Love Interest Mentioning Past Relationships

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Jackkel Dragon
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Love Interest Mentioning Past Relationships

#1 Post by Jackkel Dragon » Wed Nov 06, 2019 11:59 am

Here's something I've been thinking about lately: what do players of romance games think of love interests that mention or discuss past relationships? I have a character or two in something that I'm working on who have been shaped by past relationships, but I'm a bit worried how players will perceive these characters if I make it a big deal. In my experience, players seem to be less trusting of love interests that have had past relationships, especially if the old relationship ended amicably or indicates the love interest is bisexual. Is this true for a large segment of romance game players, or is it more safe to have such elements than I am assuming?
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Re: Love Interest Mentioning Past Relationships

#2 Post by parttimestorier » Wed Nov 06, 2019 2:57 pm

My impression is that it's mostly just a loud minority of people who get mad online about their video game love interests not meeting some weird "purity" standard. I don't think there's very much overlap of those people and people who are interested in indie EVNs anyway - I think a lot of the appeal of this genre is how often it includes diverse representation of different kinds of people and relationships. Personally, I'd be happy to read about characters' past relationships, especially if that turns out to be a way to include some good bi representation.
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Re: Love Interest Mentioning Past Relationships

#3 Post by gekiganwing » Wed Nov 06, 2019 4:14 pm

Jackkel Dragon wrote:
Wed Nov 06, 2019 11:59 am
Here's something I've been thinking about lately: what do players of romance games think of love interests that mention or discuss past relationships?
I usually assume that fictional characters have had life experiences before the events of a story. That said, think about how many of their experiences are relevant to your story. Consider whether your VN will benefit by referencing a character's family, friends, mentors, coworkers, and so on.

If a fictional character has had a love interest, and if it's relevant to your story, then it might be worth discussing. Talk about whether it was a one-sided crush, a long distance relationship, a marriage that ended in divorce, or something else. Include what the character thinks about their relationship. Do they miss him? Are they avoiding him on social media?

A few other things to consider...

* The protagonist's past relationships. Has he fallen in love with someone? If so, how did their relationship go?
* Shipping. Consider whether two support characters could be each other's love interest. Or whether people will root for Protagonist x Bob as a couple, rather than Protagonist x Robert.
* Rivalries. This can be a source of conflict in your story. Think about whether the romantic rivals will see each other as friendly competitors, or whether they will see each other as antagonists.
* What the love interest thinks about their sexuality. Maybe she is open about being bisexual. Or maybe she only discusses her sexuality with trusted friends.
Jackkel Dragon wrote:
Wed Nov 06, 2019 11:59 am
In my experience, players seem to be less trusting of love interests that have had past relationships, especially if the old relationship ended amicably or indicates the love interest is bisexual. Is this true for a large segment of romance game players, or is it more safe to have such elements than I am assuming?
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Re: Love Interest Mentioning Past Relationships

#4 Post by arty » Thu Nov 07, 2019 4:24 am

Honestly... People who complain about this sort of thing need to grow up.

Disclaimer: I'm not a huge fan of romance games/stories - but I would probably become one if relationships in those were portrayed in a more realistic and mature way.

It is perfectly normal to have had past relationships that didn't work out for whatever reason. It can be a source of character development/growth, too. What went wrong in the past relationships? What is the character hoping to do better this time around? Or have they learned nothing and will repeat their mistakes? All interesting topics to explore.

A character discussing their past relationships with their new partner is for me, a sign of a trusting, healthy relationship where you can talk about these things. And dear god, we need more trusting healthy relationships in media.

But you can even go a different route - if the character is insecure, they could be trying to achieve something by mentioning past relationships to their new partner or love interest. I've known people who would do this because they believed making their partner jealous would make them more desirable to said partner. There is interesting potential for conflict and tension.

I think the fact that many people (and I'm no exception here) are insecure about their relationships contributes to that "stigma" of "don't talk about your ex". I myself would prefer if my partner does not talk about how great things were with their ex all day long. Or how they meet up for coffee every week still. However, I've grown up a lot in the past years and it would not bother me nearly as much nowadays as it would have in the past.

If media showed more that having past relationships and discussing them is perfectly healthy and normal, I think I would have learned this lesson sooner. Playing a game where these sorts of conversations happen would allow people who are still insecure about this to explore it in a safe way.

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Re: Love Interest Mentioning Past Relationships

#5 Post by Mutive » Thu Nov 07, 2019 12:46 pm

I agree with the above posters that it seems kind of weird for a love interest to have never had any kinds of love interests in the past. So bringing them up definitely doesn't bother me.

