Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

A mystery life sim set in college. GxB and GxG options planned
daikiraikimi
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Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

Post by daikiraikimi » Sat Nov 15, 2014 9:19 pm

Okay, so I bought Nicole a while back-- I generally buy all WW games as soon as I can, even if I don't have time to play them right away. I finally got the chance to play a bit of Nicole a few weeks ago, and started writing a review. I wanted to finish every route before I posted it, and wanted to polish it up a bit, but I've been pretty busy and am not sure when I'll get the chance. I feel the items I wanted to discuss in this review are important, so I feel I should post what I have now, and then I can come back and update it when I have time to go over the other routes.

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In general, I feel this was a well made game-- the art was gorgeous, and the premise was interesting. I found a few inconsistencies (Nicole likes mystery novels, but claims to be uninterested in real life mysteries, a popular Rollr blogger would probably know not to delete messages, and not really a good explanation for why Nicole didn't go to the police) however, the more pressing issue I wanted to discuss was the subtle, but consistent, negative remarks towards women, as well as the normalization of violence used by the male characters against Nicole.

As previously stated, I have not had a chance to finish all the game routes-- I completed Jeff's routes, and got most of the way through Kurt's. I got a decent amount of Ted and Darren wile working on the other two, but have not finished them. I also want to acknowledge that this is a mystery game, and that some of the violent actions on the part of the male love interests was probably inserted to generate suspicion about them. However, as these are love interests, and the player is supposed to like, love them, and want Nicole to love them and be in a relationship with them, I didn't think that the way it was handled was very appropriate. At the place I left off in my game, every boy except for Darren had in some way used violence against Nicole, and exhibited common tactics used by abusers.

This deeply disturbed me, because as a player I am supposed to see these men as potential romantic partners, and in order to be in a relationship with them Nicole normalizes the violence used against her, and doesn't ever address it as not okay. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I was unable to enjoy the romances because I kept seeing behavior that reminded me of my abuser-- and it is not just a coincidence, and that these things happened to match up with my unique circumstance. These behaviors are well documented, they are patterns that many, if not most, abusers fall into-- the Nicole's response in making excuses for these abusers, or ignoring the ways she is being disrespected or degraded, is disheartening. As a player, I want to play a character who has self respect, who does not stand for men using violence against her, and who has relationships with people who treat her with respect and dignity.

At this point, some people may be thinking "whoa, I don't remember seeing that kind of behavior in game"-- not everyone has had the intimate experience with abusers and sexual predators that I have. Even those who have may have had a similar experience under different circumstances. I have saved quotes that stood out to me in game, so that I can show exactly what I mean when I point out these issues. I absolutely love Winter Wolves games, and will continue to support them in the future-- but I hope that you guys will take a look at the quotes here and decide not to have this kind of content in future games. As a player, I want to have fun and enjoy my games, but it is hard for me to do that when I am being placed into the role of the victim of abuse, and I am not even allowed to call out that abuse and enforce Nicole's boundaries.

To make this easier, I will separate the quotes by route (since that's how I took notes on it.) Warning for people who have not yet played, thar be spoilers ahead!

Jeff:

I ended up picking Jeff out as my first route because he seemed like a pretty chill dude—I was most into Jeff and Ted, but I was always fighting with Ted so I went with Jeff first. His weird sense of humor threw me off during his first meeting, but I figured he was just more of a mischievous character. While I don’t mind the whole “perfect guy has a secret personality” thing, I did have a problem with how it was treated. Specifically, Jeff came off as extremely predatory, which makes sense given that he was the kidnapper.

What did *not* make sense was Nicole’s reaction to him. To explain this, I need to go a bit more in depth with regards to the situations which made me uncomfortable.
One of the first tip offs with Jeff came early on— when Nicole is watching Jeff in the lab he tells her she couldn’t possibly have phrased something in a stupider way. (Paraphrased.) Next, Nicole finds Jeff in the lab, and he physically grabs Nicole’s hand to keep her from leaving, and “jokingly” says he’ll have to kill her. The text describes Jeff as “like a cat toying with prey.” During this interaction, he tells Nicole “you’re sharp!”

The physical restraint is obviously a problem—this made me want to immediately switch to Ted’s route, but I had already stacked up a ton of points in Wit. Another part of this which raises some pretty harsh red flags is how Jeff mixes up complimenting and denigrating Nichole—and complimenting her backhandedly through complimenting himself. “You only prove I have excellent taste when picking subordinates” and “"I thought I had you figured out, and then you go and surprise me like this!" Even at the end of the game he does this “If I did I wouldn’t be here.” (Last quote paraphrased from the warehouse scene.)

