My wife is an e-book convert. Or at least I think she is, to judge by how thoroughly she has stolen my kindle and, when the kindle is unavailable, my ipod touch with the kindle reader.
The conversion has a simple basis: she was looking for something to read one night, and I asked what author’s she was looking for. She rattled off a few, including Jude Devereaux and Julie Quinn, so I fired up the kindle, bought a book or two and handed it over. This lead to a discussion of exactly how many of these books were online, followed by a buying spree on Amazon that loaded my kindle down with romance novels. So I haven’t seen my kindle in a while, and am wondering if we need to become a two kindle household soon.
Anyway, this is all relevant because my wife also enjoys sharing these novels with me as she reads them. I know more about the characters of Dianne Gabaldon than I have any right to , and I keep myself sane by putting it all through a gaming filter as I listen. And what continually strikes me is that it is really, really gameable, but in a way I’m not sure any game can capture.
So there’s a generalization about genre fiction that it has poor characterization because the characters are there in service to the tropes of the genre. It’s not totally true, but there’s truth to it, and I feel like there’s an inverse rule applied to romance novels. They are so strongly about character and characterization that the plot, tropes and rules can all be askew in service of the character interaction. This character-centric perspective kind of screams out for gaming, and the simple plot formulas would certainly be easy enough to pursue, but it also highlights where it’s hard to tie to a system.
I’ve got no objection to social mechanics in games, but they are ham-fisted tools at best. Really bringing a cast of living, breathing characters to life is a GM skill, and not a trivial one, especially when looking to have interactions that are more sophisticated than the one-note dynamics that define so much genre fiction. I know some GMs that could pull it off, and while they might do it better or worse in certain systems, the system would really matter almost not at all in this context. So how do you package that?
I’ve got no easy answer for that, and in the absence of an answer it’s not even worth tackling things like the myriad ways romance makes gamers uncomfortable. Instead, I’m just going to pound my head against it for a while longer, and sooner or later something’s going to give.
I think I’m going to dust off my copy of Ken Hite’s Nightmare’s of Mine (a fantastic book on horror in RPGs) and look at it through this lens. It strikes me that good horror has many of the same problems as romance, and while its emphasis is on tone rather than character interaction, it still is far more art than craft to run good horror. Maybe there’s a lesson to steal there.
1 – Quinn’s ebooks were especially interesting because she’s done a very clever thing. She has written epilogues to many of her books, talking about what has happened to the characters, which she sells as $2 ebooks. This, to my mind, is freaking brilliant.
2 – By which I mean clear obstacles, some element of mystery and tidy resolution. I’m not even touching upon actual sex because, to be frank, it’s role in romance novels seems awfully varied.
3 – At worse they are barely removed from “I be social at him!” as a problem solving solution.
4 – As an example, games love using noir to highlight social situations. No sleight no noir, but the dynamics boil down to who is lying to who about what – it can make for a powerful _story_, but it does not tend to make for deeply fleshed out characters.
5 – Beyond the level of friction it represents, but that’s a function of player comfort, not the specific system. If everyone at the table is comfortable with GURPS, for these purposes it’s interchangeable with Risus or anything else. This is not an assertion that system doesn’t matter, only that in this situation system is pretty far down the stack of things that matter.