Heroes Must Die

Heroic Games

Heroes Must Die by Heroic Games combines an indie video game RPG and an interactive theater production.

Love and Romance – A Review of Stereotypes and Function

While I’m known more for writing action instead of romance in the world of fiction, I’d like to take this opportunity to write a kind of case study about a topic that steps out of my comfort zone. I mean, we all don’t just write about the same thing over and over again on our blogs, hoping someone will buy that social media guide we’ve created that will make you a ton of money online!...right?

Right?...Anyone?...hmm, tough crowd…

Typically a huge part of most RPGs and Theatre centers on the idea of Love.  It can take many forms – be it metaphor, a tool for change, to give meaning…it goes on and on. It can be simple, it can be complex, it can be beautiful, it can be tragic…it can even be ugly as all hell.

Video Game's first true love story?

Video Game's first true love story?

Love and Romance in Video Games (A brief summation)

This heading could be the title of a Masters Thesis, but I’m going to give a quick HMD Coles Notes version. Your typical 16-8 bit RPG romance looks kind of like this – the main character gets involved with another character on their adventuring team, and their experiences together strengthen their bond into something tangible. For all you retro gaming fans, a good example of this would be Crono and Marle from Chrono Trigger (yes, I went there again). Picture this - a simple chance encounter has the main character race to save the girl, and the repercussions of their actions lead them and their allies on an incredible journey, all the while the boy and girl strengthen their feelings for each other as one sees the other for who they really are during their quest.

Alternate story - they meet at an "Occupy Lavos" rally...

Alternate story - they meet at an "Occupy Lavos" rally...

The relationship between Cloud and Tifa from Final Fantasy VII is the quintessential example of the very complex but typical JRPG romance of the fifth generation consoles. For anyone who doesn’t know what this version of romance looks like – the good-looking protagonist is also a mercenary, possessing a warm, bleeding heart that he keeps under wraps, for the likes of the cute love interest whose unwavering support no matter what inspires an unbreakable bond between the two…

Sometimes it pays to be blonde and good looking...

Sometimes it pays to be blonde and good looking...

The plot device of tragic love has become more and more commonplace among protagonists in video games in general.  I offer the examples of Kratos in God of War and Gabriel in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. These characters typically carry a great guilt with them that fuels their quest within the overall game – both of these characters striking down the ones they love unwittingly – and the resulting guilt helps to give them strength to move forward with the quest at hand.

Love and Theatre Go Hand in Hand

In theatre…take your pick from the classics. Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream…and those are just from Shakespeare. Love is an enduring concept that can evoke conflict, antipathy and sympathy, sometimes all at the same time. Take Helena for instance from a Midsummer Night’s Dream, who hates the concept of love because it drives her crazy, yet she cannot help but to love Demetrius, even when her affections aren’t returned. Yet when Demetrius finally returns her love, she can’t believe that he’s telling the truth – the love that she doesn’t receive at the beginning of the play warps her heart, to the point where she can’t accept the fact that someone could love her just the same – especially from the same man whom she loves so dearly but didn’t return the feelings in kind.

Finding a free picture of Helena and Demetrius is hard...here's Minsc and Boo again.

Finding a free picture of Helena and Demetrius is hard...here's Minsc and Boo again.

I know, I know…it’s freaking complicated. But that’s why Love is at the forefront of almost every good theatrical story – Love is many things and it’s rarely simple.

The Subjectivity of Love (Or Love is how you look at it)

While seen typically as a source for strength and virtue, especially in RPGs, Love can also be seen as a detriment in a story. It can drive a person crazy, risk it all to do unnatural things, and there’s always the possibility of things not working out for the couple. What if there was something wrong at the core of a particular love, and one of the subjects knew it? Think about the following “flaws” that would turn a poetic - perhaps even unrequited - love into a horror show:

  • The Man is a renowned abuser, but has never been formally convicted…and has his eyes set on the female character.
    • Suddenly, this scenario is the script for a suspenseful thriller.
  • The Man knows he can use this woman to get something…money, power, fame, etc…does he really even love her, or what she is?
    • Middle Ages arranged marriages anyone?
  • One party is the antagonist, but cannot help to feel something for the protagonist.
    • Fine examples of this are Sniper Wolf from Metal Gear Solid, and Darth Sion from Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.
      • When you play with the “canon” female Jedi Outcast (known as Meetra Surik) as the main protagonist, the antagonist Darth Sion develops feelings for her. Sion uses hate in order to keep his decaying body alive, and the feelings he has for Surik calms his mind, threatening his hold on life. In the end, she ultimately convinces him to let go of his hate, and he warns her of his former master’s eventual betrayal, an act that some have seen to be his only true act of love, eventually passing on to the afterlife.
      • Sniper Wolf from Metal Gear fame is renowned to fall in love with her prey before she kills them with her PSG1.
  • The Man/Woman is a simple shallow individual who feels nothing for the would-be suitor because he/she doesn’t fit a physical belief of what’s attractive.
    • A contemporary character flaw that has been more and more prevalent…for a good example, Penny from Big Bang Theory - Season 1 (side note: Sometimes they “see the light” as it were, as Penny does in Season 3…but sometimes they don’t).
  • The Man/Woman doesn’t see Love in their short or long term goals – he/she can’t grasp the concept of being loved in that way, or can’t deal with the possibility of another heartbreak. The other seeking union is otherwise broken-hearted – but is often determined for Love to work out.
    • While this may sound a tad sexist, most loner females carry this attitude with them in some fashion. Sci-fi fans who remember the TV show Babylon 5 will remember Susan Ivanova’s character, a quintessential example of this kind of character, who believed that all love should be unrequited, as was hers and Ranger Marcus Cole.

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg for possible flaws that could turn a poetic picture into an unmitigated disaster. The above askew views see love as something being, at its core, a flawed concept that is just not in the cards, therefore remaining unrequited - a favorite amongst writers that carries a dichotomy of equal poetry and tragedy.

In conclusion, I believe we can all agree that Love and Romance can be an integral part to a good story in any entertainment medium – be it Theatre, Video Games, and more. However, I also believe Love is a very subjective ideal, and can instantly change the dynamic of a story depending on how it’s viewed – it can be beautiful or ugly…and is always in the eye of the beholder.

Revenge of Shinobi Ending