Playing with reader expectation

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GratuitousMoonspeak
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Playing with reader expectation

#1 Post by GratuitousMoonspeak » Sun Mar 04, 2012 2:00 pm

Or: is it appropriate to troll your audience?

I'll be using an unfinished game of mine as an example. I wanted it to be subversive and edgy, but I ended up abandoning it for other things (such as NaNoWriMo and homework).

Say you have an otome game. Say that there are 4-5 guys whom you can pursue, but there is only one true route. Say that the main character dies on every route except the true one, which puts her with one guy. I realize that it's possible to have a game like this (such as CLANNAD or that fan-made prequel), but in CLANNAD at least Tomoya ended up with a girl at the end, right? What I'm getting at is that this MC would end up dating a guy but would die if it wasn't on a particular route. This has nothing to do with a true love aspect, but deals with what happens in this guy's route overall.

I fully realize that there is the very real possibility of people hating this game because of the outcome--i.e. the author is basically shoehorning you into one route, whether you like it or not--but I think this deals with the question of authorial direction over a visual novel. I know visual novels are interactive and you're supposed to provide choices, but can't you just mess with your readership a little in the process? I guess a good example here would be
Misha's "route"
in Katawa Shoujo, and how living out whatever fantasies you might've had about her ends up
giving you Shizune's bad ending, as well as Misha and Hisao having awkward comfort sex.


Then again, I am looking at this from the standpoint of an author and not as a reader. I think it's fun to twist the expectations that your audience has, i.e. you make Guy A really nice and agreeable but he ends up being a complete jerk once you start pursuing him. Or, like the KS example, you decide to
go after a fan-favorite character only to have that screw you over in the end.


Just wondering how other people look at this issue :-3
Last edited by GratuitousMoonspeak on Sun Mar 04, 2012 2:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#2 Post by CheeryMoya » Sun Mar 04, 2012 2:39 pm

GratuitousMoonspeak wrote:[KS Spoilers]
Gee, thanks for not using the spoiler tags./sarcasm

Anyways, it's a norm for writers to subvert tropes and such to betray what the audience expects. "Look, a jerk! He's probably too badass to like anything cute and fluffy- oh snap, he likes puppies." Overused, cliche, but that's not what you were expecting at first glance.

But forcing the player onto one path? That's the most troll-ish thing you'd ever want to do: separate a girl from her bishies. I suppose you can do that, but you better pull it off in a way that doesn't make angry players complain. You can at least make the death routes feel somewhat satisfying to the reader, like make them kiss and then kill them off :/

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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#3 Post by GratuitousMoonspeak » Sun Mar 04, 2012 2:56 pm

(Sorry about the spoiler tags, they're up now :-/)

But anyway, yes, I realize it's completely troll-ish. But I was looking to kind of break out of the usual mold of "guy acts like this, turns out to be that" kind of thing. I had intended to make the routes satisfying despite all the death, but it eventually got to be too much of a hassle to plan out how to do this so that contributed to my giving it up.

I know it's a pretty common thing to subvert audience expectations character-wise, but I was talking about on a bigger scale than the usual character-centered way. Kind of like Madoka Magica or A Game of Thrones starting out as typical representatives of whatever genre they're in, but turning into something completely different but nonetheless enjoyable. I also think subversive characters tend to be rare in the freeware VN community, for whatever reason. Or if they are an attempt to be subversive, you can see it coming from a mile away, usually with very little foreshadowing.

But that's a completely different problem.
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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#4 Post by Applegate » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:20 pm

Personally, I'd not dislike a story that would present one guy as this utterly, unlikeable jerk and then it turns out that, yes, he is an utterly unlikeable jerk, despite your best attempts to view him to the contrary.

Wouldn't really consider it getting "shoehorned" into one specific route - deIz was received pretty well, even though most of the routes feature a bad ending. Well, it's either people don't mind it or they just loved its art.

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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#5 Post by sciencewarrior » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:26 pm

There is nothing wrong with being subversive and edgy. Lots of people like it. These people won't play your game, because they will see a run-of-the-mill otome. Conversely, the people that do play your game will be frustrated, because you made a promise and then you broke it. Do you want to tell this story? Then be upfront about it. Start with "My name is ___, and in _ days I will die. Probably."