Earlier he had also blocked her path, refusing to take no when he wants to talk to her saying “I can wait as long as I need to.” His issue of getting physical with Nicole is consistent as well—at Ted’s store Jeff forcibly grabs Nicole’s had to make her feel the goosebumps on his arm. And during the last romantic scene he throws her against a wall, pins her there, and then *threatens to rape her.* The love interest, who the player is supposed to want to date, threatens to rape Nicole and thus the player. Even *after* he gets over this strange violent phase, his romantic confession to Nicole is super rapey—“If you want me to stop, you better push me away while you have the chance.”

Now, I understand that Jeff turns out to be a kidnapper—ergo, he is supposed to come off as a bad person, someone who does not respect the bodily autonomy of others. The most troubling aspect is not that there is a pseudo-rapist character. (Though, I would say it is a problem to have a pseudo-rapist love interest.) What makes it really harmful, though, is how Nicole reacts to this—she constantly makes excuses for the male cast treating her in these awful ways. She describes Jeff as creepy, but continues to be around him. Even if she wouldn’t report him, because he is so charismatic and could turn people against her, she could at least keep herself at a distance. Instead, she excuses their behavior—or worse blames herself.

After Jeff apologizes, she tells him it was okay that he threatened to rape her, and Nicole’s internal monologue is "Me yelling is what started this whole mess, anyway." She is literally blaming herself, holding herself responsible, for the fact that Jeff threatened to rape her. At the end of the story, she finds out that Jeff kidnapped multiple girls and was planning on kidnapping her as well, but she says he’s a “good guy” and continues to date him in prison. And when visiting prison, something I wasn’t expecting—Nicole makes a prison rape joke. (To Jeff) "As long as you don't end up as someone's wife, I'm happy."

Now, it’s not all bad—I was happy that Nicole refused to drop everything and go on the run with him. But at the same time, someone finding out that the guy they’ve been dating is a serial kidnapper—it doesn’t seem realistic at all. This is a romance game, for sure, but that doesn’t mean the player has to end up with a guy in every ending. I would have been more satisfied with a “normal” ending, where Nicole got with Jeff, he somehow decided to stop kidnapping people, and a “true” ending, where she finds out he is the culprit and locks him away.

Would it be sad? Would he try to guilt her? Possibly. But then I wouldn’t be left wondering why the female character of my game is willingly dating someone who drugs and kidnaps women convinced to help him redeem himself. This is the entire basis for abusive relationships—women know they’re in a bad relationship, they are so desperate for affection that they ignore the signs, and they keep convincing themselves that he is going to change, or that they were the ones who drove him to this behavior. Seeing the character that I am playing fall into this kind of thing, with a completely non-critical story, really hurts me, as a survivor of both abusive relationships and rape.

Showing that Nicole is self-assured, a strong woman, and wants to do what is right—and then saying that what this means is staying in an abusive relationship, ignoring ones own instinctual fear, and creep radar, is just reinforcing a lot of really, really awful messages about women in relationships. I really think that this is extremely harmful, and I really hope that future games will empower female characters by *not* having them choose to remain in relationships that don’t respect them, where their boyfriend physically restrains them (not just the last scene, but using a larger body to block her path, grabbing her arm and dragging her places), where he breaks down her self-esteem and builds it up again—hinged on his approval (calling her stupid, then complimenting her when she does what he wants, “complimenting” her but really complimenting himself) etc.

Kurt:

Kurt and I immediately got off on a bad foot due to his extreme disrespect for women. Early on in his route, he asks Nicole to tutor him and when she refuses he physically blocks her path. And the most frustrating thing is that Nicole starts standing up for herself initially—she says “No means no” and rebukes him. But then he puts on a puppy face—she acknowledges that he must have practiced this to get his way, but instead of not allowing this creeper to manipulate her… She gives him what he wants.

This was extremely frustrating for me as a player, because I was being subjected to an extremely creepy guy, who obviously *does not* respect no, and the female character, just like in Jeff’s route, gets the creepy vibes from him and *continues associating with him.* At this point I absolutely revile Kurt, and yet she’s agreeing to tutor him—even saying that she doesn’t hate him. When he gets his number, Kurt acts like he has dominated Nicole. She’s upset because "he didn’t even trick her"—oh, but he actually did.

