[SPOILERS for The SGS Titanic Larp] – If you read this post, you will be spoiled to the game and won’t be able to play. However, the GM has declared this game “dead” (meaning it won’t run again in the near future) so it’s probably not a big deal. Because of this, I have not masked spoilers for this post.
A few months back, a friend ran the “Titanic Game”. This was a revival of a game that had run successfully a few years ago.
The game action takes place in an underwater resort city, situated within sight of the wreck of the Titanic (hence the name.) I played a character named “Sam Thornburg.” Now, some of you are probably thinking that name sounds awfully familiar. Well it should – apparently it’s from Stargate. Unfortunately, Stargate is not a series I’ve managed to see any of. So I had no idea who this person was! Jack O’Neil was there too, and that player didn’t know anything about Stargate either. So we got to have our own, unique, interpretation of the characters, based solely on the character sheet.
As the title of the post suggests, I want to talk about game design, and using romance as an ally maker, rather than an in-game plot for characters, but first, we must recount Sam’s ridiculous exploits during the game!
In a world where the UN controls all international waters, and mega-corps run most everything, including parts of the UN, Sam Thornburg and Jack O’Neil had been sent, as so many others had, to this luxury dome after some emergency caused it to go offline less than a week after it’s grand opening.
It’s pretty much all our fault. The company that Sam and Jack work for is rivals with the company that built the luxury dome and rather than let them get the edge on us, the company had it sabotaged. We’re here to clean up to make sure no one pins it on our company.
Upon arrival, we discover a single survivor, and quite a tangle of lies and deceit. It turns out that the other company was using essentially slave labor (in the form of a “debt-forgiveness” program) to construct and staff the dome.
Sam was really worried that her sister, who is a journalist, was there. Partly she was worried that the sister would learn that Sam is part of the para-military division of the company and regularly runs around causing corporate sabotage or cleaning up after it. Partly she was worried about the sister getting hurt. I took that last part and ran with it. Literally. I had so much fun being reckless, aggressive, and generally a driver of action.
In the end, I managed to pass off the nuclear codes to my contact, avoid my sister finding out what I get up to day to day, and make the rival mega-corp look pretty bad by encouraging my sister to write the story of the debt-worker program. So overall, I would call it a win for the character.
However, there was one plot that I didn’t really get around to. Romance. Sam and Jack are sweet on each-other, but not sure how to deal with it in the context of their professional relationship. Now, I happen to really enjoy playing out romance plots, but it just never came up in this game.
I think this was caused by the issue of immediacy. Jack and I were going to see each-other tomorrow in the office. There was no reason that instead of dealing with the ticking bomb, we should be flirting. It’s not like we won’t get another chance at this.
Just to be clear, lack-of-immediacy is a different issue than scale-of-epic. Scale-of-epic is when small plots like “Get even with Bob for making you look bad in front of the boss” tend to get swept aside in favor of tings like “The world is ending and only by working together with Bob can you save it.” Romance plots have the somewhat unique ability to resist scale-of-epic because they are often so central to the characters, and the “this is your last chance” feeling resonates strongly with players.
Despite the fact that my romance plot didn’t go anywhere in this game, and I don’t foresee it being pursued in most runs of the game (due to the lack of immediacy in the situation), I wouldn’t necessarily take it out.
Romance can serve a couple of different purposes in games. One is as an active plot for one or both involved parties, in which they pursue each-other in game and attempt to achieve some particular end like a declaration of reciprocated love, or a marriage. The other, which is what Jack and Sam had, is as an ally maker. Romance is a quick, easy way for a writer to connect two otherwise disparate characters in a positive manner. It can also be used to reinforce relationships between characters who are already connected, but that the writer intends for the characters to rely on each-other. That’s not to say that romance plots do not have their share of betrayal – cheating, adultery, love triangles, and more are also common tropes in our games – just that ally making is a very common use of romance in our games.