Now, you can and maybe should mess with your audience's expectations, but there is a rule: give them what they want, just not the way they expected it. If you promise a heartwarming story, you can make your audience expect a happy ending, then give them a gut wrenching plot reversal followed by a bittersweet ending. (EDIT: which seems to be where you were headed; I'm not surprised you gave up, though, sounds like a lot of trouble) You can't just give them a "rocks fall, everybody dies" ending.

On a related note, I think that, until you have some experience in a medium, it is probably best to follow its conventions. After you are comfortable with it, you will know where you can "break" it, and have something fresh that still works.
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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#6 Post by GratuitousMoonspeak » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:36 pm

Applegate wrote:Personally, I'd not dislike a story that would present one guy as this utterly, unlikeable jerk and then it turns out that, yes, he is an utterly unlikeable jerk, despite your best attempts to view him to the contrary.
Ha, yeah, there do tend to be a lot of "he's a jerk, but secretly he's really sensitive" kind of characters floating around, especially in otome games. And I guess the tsundere archetype falls into this category, too. It's like, sometimes people are just complete jerks, right?

On the other hand, I usually start hating those kinds of characters when they're first introduced and don't give them attention afterward. I just don't find someone verbally abusing the MC/proxy-me very appealing, honestly. Which is why I can't write complete-jerks-who-turn-out-to-be-actually-nice. However, I really have no qualms with nice-guys-who-are-secretly-evil, since I think it's a bigger twist and gets more of a reaction from the audience (that kind of thing does it for me, anyway lol).

Ooh, I guess a good question now is how would people feel about a cast of jerks? I've actually tried that, too: the MC meets five guys, four of whom are utterly terrible people from the get-go and only one of whom is actually likeable. I guess that's also kind of manipulating reader emotions, but with how many people who ignore the actions of Voldemort and Sephiroth, I guess maybe it wouldn't matter anyway? People seem to just rewrite things in their minds to better fit with their expectations... for some reason.
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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#7 Post by Taleweaver » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:59 pm

Why, of course, DO troll your audience. Hit them as hard as you can, and do it well, so well that they will feel the pain days after you've hit them. Hit them in the worst places, the places that really, really hurt. Kill off the people they sympathize with the most, or build someone as the most relevant character of a story, then unceremoniously dispatch of that character too.

Your audience will love you for it.

No, I'm not being sarcastic. I like to call that the George R. R. Martin school of storytelling, and it works every single time if you do it well.
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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#8 Post by GratuitousMoonspeak » Sun Mar 04, 2012 4:01 pm

@sciencewarrior:

I see where you're coming from, but I don't know, I just have different ideas about interacting with the audience. Granted, I wouldn't keep everything a secret from the audience in like, the promo for it, but I wouldn't want to give away the bigger twists (which is really the only way to do it lol). And the death thing was kind of an upfront bit of information: the game was basically about her getting saved by a grim reaper but having only a year to live before she died again, unless she saved someone else's life. And in most routes, this wouldn't happen. She'd still fall in love and live as a normal (zombie) girl, but she'd just have a time limit and end up failing in the end. Still kind of trolling, but not to the extent that some people go, IMO.

And I guess the "typical otome game" thing was where I was going to go with it in the promos, but I would have told everyone that one of the love interests wasn't human. I'm going to be honest and say that yes, I was going to keep most of it a secret from the audience and even fib about the characters' personalities or just provide very scant--or no--information about them.

Incidentally, I've read quite a few otome games and I'm fairly certain I know which archetypes are overused (such as the Jerk, as mentioned before, as well as Nice Guy, Flirty Guy, Smart Guy, Serious Guy, the Jail Bait Kid, Emo Guy, and Ignored Childhood Friend), so I usually base the love interests on those. I just try to go about it in a fresher way (which I'm sure isn't all that fresh, btw), mainly because I can't bring myself to write straight archetypes like that, especially not for characters who get development. I just can't do it. It's not interesting. Then again, I know that what I find interesting is probably not interesting to other people, but I try to write things that I as a player would enjoy. I guess :-I
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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#9 Post by GratuitousMoonspeak » Sun Mar 04, 2012 4:05 pm

Taleweaver wrote:Why, of course, DO troll your audience. Hit them as hard as you can, and do it well, so well that they will feel the pain days after you've hit them. Hit them in the worst places, the places that really, really hurt. Kill off the people they sympathize with the most, or build someone as the most relevant character of a story, then unceremoniously dispatch of that character too.

