Photo scene from Spirit Walkers: Curse of the Cypress Witch, coming soon from Orchid Games.
Kaily Hart wrote an interesting blog post yesterday about the lack of respect shown toward writers and readers of romance. I think the tide is turning on that. We have a long way to go, but I do believe more people are discovering, despite the oft parroted negative memes, there is a reason
“Romance is currently the largest and best-selling fiction genre in North America.”
Romance’s track record as a bestseller in the industry has the gaming industry showing interest in romance games. If anything, video games get less respect than romance, so it’s reasonable to wonder how games can help romance. Just two years ago, Rachael Webster
blogged about the dirth of games for women and the juvenile content of video games . She had just come back from the Game Developers Convention and was commenting on Heather Chaplin’s speech:
Chaplin used her slot to tell the industry, as reasonably as she could, to grow up. See, she covers the business for the mainstream outlets – she co-write Smartbomb, the single best book to buy anyone who doesn’t understand your “hobby,” and she reports at NPR among other venues. She says this puts her in the role of a “translator,” trying to tell the mainstream why gaming even matters. This also means explaining a lot of big-name games that feature zombies, and aliens, and girls in metal bikinis wielding axes. And while she’s heard the excuses – it’s “a very new medium” – she’s way past accepting them.
And wouldn’t you say Webster’s description above fits the preconceptions that a lot of people have about video games? When I say I write video games, people tend to step back, roll their eyes, or (one librarian’s reaction) sniff in disdain. I confess the first images that used to pop into my head in relation to games were of spaceships blasting away at each other, guys wrapped in ammo belts waving machine guns, and yeah — “women in metal bikinis wielding axes.”
Does that last bit sound a lot like shades of the old “bodice ripper” meme to you? I’m not saying Webster and Chaplin were wrong. They weren’t implying all games were bad. They weren’t even saying metal bikinis are bad. They were asking for more balanced content. They were dead on in that respect. At the time, the only romance video game I could think of was Plundered Hearts from back in the Atari days. That was like a million years ago! Why weren’t there more romance video games released? I was inspired to get up to speed with gaming and see what I could contribute in the way of games for women.
Eventually I signed a contract to write Spirit Walkers: Curse of the Cypress Witch with Orchid Games. We’re not talking your sixty dollar animated console game here. This game will run on your home computer and is less expensive than an agency-priced e-book. This is a casual adventure game–think of it as the paperback novel version of video games. This one is about women. For women. I’d say the defining theme here is friendship and what you will risk to save a friend in trouble. Nothing gets blown up. No one is in a bikini. Instead of a focus on taking lives, the focus is on saving them. It’s more an adventure with romantic elements than a true romance — we’re serving a g-rated audience, so maybe a sweet romance next time around.
Computer years being like dog years, a lot has changed between today and 2009 when Chaplin let loose on the developers. Harlequin has released romance games.Orchid games has released several. Nora Roberts had a hidden objects game released in conjunction with one of her novels. But the meme about games– for boys, violent, waste of time –is firmly in place and had been long before Chaplin’s talk.
I’m a romance writer and I’m accustomed to that I’d-rather-eat-spinach-topped-ice-cream look I get when I recommend romance to someone new to the genre. I love the surprised enthusiasm in his/her tone upon discovering a story they love. I got that spinach look when I told my best friends I was writing a video game. I got the surprised enthusiasm and: “But this looks like something I’d like to play!”, when I showed them the Spirit Walker’s web page that went up at Orchid Games last weekend.
Will the union of adventure games and romance bring more respect to both genres? I don’t know. As long as women have a variety choices I’ll be happy. I hope it will grow the audience for both forms of storytelling and that will be good news for writers. What do you think about hitching romance to games?
Spirit Walkers: Curse of the Cypress Witch will be available here in mid-June.
You can learn more about Orchid Games (check out their other romance games like Heartwild Solitaire) here.
Learn more about Nara Malone at her website.
Side note: While Rachael Webster blogged the article quoted in this post, she was actually a fictional character in the Alternate Reality Game that was part of J. C. Hutchin’s novel Personal Effects: Dark Art Team Rachael, the writers behind the ARG, deserves a shout out for the excellent writing at Webster’s blog, but they insisted on remaining anonymous after the ARG ended and left credit for the blog with Webster. Check back next week for more on this and the power of character blogging to promote an immersive experience for readers.