How to write the rules of attraction

A poster on a video game forum sparked a very interesting debate. (Presumably, a) he initially complained about the lack of LGBT-focussed mods for Morrowind, which resulted in a few short list of recommendations, and he said that they weren’t really what he was looking for. I pointed out a few others, including my own, where gender simply wasn’t specified. I’m very much of the view that the player decides how the game goes, and I mentally award brownie points every time I’m allowed to follow my whims and scowl disapprovingly any time I can’t. Bethesda’s games are very much designed in that way, so it follows automatically that I should avoid restricting the player.

Because Morrowind‘s dialogue is text-based rather than voice-recorded, the player can enter their chosen name at the beginning of the game and have non-player characters (NPCs) address them by name throughout. Now that fully voiced dialogue is practically universal, games have to either be like Deus Ex and impose a name on the player (which I hate) or be like Skyrim and dance around the issue at all costs. It gets to a point where the omission becomes jarring, as the game ties itself in knots trying to not call you anything. You get cute little nicknames – “Dovakhiin”, “Dragon-born”, or – in Morrowind – “Outlander”. It’s like this when I’m writing dialogue for Morrowind mods, and avoiding pronouns at all costs to sidestep the issue of homosexuality.

I hated political correctness when I was a kid because our teachers used the word “tolerance”, and I’ve always hated the word “tolerance” when it comes to dealing with other people. I don’t want to “tolerate” other people, I want to accept them. Tolerance turns a blind eye; acceptance sees the whole person.

When straight people look at gay people, they tend not to see the whole person. (I’m generalising, of course, here.) They either myopically see just the sexual behaviour, or turn a blind eye and ignore that facet of their being. I’m probably guilty of that, since the sum total of my understanding of gay relationships is “when a girl stays at a guy’s house, she brings a toothbrush. When a girl stays with a girl, she brings a suitcase.” That glib witticism raises a smile whenever I tell it, but that’s only one line. A decent companion (follower) mod could easily have four thousand lines of dialogue. The first, golden rule of writing is “write about what you know about”, and I know no more about same-sex relationships than I know about Tasmanian goat farming. Then again, I’ve never lived on a volcanic island with elves for neighbours in a house carved from a mushroom-tree.

I therefore had an “oooh” moment when I read a post about another modder, Kateri, and her approach to writing same-sex relationships. She said that the character she was writing, Julan, has never seriously considered having a relationship with a man, but that the player character could persuade him to consider it. That’s a very interesting dynamic, because it requires a lot more input from the writer. Instead of this vague grey mist where the character’s sexuality lies, there’s a very concrete answer – he’s straight – but the nuanced possibility that he could be flexible under the right circumstances.

(Oh, get your mind out of the gutter!)

I just thought that was interesting from a writing-anything perspective: you can leave things open to interpretation and encourage the reader to fill in the blanks, and that’s fine, but you’re never going to have a character that’s as well developed as one in which you’ve fully explored every aspect of their personality, including where they are on the gay-straight spectrum, and how flexible (oh, stop it!) they’d be if they met the right person.

It’s pretty unlikely that I’d be writing anything substantial for Morrowind in the future, but it’s definitely something I should keep in mind for future modding endeavours. Instead of a Skyrim give-him-a-nickname approach, perhaps I should adopt the Mass Effect standard of giving the player the last name and letting them decide the rest for themselves. It’s not quite as much choice as they had before, but with that tiny loss they gain a sense of identity.

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2 comments on “How to write the rules of attraction

  1. Wow! Would you mind if I quote you in my facebook?
    Gosh, I like your view. I modded a certain companion for Oblivion named Fergus. I’m gay myself and it was very odd to create a bisexual character that could tag along with both boys or girls. I’m not very good at dating girls. I tried to make a character that could sound straight, but all his story-line involves his old affairs, including a very strange one with a guard. But since he can’t be flirty -so he wouldn’t flirt a boy for mistake- I feel he’s not realistic for girls.

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