Sunday, January 8, 2017

General RPGs' Since We're Not Related It'll Be Okay Syndrome

Happy New Year, all! I've finally gotten around to this. Before we begin though, quick question. Reader and buddy Ecclesiastes tells me that the Patreon button over to the right there doesn't show up for him. Now, I would not be particularly shocked if I never get a single Patron pledge, given that this blog has less widespread exposure than the majority of first grade art assignments, but it would be defeating the purpose of having a Patreon to begin with if I didn't just check: can the rest of you see the hopping little Patreon moogle there? If he's not showing up for any of you, let me know, and I'll see about fixing it. Of course, considering that my technical knowledge rivals that of a squirrel's, who knows whether that'll help.

Anyway! On to the first rant of 2017. Time to set the bar low for the rest of the year's rants!



Have you ever noticed that the RPG genre is really, consistently, very inordinately fond of romantic relationships between adopted brothers and sisters? I mean, to the point that it’s basically a storytelling cliche for the genre. Seriously, if your protagonist and his/her sister/brother have been raised together in the same household by the same parents for most/all of their lives, but are not, in fact, blood-related, then it is RPG law that one or both of them want to bone the other. It is really, really weird. And common. So uncomfortably common, that I have been using a term for a while now to describe it: Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome.

Before we get into any proper detail about this phenomenon, I should note that, unlike my other Syndrome terms for RPG storytelling diseases, I have appropriated this term from someone else. “Since We’re Not Related, It’ll Be Okay” is the song title for a wildly amusing and uncomfortable fan-created song from the wildly amusing and uncomfortable My Little Pony: Friendship is Witchcraft abridged series. It makes, in fact, a great video prop for this rant, so before we continue, how about you click the link below and we’ll be pretty much on the same page for what this rant’s all about:

Since We’re Not Related, It’ll Be Okay

I do so love Friendship is Witchcraft. It truly is the perfect blend of subtle humor, blatant humor, referential humor, abstract humor, and glorious, glorious uncomfortable humor.

Anyway, we’re on the same page now, yes? Adopted sibling romance is one of those things that’s technically not wrong, but just so damn squicky. To be a brother or sister is not just a physical, hereditary fact, it’s also a mindset. Family is a connection of emotion and spirit as much as, perhaps even more than, blood relations. Like it or not, logical or not, the simple fact is that when you spend most or all of your childhood being raised in the same home, by the same parents, equally as those parents’ children, you are siblings, regardless of whose vaginas you happened to fall out of. And that makes the fact that every damn JRPG protagonist who’s got an adopted sister or brother desires, or is desired by, them really fucking weird.

What is accomplished by this plot device, exactly? Think about, say, Lunar 1, the RPG in which I first began to notice this trend. What is accomplished by having Luna be Alex’s adopted sister? Well, it gives her mysterious origins, first of all, which is an absolute must for the plot-central magical damsel-in-distress schtick. And it establishes a long shared history between both Luna and Alex, which makes it convenient for the writers, since this way their horribly inferior talents at creating and maintaining a romance between the 2 can lean on their vague, offscreen lifetime together rather than have to actually show some concrete examples of chemistry between Alex and Luna, or what draws them together, or what they like about each other, or even just 1 single real, honest conversation between them that isn’t entirely 1-sided.

Okay, so this does accomplish a few things, narratively, for Alex and Luna. So let me rephrase: what is accomplished by having Luna be Alex’s adopted sister, which couldn’t have been easily accomplished otherwise? Mysterious origins for your plot-centric magical girl ain’t exactly a hard thing to accomplish. Magical mystery girls fall out of the sky--and I do mean that both figuratively and literally, just look at Breath of Fire 5--all the damn time in RPGs. Hell, Lufia from Lufia 1 actually just fucking walks onscreen as a kid, and that’s all there was to it!* Deadbeat Master Dyne could have just as easily delivered baby Luna to be adopted by the folks nextdoor, and her origins would have been no less unknown and mysterious. And you don’t even have to sacrifice the lazy convenience of shared history that way--childhood friends is a common element in RPG romances.

So yeah, this approach to character relationships generally doesn’t actually accomplish anything that couldn’t be exactly as easily accomplished in other ways. It doesn’t even do anything unique if a personal conflict about sibling love vs. romantic love is what you want to show! And that’s for 2 reasons. First, you can accomplish the angle of conflicting feelings of sibling love and romantic love without even a situation where the obvious answer should be sibling love. Take The Legend of Dragoon, for example. Dart and Shana are childhood friends, and Shana is in love with Dart. For a while in the game, though, Dart isn’t going for it, because he sees her as a sister, not a love interest. They were NOT adopted siblings, but it’s still fully believable that a lifelong friendship would have evoked familial feelings in Dart, even if it led to romantic feelings in Shana. And both of those results are understandable and believable! Whereas if they’d been raised in the same household, specifically as siblings, then Shana’s interest in Dart would have been much less believable, not to mention pretty off-putting.