What is makes this even more frustrating is that even moments earlier, Nicole is actually afraid that Kurt is going to hit her. The exact inner dialogue was “I only hope he's enough of a gentleman not to hit a girl.” This guy obviously terrifies her, the entire class was fearful of him after his outburst. He has anger management problems—which is the number one thing linked to violent crime. This is not safe at all, and yet she continues being around him anyway. It doesn’t make any sense, and as a player I feel like I came here to play a game, solve a mystery, and have a romance but more than the creepy messages and kidnappings it is the *love interests* who I am terrified of. Kurt struck me as a potential rapist, and it turns out Jeff actually was one.

And again, Nicole only makes excuses for Kurt’s behavior—and Darren, my sweet non-violent, non-rapey Darren, also defends him. I was crestfallen. "He means it in good fun. Truth be told, he treats many girls the same way. I wouldn't take it personally." The way Kurt treats Nicole is somehow okay, because he’s an enormous creep and treats *all women* disrespectfully? Nicole even consciously acknowledges Kurt’s sexist behavior here: "I barely register he offered me a compliment, and one that wasn't based on my looks. I'm just not used to hearing it!"

As his route continued, I think he got less problematic, was less likely to use violence against Nicole, and his not respecting her no turned into consensual banter between friends. (But remember, in the beginning she was a total stranger. His behavior is less creepy as an inside joke between friends, but totally not appropriate when he's physically intimidating a girl he only just met.) Another minor issue I had in this route was Nicole complaining about "girl directions" when her roommate is telling her how to get to the football field. Having a female character say derogatory things about women really brings me out of my immersion. I don't think comments like this are appropriate in any context, but especially not in a game aimed at women. It just doesn't make sense to insult your demographic in that way.

Ted’s Route:

Ted I liked from the beginning—sure he was anal retentive, but having dealt with OCD myself as a young person this doesn’t bother me as much. Ted was great—he was harsh, but he was harsh with everyone. I liked that he was a hard worker, and admired that hard work in other people.

Unfortunately, in what I was realizing was a consistent theme, he also gets violently physical with Nicole during Jeff’s visit to the store—specifically she says "wrap a hand around my forearm and drag me over to the far side of the store." She later cries in pain and describes it as an “iron grip.”

When I have the time, I will go back and finish the routes I haven't completed-- get Kurt's ending, and go through Ted and Darren. I think that one of the reasons the themes of "romantic violence" feel so strong are because I started the game on Jeff's route-- and Jeff is the villain. That said, every love interest except for Darren used physical violence against Nicole, and I feel that it would be super easy to cut those parts out-- and that doing so would greatly improve the quality of the game. Coming from a background of abuse, I am more likely to notice these kinds of things than perhaps other players are-- but that is one of the reasons that this content worries me. I feel that it displays violent behavior as normal, and extreme sexually violent behavior as "just something you need to get over in order to be with Jeff." I would really like it if future games would omit this all together, or even better, have the player character call out poor behavior, realize that abuse is completely unacceptable in a relationship, and, frankly, not have relationships with people who physically restrain them, intimidate them with their size, or threaten sexual violence.

And lastly, I do want to say that while the themes of romantic violence made it really hard for me to enjoy the romances, I do think it was a well made game overall. My favorite feature was the events with two love interests at once-- I feel that showing the guys interact with each other helps develop their characters better, and to humanize them. I also liked that Nicole could increase both of their relationships at once, because it really gave the impression of a friend group instead of immediately becoming a competition for romance. I apologize if this review comes off as overly negative, but I felt it was really important to address this serious issue specifically, and so I have minimized discussion of other parts of the game. (I just really, really feel its important to not have normalized sexual and romantic violence in romance sims.)

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jack1974
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Re: Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

Post by jack1974 » Sat Nov 15, 2014 10:08 pm

I honestly hadn't this impression about the game, you extrapolated some parts of the story, but in general saying that Nicole promotes violence in romances seems a bit weird to me.
I don't know if the writer still lurk the forums and wants to reply, maybe he can clarify some points :)

daikiraikimi
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Re: Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

Post by daikiraikimi » Sat Nov 15, 2014 10:43 pm

I really love WW games in general, so I hope this doesn't come off as just "games are bad." I was specifically talking about the problematic elements, so like I said, I talk more about those things than other parts of the game. I think for people with different backgrounds from myself, those parts do not stand out as much. It's very difficult for me to overlook when love interests forcibly grab the player, or threaten to rape them, and when the main character's internal dialogue shows she is afraid of being hit, or that she thinks it's her fault that someone threatened to rape her.

