Thursday, February 9, 2012

Love is in the LARP...Or Not

It's about Valentine's Day, that time to think about love. Keeping it, getting it, or getting rid of it - romance is a hot topic all year 'round, really, and that tension is often pretty obvious at events. Now, despite the content of some of my previous posts, and my own affection for the occasional Julia Roberts flick, I have to say that I think -

Romance in-game is almost always a bad idea.

Now, that's a general statement. I'm sure everyone can come back with an example of how it worked out for them or someone they know. But I think that overall, based on my experience and opinion, it's best to keep the romance to the real world, with a few exceptions. I'm not talking about striking up a relationship with another LARPer out of game, or LARPing with your significant other. I'm talking about trying to take that tricky interaction in-game.

First, it's just awkward. Romance usually involves opening yourself to another person, and even pretending to do that can feel silly. It's hard to tell if the other person is really role-playing, even if they say they are, or if there's more behind it. And, like the creeper article pointed out, you have to constantly evaluate a person you don't know well to figure out if they're going to be weird about it. Sometimes even people you do know well. It's hard to both keep your distance and keep up a fun role-play, I've found - it's just too awkward to be worth it.

Second, it happens pretty often that someone's feelings get hurt. Even if you're doing it just for fun, or just as friends, etc, chances are that at least one party might have a little bit more invested - you just may not know it. They may become attached to the idea of the romance more than the actual person, but become attached they often do. Then if there is a rejection, or if their counterpart doesn't take it as seriously, it can hurt. Usually the person will say they don't mind or it's all in fun, but rejection, even for pretend, is never fun - and especially not so if they're nursing secret feelings.

If one of the people is in a real-life relationship, getting involved in something like this can put a strain on it. I've heard people say that it's okay because the other person is married, or has a significant other. If only that was a magical ward against romantic complications! :) Even if their s/o says they're okay with the idea, most people will say that just so they don't come off as the crazy-jealous boy/girlfriend. Of course seeing or thinking about your loved one spending time with someone else is going to bother a lot of people. Or at least make them wonder, even if it's just a game. Chances are that at least one of the people wouldn't have agreed to it unless there was some level of attraction - you don't tend to want to role-play love if you absolutely can't stand someone.

So, when is it okay to try? Well, obviously if you're already in a relationship with the person, it's a lot easier to translate that into the game. This is probably the best case situation. Even if you're starting out the relationship, at least you know where you stand irl (as much as you can, anyway :) ). And in some cases it could probably work where you know the other person very well - but I'd wager that there's still awkwardness, if not points 2 & 3 also.

Probably the next safest is to set something up between a PC & NPC who know each other. You can set up the ground rules and keep a greater distance this way. An NPC can usually only be around for a short time at a game, and they can often skip to using the third person and describing events/actions rather than acting them out. Nothing kills the mood like having your true love be played by a dirty, smelly NPC in a wife-beater and green facepaint smoking outside the NPC shack :) Interactions can even be kept to emails between games, and as long as you keep it to the point, it can avoid giving the other person the wrong idea. Keeping it as impersonal as possible can help - the PC can fill in the blanks in their head as much as they want!

But even in the NPC-PC situation, I've seen the above-mentioned problems come up. I wish it weren't so, because the girly-girl in me would love to see that added into the game (almost every fantasy has at least a dash of romance, after all!) - but I think at the end of the day there's just too much potential for weirdness and hurt feelings. At least in my opinion.

But what do you think? Is there a way to bring romance in game without being weird?


  1. My NERO character concept is loosely styled after the historical Lord Byron, so a lot of my shtick is that I'm vain and flirtatious. But it's a conflict for me, because my OOG goals do not include romance. I did break my own rule recently and sent a flirty note to a cute girl WHO WILL REMAIN NAMELESS but that was very unusual for me. :P

    When I was running Avendale, I was the staff member giving you the stink-eye if you were laying it on too thick. I've disciplined people for not recognizing that their creepy advances are unwelcome. All that frustrated sexual energy makes for bad game atmosphere.

    I have had some very fun and silly "romances", but I'd use that term very loosely. I like the over-the-top obnoxious flirting. I like acting incredibly full of myself. I like spouting off poetry which everybody but my character knows is just awful. But it's just a shtick.

    I think that IG romance is one of those things, like PVP, that also involves the relationship between the PLAYERS. You gotta be very careful, because you're managing two levels at once!

  2. I definitely try and stay away from "romance" if I can avoid it. I've RP'd relationships before (my character was a gypsy) but it was essentially marriage without the romance.

    But I'm with Dan. If I were to want romance as my character, I would be way over the top with it so that the absurdity itself would help decouple the IG and OOG aspects of it.

    Finally, remember that "no" means "no". If you're looking for romance and your target has made it clear that they are not, don't continue to pursue. Even if you think you're doing it in a comical and ironic manner, the other person might not see it that way.

  3. I think that emotional RP (whether romance, tragedy, or whatever) is one of those things that depends on a) the players, b) be the environment, and c) practice. So, there are games that I've played where romance was considered really unusual, and as a result, people were MORE likely to get the wrong idea if folks flirted IG. Then again, there are games where that sort of thing is really common, in which case folks just assume it is IG unless otherwise stated.

    Over the course of my LARPing career, I've had different opinions on this topic, but overall, I have had a lot of fun with IG romance stuff (both mine, and other people's). I've had a few bad experiences, but they're definitely outweighed by the good ones. All the "no is no" and "don't be a creeper" warnings are good ones. With people you don't know well OOG, an especially careful approach is warranted, and for Pete's sake, don't touch someone without their permission!

    I wish I could come up with some better examples of "doing it right," aside from what others have said about being lighthearted and friendly. If being rejected IG is going to hurt your feelings, you should just hold off, cause it's not fair to put a player on the spot like that. Like Dan said, the goal is to have fun, not create a weird atmosphere. Sometimes more intense emotional stuff is better negotiated outside fo the game, so that no one mistakes an IG reaction for an OOG one. Then again, I think that's true for stuff other than romance. The "My character is really pissed at yours right now, but we're totally cool OOG!" reminder is a useful one too.

    Sort of related to this topic, and sort of to your last one, Karin:

  4. Two other things:

    I know it's misery for some people, but there have been IG awkward moments that I absolutely adored. I know it's not for everyone, and you don't want to make someone feel awkward OOG, but to me, those weird staring-at-the-ground moments can be adorable.

    It's funny to me that you mention an OOG couple as the 'safe' romance option (though of course I know people who do that), because I have a friend whose rule about LARP romance is "no crossover." So if he was involved with someone IG, and they wanted to start dating OOG, they would have to script an IG breakup first, just so that it was absolutely clear what was roleplay and what was real.

  5. The only non-awkward "romances" that I've seen that weren't between people who were in an OOG relationship were NPCs. I think I've seen a couple Duke-and-Duchess or King-and-Queen characters, but I don't really recall them ever "romancing" each other much on stage. I've seen a few "spurned lover" motivations for NPC villains that were portrayed pretty well, notably at ARGO, PRO and NERO Kentucky.