...Well, more off-putting than Shana’s clingy chattering stupidity is already, I mean. Jesus, I can’t believe I just used her and Dart’s relationship as a positive example. See what you make me do, Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome!?

The second reason that this strange narrative decision doesn’t do anything unique for the possibility of a sibling love vs. romantic love conflict is that THEY NEVER USE IT FOR THIS! And that’s actually the first of my real, major problems with this cliche: it’s just thrown in so casually that it’s like it’s not even there. It seems like the writers’ reflex, unquestioned and unconscious. Like having the protagonist be a sword-user. Of the many RPGs that employ love interests who are also adopted siblings, almost none of them even acknowledge this connection! No one, least of all Alex or Luna themselves, gives even a passing mention to the fact that he and she were raised by the same mother and father in the same household all their lives. Asahi and Nanashi in Shin Megami Tensei 4-2** are both orphans, taken in and raised by the same man, and while he seems to have a more parental relationship with Asahi, it’s clear that the guy acts as and sees himself as parental guardian to both of the kids. Asahi and Nanashi are non-related siblings, beyond debate, yet not even the slightest acknowledgement of this is made in any regard connecting to Asahi’s clear, demonstrable romantic love for Nanashi. Nothing is made of this connection, so why have it in the first place? If making the love interest an adopted sibling does not accomplish anything that an equally simple alternative could, and if you’re not going to use it for anything anyway, then why bother with it over and over again in RPGs?

Of course, slightly hypocritically, my other major problem with this cliche is, well, when it DOES amount to something in the plot, and that something makes things really, really uncomfortable. You take Legend of Heroes 6-1, for example. The fact that Estelle and Joshua were raised as brother and sister since Joshua was mysteriously adopted (there is no such thing as a non-mysterious adoption in RPGs) when they were 11 actually IS brought up in regards to their unspoken romantic interest in each other, and IS present and utilized, unlike pretty much every other example I can think of. And given that they have only lived together as family for 5 years rather than all 16 years of their lives, you’d think this would be an example of adopted sibling love that I wouldn’t have a problem with, right?

Except that unlike the norm for this story decision, Estelle and Joshua actually act like siblings. The way they interact with one another, understand each other, share memories of home life, view their father and household dynamics...they are a perfect example of a sibling relationship. And that’s actually pretty rare for an RPG, I should note--on the off-chance that major story-important siblings aren’t long-lost and battling one another as hero and villain, siblings in RPGs rarely have a compelling, believable family dynamic. It usually winds up being a case of the game constantly telling you they’re siblings, than convincingly showing it to you. But Estelle and Joshua really create a genuine brother-sister dynamic like you rarely see in the genre! Which is why it’s extremely uncomfortable to have Estelle begin feeling and getting emotionally constipated over an inexplicable and honestly completely phony-feeling attraction to Joshua. Uncomfortable, and so damn frustrating, because an authentic, interesting, engaging relationship of siblinghood, so annoyingly uncommon in RPGs (and honestly, most other forms of media), is being forced out in favor of an unwelcome, inferior romantic relationship. I hope that when I play Legend of Heroes 6-2 and return to Estelle and Joshua, things’ll get a little more convincing, but taken at face value from LoH6-1, I am not not impressed.

Other moments where the already vaguely uncomfortable Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome gets way worse: Shin Megami Tensei 4-2, again. See, Nanashi is the reincarnation of a plot-important guy named Akira. And supposedly (I haven’t found conclusive evidence of this, but I’ve been told by multiple hardcore SMT fans), a part of the official art book for SMT4-2 that was not translated for the English release indicates that Asahi is a reincarnation of...Akira’s sister. Thanks, Atlus. Asahi wanting a VIP pass to inside her adopted brother’s pants wasn’t off-putting enough. You had to multiply the factors of Almost Incest by a power of Reincarnation.*** And the other moment: Fire Emblem 14, having Corrin hook up with any of her/his Hoshidan siblings. As I noted in a previous rant, unless you yourself have outside knowledge of the game’s lore, you go into an S Rank conversation--that’s synonymous with a confession of love, in the FE series--believing that Corrin is actually, legitimately related to her/his Hoshidan family. Corrin only finds out that the brother/sister that she/he is hot for isn’t her/his family by blood during the same conversation. The Hoshidan royalty romantic options in FE14 are Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay...And Damn Is That Ever A Lucky Coincidence Syndrome.