I absolutely 100% don't think it is your *intention* to promote violence in romances-- I haven't seen this kind of thing in your other games, and I feel it slipped under the radar this time. I think that it is a common theme to show forcible restraining as sexy, and I think that seeped into the interactions here. I just feel there is a big difference between two characters consensually having rough, sensual fun, and someone who does not have that permission hurting you by dragging you places and throwing you against walls.

I would love to hear from the author, but I just really want to empathize that even if it's not *on purpose* that is how the romances came off, to me at least. (Because I have studied the dynamics of abuse very thoroughly, and could see a lot of the same "grooming" patterns in, say, Jeff's route.) I just wanted to point this out because I think no one intended it to come off this way, and I think it's better to let you guys know rather than just feeling this way and not saying anything.

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Re: Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

Post by daikiraikimi » Sat Nov 15, 2014 11:09 pm

Sorry if I'm typing too much, I was actually really nervous to post this. I guess I am worried about people jumping on board to tell me that I'm wrong, and that it's normal to have people grabbing one another in painful vice grips, or that it's okay that someone threatens to rape the player and then you date them.

I don't want to debate how people see the game, because I know that out of ten people who play the same game, there are going to be ten different opinions on what different things in the game means. I don't want to tell anyone that their way of seeing the game is wrong, I just wanted to point out that some of the text made me feel uncomfortable, and why. I'd like to talk about it, and see what the author thought they were communicating when they wrote it-- I imagine that part of it was trying to insert more mystery and tension into the regular conversations. But I'd like to hear more about the process.

I want to be able to communicate my thoughts, but I'm honestly feel really uncomfortable and will probably phrase it weirdly. Especially since I admire and respect you all so much. So I apologize if I'm jumbled when I'm posting, and I hope that you guys can have patience with me. Thanks for listening.

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Re: Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

Post by Franka » Sun Nov 16, 2014 1:07 am

I hope the yuri version isn't this unpleasant... Having a love interest physically menace and mentally belittle the player is definitely a turn off for me. Unless it's a creepy bird in Hatoful Boyfriend. I had to drop a route in a certain visual novel because of the serious abuse pattern vibes I was getting from that love interest. If all the love interests in Nicole are like that, I'm happy to have passed on it.

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Re: Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

Post by Exizel » Sun Nov 16, 2014 1:46 am

I'm surprise(in a good way), usually when something in a game remind someone of a bad experience, they go berserk on forum and generaly the replies are pretty ugly. It's nice too see someone talking about something like that and being aware of why people may disagree. You need a lot of courage to write something like that. I know that when you write something like that, often at the end, you end up more hurt by the replies that if you didn't wrote anything. So you have my respect for that.

Like you say everyone will have a different interpretation because we all have different experience, the reason I wrote this post is to tell you to not feel bad about telling us all that and while I can't undertand what you've been through and I understand and know the feeling of how something happening in a movie/game... can remind you of your past and ruin your day and make you lose your sleep.
For exemple in Nicole I kind of had a hard time about ted's route, because of his strong feeling for his parents was one the most important part of his route . It may look like a strange thing to have a problem with and most people would not understand even if I explain why...well I want to say I can understand why you want to write that post(I don't really know how to say what I have on my mind).

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Re: Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

Post by daikiraikimi » Sun Nov 16, 2014 2:02 am

@Exizel Thanks for the support, I feel a lot better about it now. I was really worried before, so hearing other people's thoughts is great. I think one reason I was so worried is because posts like this often go berserk and get really ugly, so I'm really glad it hasn't. Things on this forum tend to be a lot better than other game forums, I think I just got worried and psyched myself out. >< I really appreciate your words, and I think you were able to communicate what you had on your mind well. ^^

@Franka Haha, Hatoful Boyfriend. (I recently found out there are also dating sims about llamas and dinosaurs, but I haven't taken a look at them yet.) The writer for the yuri version is different, and if I'm not mistaken is a lesbian, so while I can't say what themes it will have I think at least we can expect that the writing will be coming from a different perspective. I still plan on getting the yuri version myself. :)

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Re: Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