With that said, like everything, it depends on execution. If the character feels the need to bring up, say, her prior relationship with Alice in every conversation, I'm going to wonder whether she's over Alice and not want to date her very much. (Just like how I'd feel in real life. If my conversation was something like, "Should we get chocolate or vanilla ice cream for dessert tonight?" and her response was, "Alice always loved chocolate. We ate it every time we watched a movie together. 'Star Wars' was her favorite...she even liked the prequels..." I'm definitely going to wonder whether LI has any real interest in me.)

Alternately, if there's a reason for the former love interest to be mentioned (e.g. "Ugh, I hope we don't have to ask Alice for directions." "Why?" "She cheated on me with half the school. You can say our break up wasn't exactly amiable...") or they're mentioned briefly in passing once or twice, it's not a big deal.
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Re: Love Interest Mentioning Past Relationships

#6 Post by Desertopa » Sat Nov 09, 2019 9:23 am

So, on the one hand, I think it's true that readers who make a fuss over this sort of thing are only a vocal minority within the overall population. On the other hand, they're a minority that Japanese romance games in particular have been catering to for decades, so the genre kind of filters for them now. I think whether it makes sense to worry about it or not depends largely on what kind of game you're trying to make.

If you're making a game with heavily Japanese-influenced style and aesthetics, and it's a commercial project where you're concerned about the potential profits, then I think it may make some sense to worry about it, because the sort of audiences who'd raise a fuss over it are going to be particularly concentrated among people who'd take notice of the game. If your personal commercial success depends on that audience, you might find it safer not to push too hard against what they want.

If you're making the game under any other circumstances though, it's probably not worth worrying much about.

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Re: Love Interest Mentioning Past Relationships

#7 Post by Jackkel Dragon » Sun Nov 10, 2019 3:04 pm

Thanks for the feedback so far. I'll try to keep these things in mind when I get around to writing more for the characters in question.

(Since the character that I'm most worried about is 34-35 years old and part of a game that will probably be free, I'll probably just let them bring up the past relationships. If players get upset about someone who is nearly middle-aged having had past relationships, I'm not sure there's much I can do to soften the blow. And the other character that I'm slightly worried about has already mentioned her past relationship in a prior game where only ~19% of players even played her route, so I'm guessing players were turned off from her for other reasons anyway.)
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Re: Love Interest Mentioning Past Relationships

#8 Post by Kuiper » Sun Nov 10, 2019 6:39 pm

parttimestorier wrote:
Wed Nov 06, 2019 2:57 pm
My impression is that it's mostly just a loud minority of people who get mad online about their video game love interests not meeting some weird "purity" standard.
There is a certain amount of this, but another factor to consider is that players have an easy time relating to characters who are similar to them, and many people who play romance game are often less experienced (or sometimes completely inexperienced) when it comes to real-life romance. For a person who didn't date at all in high school, their reaction to meeting someone who had 6 different partners in high school might be something like, "Wow, your experience growing up was totally and completely different from mine, I have a hard time relating to that."

One of the easiest ways to get readers on "the same team" with a given character is to make the character similar to them. (For example, many YA books feature characters who are fans of reading YA books -- an easy way to flatter the sensibilities of the readers and give them a character that they can easily relate to.)

There's also a trope of romance stories (not just visual novels) that will introduce old love interests specifically for the purpose of romantically competing with the main character: things seem to be going well between Alice and Bob at the end of act 2, when suddenly an old flame enters the picture to add drama to the situation. So I could understand why some genre-savvy players might be suspicious if a character mentions past relationships (even if they wouldn't be suspicious of that kind of behavior in real life): why would the writer be telling us about this information if it wasn't going to be relevant later on in the plot? Better be on your guard in case one of those exes shows up!

This is sort of connected to a principle that undergirds a lot of fiction, which is that there's sort of an implicit promise that the things you choose to mention about a character will matter. If a character off-handedly mentions some past trauma, and I spend most of the game with that character, I'm going to assume that their story will, at last in part, involve dealing or at least acknowledging that past trauma or in some way make it relevant to who they are as a character. If a character mentions they have a tragic backstory and then it never comes up for the rest of the game, that sort of feels like a broken promise: why did you bring it up if we weren't going to explore it?

This is sort of connected to a more generalizable piece of advice: readers are really only interested in people's pasts insofar as those pasts give insights as to who they are as a person. For example, if a character says, "I had chocolate cake at the party for my 5th birthday" without saying anything else, that feels like an irrelevant bit of trivia and something that I have no interest in because it reveals nothing about them as a person. However, I would find it interesting if they told me about how they grew up in a family that wasn't very well-off, and birthdays were the one time of the year that their parents pulled out all the stops and really let them indulge in a fabulous treat for one day out of the year: in that context, a detailed description of the fancy cake that they got for their 5th birthday (juxtaposed with the squalor of the small one-bedroom apartment that it was served in) would actually tell me something interesting about that character's childhood. (And, as an added bonus, it might reveal why they would be especially delighted to receive an extra-nice birthday cake, which is a piece of information that might be relevant to me if I am a dating game protagonist who is trying to woo them.)