Your audience will love you for it.

No, I'm not being sarcastic. I like to call that the George R. R. Martin school of storytelling, and it works every single time if you do it well.
lol, that's what I had in mind for the thing I'm working on right now (not Project Scribble, I think desulishor would kill me lol). And I'm glad someone else thinks like Martin on here >:-3 Though, honestly, I don't think I can ever achieve the level of trolling that Martin has, if only because he's a much better (and far more experienced) writer than I will probably ever be.
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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#10 Post by LVUER » Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:32 pm

Taleweaver wrote:Why, of course, DO troll your audience. Hit them as hard as you can, and do it well, so well that they will feel the pain days after you've hit them. Hit them in the worst places, the places that really, really hurt. Kill off the people they sympathize with the most, or build someone as the most relevant character of a story, then unceremoniously dispatch of that character too.

Your audience will love you for it.

No, I'm not being sarcastic. I like to call that the George R. R. Martin school of storytelling, and it works every single time if you do it well.
O yeah, we love being jerk sometimes, writer or not writer. Some writer even really loves to be jerk when he's in bad mood and kill almost everyone at the last episode (and when he's in good mood, everyone lives happily ever after). Hint: Yoshiyuki Tomino's "Kill 'em all"
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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#11 Post by Greeny » Sun Mar 04, 2012 10:08 pm

The thing is, don't just troll your audeince for the heck of it. I know it can be tempting. Hell, I am literally unable to come up with a story that does not contain some great twist to mess with someone's head. But the thing is, you need to troll them for a reason. The reader must come out of it not feeling trolled, but feeling like they've learned a lesson, or got a message. Even if that message is simply "you can't run from fate". But it can be anything. This does, however, mean more than adding an epilogue where you sit down the reader and explain in great detail what the moral of the story is. You have to weave this theme into your whole story, so that the individual clues don't mean anything but when the reader gets the big reveal they'll be all "ooohhhh!" and not all "aaaarggghhh!!!! grrrrr! send angry mails!!!".
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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#12 Post by gekiganwing » Mon Mar 05, 2012 6:52 am

I know that it's difficult to mess with the readers' or players' expectations without A) making the outcome seem too obvious, 2) mocking them, or 3) a shocking swerve that doesn't make sense. How many examples don't fall into one of those three categories in a negative way?

One recent VN example of playing with expectations: a story created by Team DTR, translated (with some typos) from the original Korean. The first five or ten minutes is a group of teenagers having a party that gets out of hand. It seems like a harem game. One scene later, the girls notice a picture in the main character's room. What follows is...
a relentlessly bleak story about trying to save an illegal immigrant from poverty and tragic circumstances. There's a reason why it's called Tears 9, 10. Some of the endings are rage-inducing. Several times, the narrator gives you false hope, and says something like "...but that never happened." If not for those carpet-pulling twists, the story would be easy to recommend. As it is, not bad.

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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#13 Post by Dakishimete » Sun Mar 18, 2012 4:47 pm

I can't say that trolling is bad, but as always, it all depends on the story. If there's a reason for all these characters to die, it would all make sense and the story still would be good. But if they get, I don't know, hit by a bus for no apparent reason, just because you feel like killing them, it's kind of idiotic. If you make the player aware of the fact that they may die, for example because the setting of the game is war, it's totally appropariate.

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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#14 Post by GratuitousMoonspeak » Tue Mar 20, 2012 12:18 am

Dakishimete wrote:I can't say that trolling is bad, but as always, it all depends on the story. If there's a reason for all these characters to die, it would all make sense and the story still would be good. But if they get, I don't know, hit by a bus for no apparent reason, just because you feel like killing them, it's kind of idiotic. If you make the player aware of the fact that they may die, for example because the setting of the game is war, it's totally appropariate.
Ha, yeah, I definitely wouldn't pull that on readers (unless the bus driver was like, someone who hated the main character and I made that explicit). Having someone killed off just for the sake of killing them off is a cheap move.
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Re: Playing with reader expectation

#15 Post by Greeny » Tue Mar 20, 2012 7:14 am

If you wanna see a good example of how to kill off someone, look at some moments in the Mass Effect series.
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