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Writing the Romance-able NPC: ICING on the Content Cake Heidi McDonald Game Designer, Schell Games LLC.

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Presentation on theme: "Writing the Romance-able NPC: ICING on the Content Cake Heidi McDonald Game Designer, Schell Games LLC."— Presentation transcript:

1 Writing the Romance-able NPC: ICING on the Content Cake Heidi McDonald Game Designer, Schell Games LLC

2 = I am an industry noob; professional writer for 12 years, gamer for longer, but I’ve only been in the gaming industry since July of 2011, and I LOVE IT. This was a mid-life re-set for me. My youngest went to Kindergarten, and at the age of 39, I went to school to get my degree. While attending Chatham University I secured an internship with Schell Games in Pittsburgh. I graduated summa cum laude this past May, with a dual degree in Film and Digital Technology, and Professional Writing. I began my FT position as a game designer with Schell Games the day after I graduated. My focus there is narrative and content design. This is my first talk, I hope you’ll be kind. I’m learning a whole lot and I am excited to share a few things I’ve learned! Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see things differently… Heidi is a n00b

3 What this talk is NOT about
To be clear, “romance in video games” is a pretty broad theme. I stuck with what I had personal experience with. I have no personal experience with Japanese Otome games, or with romancing other actual players in MMO’s like World of Warcraft. Though, the New York Times ran an article about how World of Warcraft is actually more effective than at creating couples, because it has more than double the subscribers, there’s a built-in common interest, and people are more “themselves” when they are gaming as opposed to “being on their good behavior for dates.”

4 I live mostly in the single-player RPG
I live mostly in the single-player RPG. So that’s what I decided to focus on: NPC romances in single-player RPGs.

5 COM106 Assignment: ZOMG!!! I can studiez GAMEZ for GRADEZ!
“Examine an area of media that interests you and report on your results.” ZOMG!!! I can studiez GAMEZ for GRADEZ! This all began as a class project for a 100-level undergraduate communications course, in January. The assignment was to “examine an area of media that interests you and report on your results.” I was placed into a group tasked with examining relationships in media. So…obviously…I picked games.

6 Why study this? Learn about player motivation and behavior Learn how important NPC romance actually is Identify patterns and models that can help improve NPC romance There are a few reasons I could think of why this could actually help me in my new job as a game writer. Plus, I needed to convince my professor that this was something worth studying.

7 “Relationships in Games…”
OK, so… “Relationships in Games…” Analyzed my own gaming behavior. Asked a few other people about their gaming behavior. Realized…hey, this could be a legit study! I didn’t have any clear direction or hypothesis when I started, I simply started thinking about my own gaming behavior, compared it to a few other peoples’, and realized hey, this is interesting stuff and might be totally legit!

8 Who here has ever had a crush on an
NPC in a video game?

9 Well, for me, it’s happened 9 times: Atton. Bishop. Sky. Gann-of-Dreams. Alistair. Andronikos. Fenris. Anders, and Sebastian.

But 8 of these 9 men are very disturbed individuals. I was like, wait…I could NEVER be with real-life guys who are evil or violent. So why does it appeal to me 8 out of 9 times in games? And does anyone else experience this disconnect? And WHY? EMO EXTREMIST CHASTE

11 Then, there was Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins, who I was so obsessed with that I played the entire game through 3 more times just to get the romance to work out right. 8 of 9 times, I went for these terrible men, but in this one case, I was obsessed with this one character…

12 Yes! You might be on to something! Study it some more!
Jesse Schell Cool! You go for it, girlfriend! Need help with your survey questions? I took my ideas to a few industry mentors who were very supportive and did think that this kind of study might lead somewhere. No, BioWare doesn’t collect data like this. But if you happen to collect some…let us know! Sheri Graner Ray Jennifer Brandes Hepler

13 Using SurveyMonkey PRO’s CON’s + Easy design + Easy participation
+ Anonymous + Data makes sense CON’s Honesty-dependent Not scientific People can skip questions People can re-take survey With the help of my industry mentors, I developed a survey and threw it up on SurveyMonkey. While this data has some limitations, absent any actual game metrics for this stuff (I checked with BioWare, pretty much the king of the NPC romance game: they do not collect any metrics about this and even if they did, there’d be no way to verify the real-life gender of the players), it’s the best means of collection. Richard LaPiere, in his famous 1934 sociology study, found that people’s attitudes don’t always match what they say, and this is what makes self-reporting unreliable. However, it seemed like the best way to ask people about their behavior.

14 The Respondents 525 Respondents All gamers and/or game developers
62% female, 33% male 71% straight 57% romantically attached 85% with a 40% majority of 18-24 The three ways I got respondents: 1) Passed out cards with the study information on it, at GDC in March, encouraging people to participate. 2) Put up a link to the survey on the BioWare Social Network. 3) Social media; Facebook and Twitter. Non-gamers were filtered out at the beginning of the survey.

