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.

1 comment on this entry.

  • Pete | 7 Jul 2010

    Genre tropes seem to emerge from mechanisation; common practices under a collective banner; predictable, reproducible, bankable.

    It’s this standardisation that hobbles genre potential, so it might be that the definition of “love/romance” games needs to stretch its wings wide–both in the press and in the developer community.

    Personally, I would plant Jason Rohrer’s Passage firmly in this space. The game addressed very directly – and therefore very deeply – the values I hold the highest in life, which I believe makes it a very effective game about love/romance.

    I’ve read about games like Princess Maker with some interest in the past, but still have yet to play a game like that. I’m very intrigued by the apparent potential in The Radiator though–particularly the first-person perspective and the opportunities that presents.