Difficult Subjects in VNs

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Rozume
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Difficult Subjects in VNs

#1 Post by Rozume » Sat Jul 05, 2014 8:22 pm

I don't know how to start this topic.

While romance games are quite popular in this medium, I was wondering if there's any room for a VN that deals with difficult, even triggering subjects such as abuse, racism, homophobia, etc? Would you play/read such a VN?

I'm just curious. I'm currently planning a short KN that deals with child abuse and I wonder if anyone would read it due to the subject matter.

Anyway, discuss.

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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#2 Post by Aurélie » Sat Jul 05, 2014 8:47 pm

I think there's definitely room in the medium! It's whether there's room for it in an individual game or not. What I'm about to say relates to plotting after we eliminate the idea of including cheap and insulting portrayals of triggering content for mere shock value. I'm sure that's not what you're doing, since you've made a thread especially for discussing it.

While I wouldn't play a game which hinges on its choice of triggering subject matter, if it's part of a plot point or a worldbuilding facet I'd be open to it. An example of what I'm trying to say is the racism in Columbia from "Bioshock Infinite" - it's almost everywhere, but if you take it away there's still a substantial storyline.

In regard to your KN: I think people are less likely to play a game if it's presented as "A Game About Child Abuse". But if it's a game about Michael getting through seventh grade after the divorce of his parents, and has a content warning about depictions of child abuse, then people will be more likely to trust your treatment of it. They'll feel they're about to play through a story rather than through a traumatic series of events. Of course there are people who will point-blank refuse to play it no matter how you present it because they're triggered or made uncomfortable by depictions of child abuse, but I'm sure you already expect that.

I don't know how dominant the child abuse in your KN is story-wise, so I'm just extrapolating from how you mentioned it "deals" with it. Best of luck!

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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#3 Post by kisa » Sat Jul 05, 2014 9:29 pm

Is it about DigitalMania? Because that could be one explanation of why her parents do that thing
I'm sure doing a VN or KN about triggering subjects is just the same as writing a book or shooting a movie about it.
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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#4 Post by kitsubasa » Sat Jul 05, 2014 10:08 pm

I essentially agree with Aurelie on this one-- I think doing a game which includes difficult subject matter is fine, but doing a game strictly about something difficult and traumatic would seem exploitative (unless it's coming from some sort of personal place, of course-- I always feel like, where tricky subject matter is concerned, if you've dealt with it yourself, do what you like).

It's the whole thing of... if you make a game solely about a real, difficult issue people face, but then ignore the people in favour of the issue, it feels like you just want cheap drama rather than to explore the lives of people going through harrowing experiences. For example, I watched a short film about homophobia once, but the whole thing seemed overwrought and wrung out for shock value... I looked up the credits of the creators of the film afterwards and all the crew were straight (or at the very least, all of the main crew were in straight relationships). This would have been absolutely fine if they had spent more time exploring the lives of their characters outside of homophobia, but because it was all they ever talked about, it felt like they wanted to make a film which would get them praise for being 'deep' or 'in touch with social issues'... without actually caring about the people they were exploiting in the process.

At the end of the day, if you're planning on dealing with an issue you don't have personal experience with, I feel you have to make sure your VN focuses more on the character/s experiencing that issue than anything else. Pushing them aside to make a statement like 'wow child abuse is bad' will most likely come off as exploitative, since you're ignoring the victim of the issue in favour of the excitement of the issue itself, which says sad things to the people who've experienced it (ie. they are not as important as their problems, their only value is as a statistic/poster child, etc). Tread carefully, be empathetic, and do a lot of research-- read interviews, understand what should and shouldn't be brought up, so forth.

All topics need exploring! Some topics just need more careful, considerate exploring than others. : D
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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#5 Post by blankd » Sun Jul 06, 2014 3:39 am

Personally I find VNs that include these heavier topics can be more engaging and often times I find that usually when a topic is poorly explored it is because it does one or more of the following:

-Presenting the issues in a black and white manner, if someone is an abuser they are the belt-buckle beating, psychotic extreme
-An aversion to having "normal" or even "good" people possessing these traits (eg: classism, "Poor people need to work harder not be parasites to MY money!")
-Alternatively they have a version of these negative traits in a way that's "not so bad' (eg: a character is sexist by being "chivalrous" to women)
-Characters being very defined by their topic instead of affected by it (or causing it) ("I'm a victim [describes the act in graphic detail]" vs "I'm a survivor, things I took for granted are now so much harder to do. [Other nuances of character and their lives outside of event]")
-Using a character being victim of these things as an excuse or cause for why they then go on to do awful things to others (ex: molested and/or abused as a child but then goes on to rape people)

There is no one way to tackle these since they are all very different topics, but typically the suggested research can help you avoid most of the immediate writing pitfalls. Another is to get strict betas (preferably diverse ones) to well, read over it and to be receptive of their commentary.

Hope that helps 8V

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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#6 Post by Taleweaver » Sun Jul 06, 2014 4:43 am

*cough*
There's plenty of room for all sorts of topics in VN. VNs are literature.
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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#7 Post by SundownKid » Sun Jul 06, 2014 5:32 am

Obviously, you can write whatever you want. That said, I would be more inclined to read a VN that dealt with the topic as part of a larger story, then to make that a story in itself. I would be suspicious of a story that solely focused around a certain difficult issue as either trying to use it to give their story instant emotional impact or drop an anvil on the reader's head about how something is bad, which may be preaching to the choir. And a lot of times, it's not a very enjoyable story if it focuses completely on something traumatic.

