in an MMO. Why can't my character end up in town, and have a life - an AI family, friends - all that. I play games for the virtual world immersion, and right now, the worlds seem so limited.

you can find these types of games all over the internet u just got to look

Great article. Much kudos to Colin. Thanks also to Laura for her insight, and of course everyone else who's contributing to this discussion.

Innovation in games is something that's fascinated me since I first picked up a joypad, so much so that I'm currently pursuing the means to do some serious academic research in the area, hopefully to the betterment of future titles.

I guess in the 'games as challenges' vs 'games as narrative' debate, I personally lean heavily toward the latter.

This is not because I believe stories to be the most significant or integral element of games - far from it. I just don't believe stories and games have to run on 'parallel yet separate' tracks either, so that at any given point they're jostling each other for the gamer's full attention.

More on this in the paper below, which I think comes pretty close to the way I think on the issue:

http://www.digra.org/dl/db/07311.40380.pdf

Granted, we can talk about the best stories in traditional media being reliant on a high degree of authorial control (for pacing, foreshadowing etc.), and we can talk about games not necessitating a story of any kind. But as far as this long-time gamer is concerned, the beauty is, was and always will be in the *mix*.

I think the point of this article (and an incredibly admirable one at that) is that if we don't start *trying* - taking chances, searching for new ideas from unfamiliar quarters - then there isn't a hope in hell that a more diverse creative future will ever be realised.

If that happens, we as gamers (now, as Mr. Pitts mentions in his article, more numerous than ever before) will be doomed to tread the same mechanical circles, until we finally get fed up, hang up our pads and cynically declare: "That's it, I have officially seen all that games have to offer. I'm done."

I don't think that's a future any of us really want to see (nor, I hope, are likely to) - but in order to avoid it, we have to at least acknowledge that its on our horizon; that if we keep putting one foot in front of the other without stopping to check the scenery or look where we're going, we shouldn't be surprised if we end up there inadvertantly.

The overall lack of innovation in gaming seems the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. By applying constraints on what we believe can be achieved, we constrain what actually results from our efforts. This is the main reason I think the views Colin has expressed in this article are significant, and should be acted upon by those committed to making games more of its own 'art-entertainment' form than a commercial commodity.

Forget specifics, forget genre (whether in terms of game or story), forget PvP, multiplayer, sandbox or campaign. First say 'What do people want to experience that they fail to see in games?' Then ask 'How might one put such things into a game?' Finally, ask 'What would be the experiential benefits of doing so?'. I believe this is the 'idea mining' process Colin touches upon in his penultimate paragraph.

Such an approach, applied with sincerity and dedication, will (after some trial and error) result in developers - whether indie, mainstream, minor or monolithic - hitting gems of original gameplay and narrative structure combinations. The results would be instances of that moment when the two coalesce and are imbued with a significance that they could never have achieved alone.

My dream: a game that can integrate a tense and engrossing yet adaptive narrative with an interesting variety of engaging and apposite game mechanics, drawing the player into the action at key points, yet still allowing them the freedom to explore the world - learn its nuances and secret places, make meaningful choices with coherent and lasting repercussions, discover things organically and apply them in novel ways.

Yes, its a lot to ask, but several games in the last few years have made crucial steps towards this goal (for the sake of argument I'll cite Oblivion and Fallout 3, and their respective mod communities - but there are of course others). It may take years, perhaps decades to achieve, but if we can experience just a few of the elements I mentioned above within a game, why can't we experience *all* of them?

Yes, there are practicalities to consider. Asset generation and management seems to me a particularly problematic area. For example, to create a game with incredibly varied dialogue (presuming you want this dialogue to be spoken) would take hundreds of hours of voice acting, and a sufficient number of talented enough voice actors not to break the illusion. Not to mention creating a system that could recognise in what situations it would be appropriate to have NPCs deliver those lines (something that is, incidentally, related to my research focus).

Clearly this isn't feasible in 99% of games. Put simply, more content = longer dev cycles, and game producers are understandably loathe to work on content that they know most players will not eventually see. For most of them, talk of these kind of issues is likely to seem thoroughly indulgent and highly impracticable.

My solution: I think devs should look seriously into working closely with academic institutions to create 'game dev lab' type projects; where novel ideas and experimentation can be promoted; timescales aren't necessarily constrained by commercial deadlines; input from various different quarters (e.g. writers, artists, experts etc.) can be managed; and responses from potential players can be gauged. This would free up the devs themselves to focus on their slated projects, as they wouldn't have to expend a large proportion of their own resources to innovate. I envision the results as 'unpolished' early demos with original mechanics and game ideas, that the devs can then integrate into their projects - take, run with, polish up and finally release.

