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Do Romanticized or Sexualized characters put off players

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The question is pretty simple. Does making a character a romantic interest or a sexual interest in a story run the risk of putting off one group of players while catering to another. More importantly, does this result in a net loss of potential audience and audience satisfaction, or a net gain. For the sake of argument, lets assume that there are two parallel cases to this, the first in which a relationship is effectively pushed upon the player [perhaps not forced, but strongly recommended], the second being the relationship being available if the player decides to pursue it. Does the gender of the characters make a difference in this? Does a male lead character seeking a relationship with a female character appeal to audiences differently than a female lead pursuing a male character? Or a male character pursuing a male character, or female pursuing female? How does this also change with respect to the appeal to different demographics? Does the presence of overtly sexualized characters, even if not involved in a relationship, positively effect a players view of the game as a whole, or negatively [, or not at all]?

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I don't think so, as long as you provide different types of personalities I'm sure you can cater to most people. Mass Effect did this decently, you even had a blue woman you could pick. It does require a lot of character building and depth to the characters though. The hardest part would be building a woman who's actually interesting to pursue yet has no possibility of rejecting you.

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I did some kinky things in the dark with a blue-tinted female alien in Star Control II. Talana, I think. It was handled in a light hearted way, though, so it was more of a fun laugh than anything else.

Personally, I don't think you can put off players by offering them possibilities. Love connections between characters in games are no different than love connections between characters in TV shows, movies, or novels. If it's well done and tasteful, it can boost the whole experience.

Lost, Farscape, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica, etc, all examples of TV-shows with background romance that increases the complexity and fun of non-romantic content. I'm a sci-fi fan, but I'm sure other genre have the same.

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Personally I will enjoy a game less if I feel it is pushing 'my' character into or towards a relationship I don't want, and the degree of this will depend on how much it impacts the game and story, how it is depicted (eg. explicitly or perhaps only hinted at), how closely I identify with the character, the gender and sexual orientation of the characters involved, etc. That's just my opinion though, and I don't know if there's any sort of consensus on it.

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The gender and personality of the love interest character(s) definitely change which audience segments a romance will please and displease. Having only one love interest character and pushing a romance with them on the player is generally a terrible idea. Purely optional romances have a lot less potential to offend people, and mandatory romances can also appeal to players if there is a nice selection of romanceable characters to chose from. Personally I really like ren'ai (dating sim) games as a genre, but I get frustrated trying to find any to play because I only like men and most of the ones in English have all female romantic object characters.

Anyway there is certainly data floating around the internet about how different audience segments feel about specific romantic and sexual gameplay elements and characters in specific games. If you have a particular idea in mind, find the most similar existing game or two and read people's opinions of it.

This post brought to you by Research(TM), one of a game designer's most important tools! [wink]

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The question is pretty simple. Does making a character a romantic interest or a sexual interest in a story run the risk of putting off one group of players while catering to another. More importantly, does this result in a net loss of potential audience and audience satisfaction, or a net gain. For the sake of argument, lets assume that there are two parallel cases to this, the first in which a relationship is effectively pushed upon the player [perhaps not forced, but strongly recommended], the second being the relationship being available if the player decides to pursue it.

No, and Net Gain. Everyone can relate to romance, everyone wants some lovin', but do they want it in their games as much as it is present in movies and novels? To implement this optimally, you'd have to make it optional so that both players types (those who don't want relationships in their games, and those who do) are catered to. Then again, if your game is about saving your one true love from the clutches of evil (like Mario, for instance), its part of the plot line so it kind of just goes into the background and doesn't really bother anyone. If you are presented with a choice, but and are somehow forced to pick one, then that would probably create problems, because then it goes against that concept of choice you originally provided (and it would probably just annoy - this has to do more with game design rather than about the subject of romance in games).

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Does the gender of the characters make a difference in this? Does a male lead character seeking a relationship with a female character appeal to audiences differently than a female lead pursuing a male character? Or a male character pursuing a male character, or female pursuing female?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Playing as a Male Character pursuing females or males in a gameworld relates to more male players in general, while playing as a Female Character pursuing males or females in a gameworld relates to more female players in general. As soon as you remove the relationship mechanics however, these associations also become removed, and you simply get both genders just playing either male or female characters equally (sometimes more than equally, such as the Lara Croft effect).

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How does this also change with respect to the appeal to different demographics? Does the presence of overtly sexualized characters, even if not involved in a relationship, positively effect a players view of the game as a whole, or negatively [, or not at all]?

Female gamers in general, have a different reaction to current games than male gamers do (Women and Video Games). All general psychological differences and similarities between males and females that are understood in other parts of life can also be applied to game design.

All players regardless of gender/orientation will more likely remember a game character if that character was hot in some form or fashion - Physically Hot (polygons/pixels/art), and/or Popularly Hot (pop-culture recognition, coolness, personality, achievements). However, if you are to make relationships optional in your game, then you would also have to provide a wide range of physical body hotness as well as personality hotness. If you are designing your game to be more of a game purely about Romance, range and variety are still good for choice or gameplay.