Likewise, if I'm told something about a character's romantic history, I don't want it to feel like a piece of trivia. I'm interested in what it says about them as a person. Uninteresting: "I had a girlfriend in high school. We broke up after a year." More interesting: "I had a girlfriend in high school, but it kind of happened by accident. I just wanted to take someone to the dance at the end of my freshman year, so I asked her to go to the dance with me, and afterward she assumed we were a couple, and I just sort of let it happen. Maybe it was due to a combination of being an emotionally inarticulate teenager, and not wanting to break her heart. The irony was, I let things go on so long that when we did break up, I ended up hurting her way more than if I had just told her up front I didn't want us to be a couple. She's forgiven me, but I still feel guilty about the whole thing, and I made a promise to myself that I would never make the same mistake again."

To make trivia more interesting, one of the questions I like asking is, "Why?" Why are you as the author telling me this piece of information about them? (If there doesn't seem to be an apparent reason for the information that you're sharing, that's when my genre savvy radar starts to go off and make me think that maybe you're only giving me this bit of trivia so you can introduce drama later on. You can use the one-word question of "why" to interrogate own writing. Sometimes, a fun "warm up" writing exercise can involve interviewing your characters using the same question:

"I like going on hikes." Why? "My workplace is super loud and hectic, and while I like the energy, sometimes I need to get away from it all. Weekend hikes are the one time out of the week when I feel like I get to be alone with my own thoughts."

"I had six different girlfriends in college." Why? "I guess I was like the romantic equivalent of the person who changes to different major every semester, stuck in a cycle of trying something new, finding myself discontent with it, and then moving onto the next option. For awhile I dated a real party animal, and we'd go out clubbing every weekend, and after awhile I thought, 'This isn't who I am. This isn't who I want to be.' So I'd break up, and figure, 'maybe things will be different if I date a bookworm this time.' I was still in the process of figuring out what kind of person I wanted to be with, partly because I was still in the process of figuring out who I was." Okay, now we have an idea of where the drama in this relationship might come from: has this love interest self-actualized to the point where they know what kind of partner they're comfortable being in a long-term relationship? Or will the main character be yet another short-term fling that they eventually move on from in their continued quest of self-discovery? Those are the kinds of questions that can make a romance arc more interesting than just a simple "will they/won't they" question. And if you don't want to explore these kinds of questions, maybe you should consider not giving the love interest a backstory that involves them dating a large number partners on a short-term basis.
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Re: Love Interest Mentioning Past Relationships

#9 Post by Jackkel Dragon » Sun Nov 10, 2019 8:53 pm

While I understand the concept of the conservation of details to those that are the most plot-relevant, I feel like some information doesn't always have to directly tie into the story. Mentioning little details every once in a while can help make characters and settings feel more developed without creating a whole subplot about said details. That said, I don't get the impression that the characters I am worried about have these details as just "trivia". Perhaps I should share some more details about my specific situation, since the more generic version of the main question has been mostly answered.

Character 1:
In the storyline where this character mentioned her previous girlfriend, the prior relationship is used to show why she has her current view on romance. She was a new high school student who got sexually involved with an older student and thought they were going to stay together, only to find out that her "girlfriend" wanted to be available for new relationships in college. After having been used for sex like this, she's hesitant to equate love and sex directly and tries to impress this mindset on the player character.

Character 2: Not everything about this character/storyline is set in stone yet, but
she's 34-35 years old, so I feel like the player should probably assume that she had a few relationships by this point. The two significant ones that may be brought up include her first love interest, whose depression and suicide shaped how protective she is, and her most recent love interest, who left her for not changing into what that person wanted. I'm also considering using these past relationships as a way to show the player character's growth, as the player character can be played as clingy and jealous in the previous game.
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Projects:
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  • Eldritch University: A Horror/Romance Visual Novel; the follow-up to Eldritch Academy. (itch.io|Steam) [Nightshade]
  • Blooming Nightshade: A lighthearted Romance Visual Novel set at the school from Eldritch Academy. (itch.io|Steam) [Nightshade]
  • Flowering Nightshade: A lighthearted Romance Visual Novel and the follow-up to Blooming Nightshade. (itch.io) [Nightshade]
  • Novels and short stories. (Shireishi, Those That Linger: GhostSense, and more) (Amazon Kindle) [Nightshade]
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