I have been reading on these issues seriously for what feels like an eternity, but is in reality about two years. I might as well take this opportunity thank the Escapist and all its contributors (in print, video and on these forums) for being part of discussions like this. Whether or not important to those who make decisions about what kind of games we'll see in years to come, its heartening to know people care enough to dedicate some serious thought to these issues.

The scenario presented in this article isn't going to happen.

The "traditional" audience for computer games isn't necessarily all that enamoured with romance; I, myself, am very contemptuous of it. As the name of this site suggests, computer gaming is about escapism, and when I'm gaming, one of the things I'm escaping from is the overload of romance in other escapist hobbies, like cinema or literature. In fact, even when I'm escaping through cinema or literature, or alternatively, through watching motorsport or other television shows, I almost universally choose things which barely focus on romance, if they focus on it at all. I may not be properly representative of that subset of gamers as a whole, but my experiences with the market suggest that those who aren't contemptuous of romance tend to go out and find a romantic partner of their own, and don't rely on computer gaming for that area of escapism.

As for the expanding market segments who are typically just beginning to play games, you have to look at the games targeted at them. The likes of the puzzle game market or social networking games are decidedly less complex to play than a AAA-rated title in the vein of the Call of Duty series. Romance, on the other hand, is not simple. It's complex, byzantine, often frustrating. A game based on it would seem either to end up with a sub-par simulation of the trials and tribulations of romance, or a labyrinthine game which would make even players of the most complicated of niche titles, like fully-featured military simulators or business simulators, absolutely boggled.

Colin Rowsell:
A Risk of Romance

If videogame publishers want to extend their reach beyond the standard 18- to 34-year-old male demographic, they may want to form development teams with fewer gamers and more romance novelists. Colin Rowsell exhorts game developers to inject some fresh ideas into the design process.

Read Full Article

Well, no. Ew. No. Shut up. No. Also, no.

Why would...

no.

Romance writers are looked on badly, because they are BAD. It's a nice easy way to make some cash, but it's not ever good writing. Contrast that with other genres, and you will always find a Weaveworld or Perdido Street Station or Use Of Weapons to balance out the reams of dross. People might say all postmodernist fiction is pretentious drivel, but really enjoy Bear V Shark, for instance. No-one will ever be 'brought round' to romance fiction without a major trauma in their life, to their head, or both, it's love-it-or-hate-it.

Ooh, or the Thomas Covenant saga. Damn that leper be fly.

Although, you can write good romance. It happens, but rarely, in other genres, such as Zadie Smith's White Teeth. Good romance is not idealised, it's not 'beautiful', it's real, funny, awkward (no, not in that Bridget Jones way, it has to be more complicated than that to feel genuine), inconvenient and always teeters right on the edge of 'they won't'. It's very difficult to write, and most good authors consequently avoid it. It takes a lot of confidence and an open mind to even attempt it.

Games deserve better writers than romance genre authors. They can't even do their own subject matter properly.

RAKtheUndead:

As for the expanding market segments who are typically just beginning to play games, you have to look at the games targeted at them. The likes of the puzzle game market or social networking games are decidedly less complex to play than a AAA-rated title in the vein of the Call of Duty series. Romance, on the other hand, is not simple. It's complex, byzantine, often frustrating. A game based on it would seem either to end up with a sub-par simulation of the trials and tribulations of romance, or a labyrinthine game which would make even players of the most complicated of niche titles, like fully-featured military simulators or business simulators, absolutely boggled.

Absolutely. Gray's Anatomy released a game for Wii (as reviewed on collegehumor/dorkly somewhere) that was so simplistic in its treatment of relationships, I instantly assumed everyone involved in its creation had to be sociopathic. As proper examples of games-that-featured-romance, I proffer Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2. Pretty complex games, though not as complex as your examples - and even HERE romance is ridiculously simple. Almost binary, in fact.

I might also venture that players of the most complicated niche titles ESPECIALLY would be boggled... :p.

So: Games are too good an art-form to accept the dribblings of romance novelists. Paradoxically, romance is too complex and subtle an idea to be included in a game. You don't "win" at romance (except for that, but that only counts if the other person wins too).

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