15 What gender character do you prefer to play when you are playing a single-player RPG?
FEMALE MALE Recognizing that some games like Witcher don’t give players a choice of character, I asked, “What gender character do you prefer to play when you are playing a single-player RPG?” While the respondents are only 62% female in real life, 69% prefer to play as a female character. Again: Respondents are 62% female, 33% male in real life. But 69% prefer to play a female!

16 (This finding supports Nick Yee’s work.)
Women like playing female characters, and the overlap is happening primarily with men! This supports Nick Yee’s work in player demographics in MMOs. It’s happening in single-player RPGs, as well. (This finding supports Nick Yee’s work.)

17 Do you, or would you ever role play a character with a gender different to your real-life gender?
Sometimes Often Always Never When I asked whether people do, or would, play a character of a gender different from their real-life gender, only 18% of respondents said NEVER. This means that 82% of players – an overwhelming majority – do, or would, role play as the opposite gender. Again: Respondents are 62% female, 33% male in real life. Only 18% said NEVER, meaning that 82% of players are changing it up at least some of the time!

18 Do you, or would you ever romance a different gender character than you would in real life?
Often Always Players are definitely experimenting in games with sexualities different to those they pursue in real life. Remember, 71% of these respondents identified as straight. Only 6% of these respondents say they ALWAYS romance straight. 94% of respondents are role-playing different sexual orientations than their actual one. I do allow for some people who do it to be funny, or some men who are like, chick on chick…giggity. However, 94% is a pretty all-encompassing percentage. Let’s break it out further. Sometimes Never

19 Which romance combinations have you, do you, or would you play?
Male Player, Female NPC Female Player, Male NPC Female Player, NPC So, while female couples do experience their popularity, players do seem to mix things up. Male Player, NPC

20 Identity Tourism “The process of appropriating another identity on the web, and more specifically, an identity involving another gender and/or race other than one's own, particularly on the internet and in video games.” ~Lisa Nakamura Gaming scholar Lisa Nakamura has a term for this, called Identity Tourism. Nakamura asserts that Identity Tourism is a bad thing when players engage in it while playing MMOs which are connected with other human beings; she sees this as unethical and deceptive, as well as giving the tourist the false belief that he/she has actually experienced what it is like to be “the other.” In a related essay from the book, “World of Warcraft & Philosophy,” Phill Alexander describes his experiences playing World of Warcraft as a female character. Alexander supports Nakamura’s theories.

21 Let’s flip it on its head: Can Identity Tourism be a GOOD thing?
When you remove the ethical cost involved with having a real person on the other end of the transaction. When you have a safe, private opportunity to experiment with gender and sexuality. Playing single-player RPGs.

22 Safe Spaces? Billy Lucas, age 15, of Greensburg, Indiana. Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, California. Tyler Clementi, 18, Rutgers University. Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, Texas. These are just some of a growing list of young people who committed suicide because they felt like they didn’t have a safe space to be who they were. Kids who were gay or even perceived to be gay, died. Could safe social experimentation, in the space of a single-player RPG, have helped them? I can’t say. But what I CAN say is, my research has found that this experimentation IS going on, and I believe it could be an outlet for anyone who is questioning. I recently published an article about NPC Romance as a Safe Space, and the healthier form of Identity Tourism, in the special romance issue of the ETC Journal, “Well Played.”

23 Identity Tourism CAN BE self-awareness and tolerance.
TAKEAWAY #1 Identity Tourism CAN BE a good thing that helps people’s self-awareness and tolerance.

24 How important is romance to your overall experience in a
single-player RPG? Take or Leave Somewhat Not much Only about 7% of respondents said that romance was not that important or not at all important. Meaning, NPC romance has some degree of importance to 93% of them. In terms of the overall game, it’s like icing on a cake. But what this tells us is, most people are happy to eat the icing. Not at all Very

25 Romance is IMPORTANT 89% romance to see where the narrative goes.
80% say romances add depth to their gameplay. 76% romance for entertainment and to experience as much content as possible. 60% HAVE had felt connection to a romance-able NPC. 53% find NPC romance emotionally stimulating. Other findings support the idea that romance is important.

26 What is most appealing about
NPC romance? 86% NPC’s personality 77% Dialogue 71% Integration of romance into game narrative 65% Voice/accent 55% NPC’s back story 49% Facial features 32% Body type Here are the things people like about NPC romance.

27 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Romance in a game can appeal to 4 out of the 5 basic human needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, established in 1943.