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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#8 Post by kser6354 » Sun Jul 06, 2014 12:02 pm

SundownKid wrote:Obviously, you can write whatever you want. That said, I would be more inclined to read a VN that dealt with the topic as part of a larger story, then to make that a story in itself. I would be suspicious of a story that solely focused around a certain difficult issue as either trying to use it to give their story instant emotional impact or drop an anvil on the reader's head about how something is bad, which may be preaching to the choir. And a lot of times, it's not a very enjoyable story if it focuses completely on something traumatic.
I thinks its fine to have a message you want to drive through.
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The problem arises when the author is probably trying to force the characters to behave in some way.
Like an actor who thinks a character should behave a certain way, therefore he gives a stereotypical performance of the character.

But that isn't interesting. People want to see real interactions in characters. And real interactions happens when you let the characters live through moment by moment and not trying to jump to conclusion because thats how you planned it to be.

It is extremely hard when you have an agenda in your head, but it can be done. There are many plays that achieves this, and I believed VN can achieve this too as they are both literature works.

I am still having this problem as an actor (acting student) and scriptwriter (student), but it is a common problem.
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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#9 Post by blankd » Sun Jul 06, 2014 1:17 pm

SundownKid wrote:Obviously, you can write whatever you want. That said, I would be more inclined to read a VN that dealt with the topic as part of a larger story, then to make that a story in itself. I would be suspicious of a story that solely focused around a certain difficult issue as either trying to use it to give their story instant emotional impact or drop an anvil on the reader's head about how something is bad, which may be preaching to the choir. And a lot of times, it's not a very enjoyable story if it focuses completely on something traumatic.
I think it's interesting to have this view since most plots with a conflict do revolve around a large issue; who is to say that stopping a villian trying to commit genocide with hammy speeches about humanity is scum with the heroes countering with equally hammy speeches about friendship and "NOT ALL PEOPLE!" isn't anvilicious in of itself?

I think part of the "difficult issue" thing is breaching the comfort zone of most people, most will agree that a number of topics are apparent in their right/wrong nature ("taking over the world", destroying the world, murder in general, a number of violent crimes), but are oddly considered "alright" plots. I'd say even a good chunk of people appreciate media "because of the characters, not the plot".

What I'm getting at is that I find it a little vague of what is meant by a "larger story". Is a tale of child abuse told from the perspective of the child going through the motions of daily life somehow going to be more interesting if the parent of that child is also a monarch ruling a fantasy country with an iron fist (but the perspective is still told from the POV of the child)? Is it the "breathing" space away from the child/reality of the perspective that makes it easier or is it the slight distance from reality that makes the topic more palatable?

The "larger" plot of the former could be about escaping or coping with that abuse whereas the latter could feature a "kill the evil monarch" plot despite how the POV and events of the MC would probably still deal heavily with child abuse and ultimately result in a similar ending (escaping/ending the abuse), it has is the additional baggage of a fantasy world and perhaps subconsciously that some people take comfort that abusers don't exist in reality, only in the realm of fantasy.

Oops, got a little rambly there, but I find this sort of topic handling and topic reaction interesting to talk about. If I misinterpreted something you meant, sorry!

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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#10 Post by trooper6 » Sun Jul 06, 2014 1:40 pm

I say, like I always do, just make your art. If it is good, you will find an audience. It may not be a typical VN audience--whatever that might mean--but you will find an audience.

You can never please everyone. You make a typical romance high school dating otome VN? You will lose me as an audience. Make some super arty game dealing with difficult subjects? You will gain me as an audience. Now if you make that high school dating some really excellently (like Magical Diary) then you'll gain me as an audience...but I liked Magical Diary because it also had some difficult subjects in there. Also, if you make your difficult subject VN and do it poorly, then you lose me as an audience.

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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#11 Post by uwah » Sun Jul 06, 2014 6:05 pm

Like blankd said, if you're going to do something with heavy subject matter, do PLENTY of research before hand! Its important to know what you're dealing with before you start it up. What I would consider an important thing is to not treat it as a joke. For most people reading a story that treats abuse/rape/suicide/etc. as a joke, will make them uncomfortable (or at least it would make ME uncomfortable). So basically, treat serious situations with, well, seriousness!

But I would definitely play a VN with harsh subject matter, provided its handled well.

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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#12 Post by Zetsubou » Sun Jul 06, 2014 8:06 pm

I'd play it, as long as it's an element of the game, not the focus.
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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#13 Post by Gear » Mon Jul 07, 2014 10:01 am

Of course it can happen. How successful it will be will depend on how it's handled.

I mean, if a children's cartoon can cover concepts such as social unrest and terrorism (Legend of Korra), why can't a VN cover difficult topics as well?
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Re: Difficult Subjects in VNs

#14 Post by ArachneJericho » Mon Jul 07, 2014 10:12 am

I was thinking about this. I remember people saying they don't want to focus on these issues because beyond saying they're bad what is there to say about them?

But that's not looking into the issues very deeply. And any VN or other work of art that can only say "X is bad!" and not go further is a bad VN/etc.

For instance, let's look at racism or other "othering" attitudes, like sexism or homophobia or transmisogyny. Racism is actually bigger than "people say bad stuff about another race" even though that is part of it. Racism is a societal structure that oppresses people in a multitude of ways, from housing discrimination (which still exists) to media portrayals to reduced wages to denial of specific rights. And then there's the concept of microaggressions, which I think would be best portrayed in a game like a VN or anything interactive. Not to mention that racism is constructed differently from sexism etc, and that various axis of oppression exist; for instance, a white woman can still oppress a black man, and vice versa, just in different ways. (Not to be confused with the idea that reverse-racism exists, because unless you're being extremely shallow about power structures, it doesn't. This is difficult to talk about as you can imagine.)

So yes. You can focus on an issue and have a deep game about it.

I'd talk about child abuse but the subject triggers me.

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