Is Romance a game?
Trigger warning - I will be discussing sexual assault. Mostly about how to avoid it in your romance.
I was chatting with someone on Facebook the other day and they mentioned how they hated Reverse Harem because to her it was basically a rape fantasy. She's probably right but I've read a range of romance that might have a bit of kink that I've thoroughly enjoyed but just as many I've DNF because of the rapey elements. I should say the RH made not one jot of difference between figuring out which ones were rapey and which ones were not. I have noticed the ones that objectify women early on will not be my piece of cake. (like if a book uses the word sexy to describe the love interest in the first chapter - lazy writing and objectifying) Also recently I read a book on motivational theory/game theory. I automatically related it to romance because why not. So these are my thoughts on how romance novels can veer into places that will trigger some people and how you can make sure that you avoid it. I should say here that I consider it an obligation of an artist to try improve society instead of perpetuating stereotypes and harmful tropes.
The game theory basically talks about two kinds of players. One who wants to win and one who wants to be in the game for the longest. The winner is what we call Players. I think that is ironic. For them the game is about convincing a girl, or guy if that is your pleasure, to grace their bed. The tension comes from the strategies and the unknown factors but once they are in their bed they have won. Touch down. For them to stay in a relationship it is like they are watching the end of Titanic over and over again. Great the first couple of times but by the hundredth time it is no longer fun. That is when they get out of the game to find another one as fast as possible. This is fine if everyone in the game went in playing the same rules.
The player who wants to be in the game for the longest get their win by convincing a woman or man to spend their life with them. Same rules apply to strategies but instead of them getting bored with the ending they just see it as another sign that they are winning. This reminds me of the scene in Everyone Loves Raymond where he confesses that he cried the first time he slept with his wife. He hadn't won the game but he was winning. This is the kind you are most likely to see in a romance.
These romances are great to read and they often will be categorised as the HEA (happily ever after) and your HFN (happy for now). See we already understand these kinds of players and that is fine. Knowing this can also help you create good villains as well because then you can understand their motivation. So here are the things you don't want your love interest to do in your stories. There are two types of creepy guys you don't want. The easiest to spot is the Force kind. They think the game is to get people into bed by whatever means possible or if they are the long term player then it is the guy that wants the woman in his life forever regardless of what she feels. Wait I should mention this works for a female villain as well. For instance a woman putting holes in a condom because she thinks a baby will make the relationship last longer. They don't think convincing the person is part of the game. These are your obvious villains in books and movies and frankly in our lives as well. But there is another kind and these are the ones which will trigger anyone with past experiences and that is the person who thinks the convincing part is a blurry line.
This is what I call the Coercer. And guess what, players can fall into coercion even without realising. These are stories where you see a prince sleeping with a maid or a teacher with a student. Because coercion is when the person has power over the other person and doesn't allow them to have power themselves. I mention these two examples as it is almost impossible to give up your power in this situation. This is how idiots in position of power plead that they had no idea that they were forcing someone. And yes it is still coercion when the prince looks lovingly into the maid's eyes and asks if she really wants to do it. Just like a child can't give consent this sort of situation gets really dodgy fast. You can have these romances if you have a power shift. Because remember rape is about power and not about sex. So if you want it to be alright for the prince to hook up with the maid you have to give her some power in the situation. For instance he is accused of treason and she hides him away. She can turn him in at any moment and he no longer has his position of power. Falling into bed then is romantic instead of creepy.
The Coercer will convince themselves that their victims will be happy once they understand how awesome they are. So whatever they do in the game is acceptable because they believe they know better. They are literally treating their love interest like a child. That is creepy. These are the stalkers and the like - think Something about Mary - and this kind of creep is prevalent in our romance. This is why so many women hate the Alpha male trope because those men think they know better than the woman. If you want to explore this topic more then I highly recommend watching Pop culture detective. He has several on things like Born Sexy Yesterday and Predatory Romance of Harrison Ford.
Whenever you have two characters who want to get busy you have to ask yourself about the power dynamic. Who has the power and who doesn't? That is why the person on Facebook was triggered because for them the power dynamic was definitely in the males hands and not very even.
I just want to add a bit here about books like Fifty shades and the darker ones. People think that with Dom and Subs that there is an unequal level of power. In Fifty shades this is true. But if you want to go down this path of writing something a little darker you have to ask yourself what they get out of the game. Make sure everyone has the same level of power before they give up their power. I saw this done really well in CSI: Las Vegas. Loved the Dom in that TV show. See in Fifty Shades you could make him the sub. Tired by having to run a business all day he doesn't want to make any choices when it comes to sex. Or it could be that she has to look after people all day and she is tired of no one paying attention to her - they almost got this right but not quite - the problem is that they should have him give up power to her. Like not stalking her and letting her make a choice without him looking over her shoulder.
Knowing the motivations of your characters makes it easier for them not to wander over into something that will trigger people. It will make your romances more interesting and your villains more layered.
So I hope this helps you see when you are leading your Love Interest into creepyville. Besides how much fun will it be to flip the power dynamics.