28 Romance is important in single-player RPGs.
TAKEAWAY #2 Romance is important in single-player RPGs.

But still, I need to understand the disconnect between why I keep romancing guys I would never consider if they were real. So, moving forward, I decided to think more about things that attract, things that repel, and how that works in a game versus how that works in real life. EMO EXTREMIST CHASTE

30 Thinking about this, I came up with an idea about how to unpack things.

31 Thinking about that NYT article about how World of Warcraft was more effective than, I realized something about People go there in order to say who they are, and, they list qualities that would be attractive in a potential partner, using personality tests. I found 45 descriptor adjectives, most of which came from the personality test on, and the rest came from the BioWare Social Network, on forum threads discussing the NPC romances in Dragon Age and Mass Effect (which were the top two games cited in terms of what games respondents have played NPC romance in). I asked respondents how they describe themselves versus their role-playing characters; whether these descriptors are attractive or unattractive in an NPC; and whether these descriptors are attractive or unattractive in a real-life partners.

32 PEOPLE BOTH AVATAR People consider themselves in real life, the descriptors in pink (50% or greater). People prefer to play characters with the descriptors in blue (50% or greater). The descriptors in the middle are ones that people applied pretty equally to themselves and their avatars (within 20%).

I started thinking about what this means to narrative design. Narrative designers don’t just have to write the NPC’s you’re romancing with, but, we also have to write the player character. In Dragon Age, for example, we get the do-gooder response, we get the evil response, and we get a more smart-ass response…this allows NPC characters and the story to react according to the personality choices we’ve made while playing the game. So, when you’re designing player charcters, use the descriptors in the blue circle. Here’s why… Use these!

34 Dr. Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk, based on her book.
Dr. Jane McGonigal explains that people’s game avatars are their personal ideal, who they aspire to be, and who they are evolving toward. Dr. Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk, based on her book.

35 Next, I asked respondents to rate adjectives in terms of whether they found it attractive, or unattractive, in a real-life partner.

36 You have a whole lot of descriptors that you CAN use (in blue), which people find attractive, but, the more interesting thing to look at here is that there are some descriptors considered unattractive in a partner that might make for interesting conflict if they are managed carefully. Here’s why… Use these!

37 In her work with Archetype Writing, Kaufman applies Jungian archetype to romance writing.
Kaufman credits the “shadow personality” as being the seat of creativity and imagination, which people use when they are playing through storylines. Because Jung (and Kaufman) say that processing and balancing the shadow personality are essential to balancing our personalities as human beings, it’s possible that solving conflicts that involve these shadow qualities will make for a richer and more rewarding experience. THEREFORE: When designing relationships and folding them into the meta story arc, focus on conflicts around the descriptors that imply the shadow personality. Dr. Carolyn Kaufman’s work in using Jungian Archetype and the concept of the Shadow Personality in romance writing.

38 Universally Disliked Descriptors
A Note on Universally Disliked Descriptors Chaste Childish Helpless Needy Religious While using shadow descriptors may offer guidance on how to construct good conflicts, we do need to recognize that there were some descriptors that weren’t attractive to respondents, not in describing real life or NPC partners, and not in describing themselves or characters they’d play. In those cases, we have a list of descriptors NOT to use, or else if they are used, will be a difficult sell in the traditional sense. So either, don’t use them, or be very careful about using them wisely.

39 Next, I asked people to rate the same adjectives in terms of whether they would be attractive or unattractive in an NPC. Here’s what came up. Notice that people don’t care if their romance-able NPC is violent or sleeps around, as long as they are affectionate and communicative, and can kick some ass in a fight.

40 Here are things people find attractive in an NPC, so, when crafting a character that you want people to find attractive, you have a set of descriptors you can turn to for what makes the most attractive character, which can help you with the romance-able character’s ultimate story arc. Here’s why… Use these!

41 Jason VandenBerghe, Creative Director for UbiSoft, gave a mind-blowing talk at this year’s GDC about using Big 5 personality theory to find a continuum that defines different player motivations. We can apply his theory to this set of descriptors, and find ways to use those descriptors to craft satisfying romance endings. Jason VandenBerghe's "5 Domains of Play" Lecture at GDC 2012 using Big 5 Theory to address player motivation.

42 Applying VandenBerghe
To Romance Big 5 Category Player Motivation Type of Romance Openness Novelty               Unconventional characteristics with strange or funny backstories Low Openness Predictability     More predictable, archetypal Conscientiousness Challenge     "Hard to get" character that must be actively wooed and won Low C-Score Ease of play       Damsel in distress to be saved Extravterted Stimulation         Lots of fun banter Low Extraverted Low Social Engagement Aggressive NPC Agreeableness Harmony           Uncomplicated romance that ends well every time Low Agreeableness Discord             Tumultuous romance such as Neuroticism Threat             Dark stories or bad endings Each of the Big 5 personality categories in VandenBerghe’s lecture was one he associated with a specific player motivation. Taking that concept one step further into NPC romance, we can find types of NPC romances that satisfy the motivations on both sides of each continuum. Using VandenBerghe’s model, having these eight specific romance types in your game will satisfy all personality types.