The way that I see to getting the most types of players to play your game that has romance in it, is to include everything, have many different kinds of choices, and make everything optional. This would, of course, be very expensive to do, more expensive than it is to craft a single forced choice or storyline such as a fairy tale about a knight saving a damsel in distress.

[Edited by - Tangireon on June 19, 2008 7:39:57 AM]

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If sex and romance is a part of the story line (and it's done artistically), then it has a place in the game. However, if the main focus is sex and romance, then the game will be quite lacking and tacky.

Seeing how the majority of advid gamers are male, it'd make sense to have a male lead character seeking a female or male. A female role could work if one were to give her male favored attributes: good looks, aggressive behavior ("being" a girl while still being able to be a "bad ass" is a plus [e.g. Lara Croft]), etc. It also depends on the culture and area that the game takes place. A Japanese themed game will work much better with a female lead character than an American themed game.

As a female, I could really care less what my characters look like as long as the game is fun. However, there are times where I lose respect for the developers for trying to patch up flawed games with exaggerated characters. And, for other people, I'm sure that "overdoing" it could interfere with their enjoyment of the game.

My closing advice is that if you can't please everyone, then please the majority of your audience. Developing games is something that we enjoy, but remember that for some of us, it's also business.

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Yes, of course it makes a difference in who your game appeals to. For that matter, you can use that sympathy v. antipathy to your advantage both ways. For example, if it's merely a side-character who's peripheral to the game-play, just caricature a typical relation and people can love or hate that character as they want. In a way, even obnoxious lovey-dovey stuff can make a character more human.

The only main pit-fall I see is taking the 'game' relationship too seriously in its own context. A love story isn't an ingredient, but a recipe in and of itself.

Though, in my experience, even a terrible love story will garner SOME fanatics. How often have I heard people balling out about some RPG story arc, and how much of a 'baka' main-character-san is for not accepting love-interest-chan's advances. After all, we don't ALL require sophistication or depth to get through a game.

The trick is easier said than done: you've gotta tread the line between casual and dramatic. Too casual, and it seems like a self-insertion on the part of the game designer. Too dramatic, and it seems like mere wish-fulfillment or melodrama.

If you figure out the perfect equation to balance this, please let us all know!

On the other hand, here's my question: is it worthwhile to bring romance into the actual gameplay? Aside from dating sims, I mean. Think something akin to the Breath of Fire master/teacher system. Should the main character's relationship status perhaps effect his in-game stats? If I remember right, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had something similar, where the girl(s) you hooked up with could land you little bonus perks to make the game easier.

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Original post by HyperYang
On the other hand, here's my question: is it worthwhile to bring romance into the actual gameplay?

I think it would be interesting to allow the player to show affection through non-romantic actions. Such as giving this character special treatment, or trying hard to protect them during combat. Okay, coming up with the actual non-romantic gameplay might be tricky, but the concept seems interesting to me.

I started a similar thread about this in the past that might be worth looking at.

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Original post by sunandshadow
The gender and personality of the love interest character(s) definitely change which audience segments a romance will please and displease. Having only one love interest character and pushing a romance with them on the player is generally a terrible idea. Purely optional romances have a lot less potential to offend people, and mandatory romances can also appeal to players if there is a nice selection of romanceable characters to chose from. Personally I really like ren'ai (dating sim) games as a genre, but I get frustrated trying to find any to play because I only like men and most of the ones in English have all female romantic object characters.
A similar view is expressed by myself and a large number of those who I associate with closely, which is why I posted this in a more anonymous and public place to begin with. Personally, I find myself rolling my eyes and just clicking through the 'romantic' parts in most RPG's, just to get through them, so that I can get onto something that I am more interested in. It leaves a lasting impression on me, a negative one, but my overall opinion of the game is not heavily effected by it if I can just burn through it and get back to what I enjoy. A significant part of this is that I too have difficulty finding a game that caters to my tastes [actually, have never found one, but then again I don't seek games for this purpose].

In games that have a major portion of the game dedicated to such a relationship, I tend to just get tired of it once the process of me clicking through it out weighs the time I spend on parts I like. At this point, I stop playing. I also don't buy games that are compared closely in terms of relationships to these games that I quit.

Suppose there is a hypothetical game that does cater to my interests, and I don't find myself rolling my eyes at the notion of my main character being interested in *that* character, I really do not forsee it as boosting my interest in it so great an amount as to make or break my decision to re-purchase the game if given the opportunity to do it all over. A game with good mechanics, and a good story line otherwise, while devoid of such relationship details, holds my interest very well. If other gamers feel how I do, it seems that including a strongly relevant relationship in a game is a bit like playing russian roulette with your audience.

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