Romance isn’t a genre yet.

06 July 2010

Alice has a list of things she’s thinking about at the moment. Number four on that list:

Romance/love, the genre, is spectacularly underexplored.

Alice and I have batted emails about this topic around before. And now, as I look at that sentence, I think I have an issue with just one word in it: I’m genuinely not sure “romance/love” even is a genre yet.

So far, the takes on it I’ve seen are: Japanese dating games, which definitely is a genre and well-established and just doesn’t float my boat in terms of games about romance; the Western, simplified takes on that that you see on the DS and are very much watered-down versions of that trope; and, then, and most-to-my-tastes, the more experiemntal/thoughtful/niche/weird things. For instance: the Radiator mods for Half-Life 2 which (in part) are very much about love (in the context of a long-term relationship/marriage, or IF games such as the lovely Violet.

Games about love in all its forms, not just the fetch-quest that dating is so often reduced to: that’s genuinely interesting. But I don’t want that to be a genre, or a formula to be trotted out. I want it to be a broad topic to be explored, wrapped around everything. After all, if you look at other media, compare the volume of work which broaches the topic of “love” versus the volume that professes to be only about that. I want John Donne, but I don’t need Mills & Boon.

So: as a theme/topic/source-material, people have barely scratched the surface. As a genre: I genuinely don’t believe it’s a genre yet, and there are far more interesting things to be said in this space than are said by J-dating games. I’d rather “romance/love” never became a genre for games.

As far as “spectacularly underexplored” goes: agree entirely. I keep thinking about this too, from time to time.

  • "Here’s my notes for the talk Streaming Massive Environments from 0 to 200 MPH presented by Chris Tector from Turn 10 Studios. He’s listed as a Software Architect there, and obviously has a deep understanding of the streaming system they used on Forza 3. This talk was nice and deep technically, and touches all parts of the spectrum." Very technical. But: if you can grok what's going on (and this is about at the limits of my simple understanding – could barely start to recreate what's described), it's very interesting about the challenge of rendering beautiful, high detail environments at a solid 60fps, mainly by pre-preparing a lot, and maximising streaming performance both from disk and from memory.
  • "A computer mystery/romance set five minutes into the future of 1988." Looks jolly good.
  • Ben Heck made his own pinball table. And it's not some half-baked pinball table running off a connected PC, with off the shelf components; it's largely built from scratch, from the cabinet to the LED matrix (!). All running off a single microcontroller. He's a smart guy.
  • "On the last day of tutoring, I asked my 15-year-old student if he knew that he had a chance to woo and win Bastila. “Really?” He thought he’d known everything about the game, but the dialogue option never registered as flirtation. His face, usually so focused with youthful liveliness, grew wary. He frowned and blinked. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about the fact that his beloved game would contain something so foreign. So adult. " Marie Mutsuki Mockett – what a name! – writes about KOTOR, Carth Onassi, and a little bit of magic.
  • "The alien tripods are decimating the city with ion cannons. Wild one-eyed dog-pigs with irritatingly high voices are roaming the streets, mutilating the populace with their fire breath, doing their best to keep their pet radioactive zombies in check. Meanwhile, you – the only one who can do anything to stop this genocide – are in stuck in a medical pod, being instructed by some asshole lab assistant on how to move your head up and down." Hardcasual don't like tutorials.
  • "What's needed, from a gameplay perspective, is a romantic partner who is sometimes also functionally the villain. There's a reason people write buckets of fanfic about the secret love of Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter: passionately clashing with someone is a form of intimacy. It raises the emotional stakes between those two characters _far_ more reliably than attempts to portray attraction in interactive form." Emily Short on fine, fine form, about the difficulties of writing romance into games. An excellent piece of writing on game design.