43 TAKEAWAY #3 ICING …on the content cake Heidi’s Research Gaming
Scholarship Writing Scholarship ICING My last takeaway here is that everything I’ve studied does add up to what I believe could be an interesting model narrative designers like myself could use to create better and more satisfying NPC romances in single-player RPGs. You’ll remember that in the beginning of the talk I compared single-player RPGs to a layer cake, and NPC romance to being the icing on that cake. Romance, like icing, is a component people like, which is an added feature of the meta-game. People seem to like it when models have acronyms. So, mine is ICING, like how NPC romance is the icing on the content cake with single-player RPGs. …on the content cake

44 The ICING Recipe I just put this in because it looks yummy. I bet everyone in here wants cake now. I sure do.

45 as I’ve experienced it in games
The Writing Process as I’ve experienced it in games Character development Interactive component Player perspective Story construction Ending Here are the steps I’ve learned to take, both from college screenwriting courses and experience with fiction and game writing, and also from several books on game writing I’ve read in order to be better at what I do. BioWare does these elements pretty well; in fact, 75% of respondents cited BioWare titles as those they’ve played with NPC romances in them, and the top 3 titles cited (Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Knights of the Old Republic) were all from BioWare, with 55% of all responses. I love BioWare’s games, but I think even they can do better with NPC romance. I thought about these steps, and how what I’ve learned can be applied to these steps, and tried to put it all together into a formula that can help game writers whether they are noobs like me or superstars over at BioWare. Ladies and gentlemen: The ICING…

46 I C N G ratifying endings (Jason VandenBerghe) nclusiveness
(Lisa Nakamura) haracter perspective (Dr. Jane McGonigal) nterference (Dr. Carolyn Kaufman) The “I” is to help us remember inclusiveness, that flipping of identity tourism into something helpful, according to what players are doing and what they prefer. They want to experiment. The “C” is for writing character perspective, because we’re not just writing other characters, we are also writing the player’s side of the interactions; remembering Jane McGonigal’s advice about players aspiring to our avatars can guide this component. The second “I” is for interference, or, introducing conflict when you’re constructing the romance story. Carolyn Kaufman’s work on archetypes in romance writing suggests that we are drawn to shadow qualities because of a deep psychological need to balance the two sides. Using the very qualities we find unattractive in real partners, we can develop irresistable conflicts. However, “N,” not using the universally-hated descriptors or else using them very carefully keeps us from turning off players. The “G” is for gratifying endings, which we can construct with the help of Jason VandenBerghe’s work in motivations. ot using universally-hated descriptors (Heidi’s research) ratifying endings (Jason VandenBerghe)

47 Let them eat cake! Now that we know… People like experimenting
Romance is important We can make tastier ICING on the content cake Let them eat cake!

48 Special Thanks: Jesse Schell / Schell Games / ETC
Sheri Graner Ray / Schell Games Schell Games Co-Workers Jennifer Brandes Hepler / BioWare BioWare Social Network Brenda Garno / LootDrop Jason VandenBerghe / UbiSoft The CA’s from GDC 2012 Feminists in Games Dr. Katie Cruger / Chatham University Dr. Prajna Paramita Parasher / Chatham University Alex McPhearson / Catalina Games My kids, who taught me to keep asking “why”

49 @Death_Bow ~
WORKS CITED: Alexander, Phill. "He's The Kind of Girl Who Wants Matching Daggers." World of Warcraft and Philosophy. By Luke Cuddy and John Nordlinger. Chicago: Open Court, Print. Benedetti, Winda. "Is 'World of Warcraft' the Future of Online Dating?" Ingame. Msnbc Digital Network, Web. 21 Mar < >.    Kaufman, Dr. Carolyn. Archetype: The Fiction Writer's Guide to Psychology. Archetype Writing, Web. 26 Mar <>. "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs." Motivation Theory. Project Management Course, Web. 21 Mar <>. McGonigal, Jane. "Gaming Can Make a Better World." TED2010, Long Beach, CA. 18 Feb Lecture. Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. New York: Routledge, Print. Rosenbloom, Stephanie. "It's Love at First Kill." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 22 Apr Web. 21 Mar "The Attitude-Behaviour Gap: Why We Say One Thing But Do The Opposite." PsyBlog. PsyBlog, 24 Mar Web. 23 Mar <>. VandenBerghe, Jason. "The Five Domains of Play." Game Developers' Conference. Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco, CA. 7 March Lecture. Heidi McDonald @Death_Bow ~

50 Thank You! Heidi McDonald @Death_Bow

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