Post by jack1974 » Sun Nov 16, 2014 5:46 am

daikiraikimi wrote:Sorry if I'm typing too much, I was actually really nervous to post this. I guess I am worried about people jumping on board to tell me that I'm wrong, and that it's normal to have people grabbing one another in painful vice grips, or that it's okay that someone threatens to rape the player and then you date them.
No no it's not normal :lol:
For me is really hard to say (because of language barrier... sigh) but I had the impression that
Spoiler:
the whole "romance" with Jeff was a bit weird, not writer's fault though since I made the base story, probably was better to not make him a dateable character in the end.
I need to review the actual texts to see how the whole scene plays out though, I don't remember it anymore :mrgreen:
daikiraikimi wrote: I don't want to debate how people see the game, because I know that out of ten people who play the same game, there are going to be ten different opinions on what different things in the game means. I don't want to tell anyone that their way of seeing the game is wrong, I just wanted to point out that some of the text made me feel uncomfortable, and why. I'd like to talk about it, and see what the author thought they were communicating when they wrote it-- I imagine that part of it was trying to insert more mystery and tension into the regular conversations. But I'd like to hear more about the process.
No problem and is good that you raised this point so I know how to behave in future games. In general Nicole, while is not a crazy comedy like Roommates is still a "light comedy" (I think that is the right word, not sure). I mean there can be bad endings but in general things have a positive outcome, and often hilarious.
daikiraikimi wrote: I want to be able to communicate my thoughts, but I'm honestly feel really uncomfortable and will probably phrase it weirdly. Especially since I admire and respect you all so much. So I apologize if I'm jumbled when I'm posting, and I hope that you guys can have patience with me. Thanks for listening.
As I said is fine. I checked some texts you mentioned. I think what is also important is that Nicole is NOT PASSIVE, like in many otome games. For example in Jeff's scene you mentioned, we can pick several points that makes clear that Jeff was NEVER going to rape her:
"It’s after studying his eyes that I finally realize why."
ni "You really are good at pretending."
"If I was the least bit scared, I’m not anymore."
and also at end of scene:
"I stare down at my wrists, still red from Jeff’s grip. I’d never let anyone touch me like that. Ever."
I think that's important, the message here is not like that Nicole is "fine" if someone threats her. She is VERY ANGRY at him, and even if he tried she wouldn't have let him, you can be sure of that. And the rest of the scene, as I said you need to read it as a whole, because picking only some phrases doesn't make it justice I think :)

In any case is something I'll remind in future games! will also show this to the writers working on the yuri version. Thanks for the feedback :)

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Re: Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

Post by daikiraikimi » Sun Nov 16, 2014 8:14 am

Thanks for listening to me. :)

I think part of the reason that scene played out negatively for me is that Nicole *says* that she would never let anyone touch her that way (by the text, I thought she meant she'd never let someone treat her violently, such as what made her hands red) but then she doesn't actually take action to that effect. With Kurt, she says "No means no" but then he keeps ignoring her "no" and she gives in instead of sticking to her guns. (She agrees to tutor him after he blocks her path, and after she is afraid he will hit her.)

With Jeff, she does call his bluff, she knows he wouldn't actually rape her, but even though she is angry she doesn't hold him accountable for his actions. She keeps spending time with him, and then dates him, even though he's done something absolutely horrible and boundary shattering. (Even if he didn't *actually intend* to rape her, threatening to rape someone is a pretty big breach of trust.) I guess I just can't get behind the fact that he never is held accountable for his violent actions (his relationship with Nicole doesn't suffer due to it, but rather that is the catalyst which starts them dating)-- but at least he is held accountable for kidnapping. I definitely liked Nicole's personality overall, she was much more active and interesting than the stereotypical otome character. ^^ I also really liked the work that was put into the different characters cultures, such as Ted's southern roots and Nicole being from California. All of the characters had really distinct personalities and interests.

Thanks again for listening, and I'm looking forward to the yuri version, too!

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Re: Violence as Romance: Can We Please Not?

Post by Franka » Sun Nov 16, 2014 10:07 am

jack1974 wrote:For example in Jeff's scene you mentioned, we can pick several points that makes clear that Jeff was NEVER going to rape her:
"It’s after studying his eyes that I finally realize why."
ni "You really are good at pretending."
"If I was the least bit scared, I’m not anymore."
and also at end of scene:
"I stare down at my wrists, still red from Jeff’s grip. I’d never let anyone touch me like that. Ever."
I think that's important, the message here is not like that Nicole is "fine" if someone threats her.
I shouldn't post without seeing the whole context, but I gotta say that these phrases you've picked out just make it look like Nicole is fooling herself, settling into the victim role. The only thing missing is "I'd never let anyone touch me like that AGAIN. Ever." But we all know what's coming, these won't be the last bruises.

We're seeing things from her perspective, excusing him, so he doesn't have to. That's what it sounds like to me anyway.

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