Now, before we finish up with this rant, I do want to make something very clear: I am not automatically against the concept of adopted siblings falling in love. I’m open-minded enough that if a love story actually does really work, I’ll totally be on board for it, and this has happened with considerably more questionable pairings than this (for example, if you recall, I have mentioned that the Xenogears romance between Bart and Margie, while not especially interesting, is nonetheless better than any others in the game (definitely including the main romantic drivel between Fei and Elly), and Margie is Bart’s underage cousin). In that Fire Emblem 14 rant I mentioned earlier, I said unambiguously that I think the best romance, out of the over 300 possible ones in the game, is between Camilla and Corrin, who are adopted siblings. Camilla just really sells the audience on her complete and total adoration of Corrin, and Corrin’s return of affections is quite genuine, as well. And it’s pretty much the exact opposite of the problems I’ve spoken of so far with this plot device: Corrin’s being the adopted sister/brother of both the Nohrian and Hoshidan royal families is a vital part of the story of FE14 in that she has important ties to both sides of the conflict, and it affects her/his personality and characterization, so her position as Camilla’s non-blood-related sister provides important parts to both her character and the plot that couldn’t have been achieved through a simple alternative. The connection isn’t inexplicably ignored; Corrin’s sisterhood/brotherhood to all the game’s royals is a constantly relevant relationship (and with none more so than Camilla, for that matter). And the awkward parts of this romantic interest are put forth in the S Rank conversation, and maturely addressed in a way that makes it a lot easier to accept, namely when Camilla points out that since they’ve apparently both always loved one another in ways that go beyond familial, their union now should be looked at more as childhood sweethearts who have finally grown old enough to be together. Camilla and Corrin’s love for one another is executed well, and while I can’t deny that there’re parts of it that are weird and even perhaps a little unhealthy, that’s more related to the characters themselves (Camilla’s adoration is genuine and even heartwarming, but it is also, let’s face it, really obsessive) than the situation they’re in.

Sadly, though, Camilla and Corrin are the exception to how Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome works. Ultimately, these adopted brother-sister romance situations generally could be accomplished just as well (if not better!) without the non-blood family connection, they usually don’t even address the situation to start with, and on the off-chance that they do, it turns out to be detrimental and uncomfortable if it's not handled skilfully enough.

And even if every single 1 of these cases were as compelling, true, and acceptably executed as Camilla and Corrin, it would still be really weird and a bit distressing that this theme is just so damn common. Out of over 300 RPGs I’ve played, I can only immediately think of 2 examples in which a protagonist and his/her non-biological sibling have no romantic interest in each other: the protagonist and Duncan in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and Kairu and Aurora from the exceptionally obscure Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled. Besides those 2 examples, it’s just some sort of unspoken understanding in RPGs that there’s going to be some sort of romantic connection between a protagonist and his/her adopted sibling...and that’s a really weird and uncomfortable norm to set.















* Although I’m not sure I should be bringing Lufia up here as an alternative example, because I think, when you consider her to any great degree, that she’s actually another example of Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome, herself. I mean, let’s consider it: the only adult figure in her life seems to be the innkeeper she meets on the day she just wanders the hell onscreen, and the innkeeper’s familiarity with Lufia later implies, I believe, that he became her parental figure. But when you consider the protagonist of the game, who Neverland Company very frustratingly went out of their way to keep unnamed...well, to my recollection, neither his father Jeros nor his mother Nameless Faceless Female are ever seen or heard from. In their absence, the only other adult who appears to have any guiding influence on the guy is...the innkeeper. So there we go. Another example.

Correct me if I’m wrong, by the way. It has been, happily, over a decade since I played that crappy game, so even my memory might not be reliable. But I’m pretty sure that what I’ve said is true.


** Proof, by the way, that it’s not just bad and/or obscure RPGs in which this cliche happens. Even genuinely excellent, huge RPG series apparently cannot escape.


*** Just in case that wasn’t weird enough for you, Asahi’s outfit coloring is designed to reference Pascal from the first Shin Megami Tensei (and this connection is further hinted at by the fact that Pascal is 1 of the hunter names Asahi considers taking on as her own). For those not in the know, SMT1’s Pascal was the protagonist’s pet dog. So Nanashi’s primary love interest is his adopted sister, the reincarnation of his past life’s outright biological sister, AND the spiritual semi-reincarnation of Megaten Dogmeat.

Still a more psychologically balanced romantic choice than Toki, though. Which in itself might just add to its disturbing factor.

22 comments:

  1. I can see the text "Support me on Patron!", but I don't see any accompanying image in either Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

    I haven't played many games that used this (it's mainly Lunar that comes to mind as an obvious example), so it doesn't exactly seem like a trend to me (although it's definitely odd). It could be a good choice to ask about this on some kind of forum about Japanese culture (since it doesn't seem common in WRPGs from your examples), but that might require a bit more effort than you're willing to invest.

    Radiant Historia also has siblings that don't know they're siblings until later who have no romantic interest (trying to avoid spoilers since one of your other readers expressed interest in it, so "investment market" and "verruca" will have to do as hints). I don't remeber Tales of Legendia that much, but I think Senel rejected Shirley, so that could be a subversion (since the latter's feelings are unrequited).

    Since I mentioned Radiant Historia, Atlus did say they're working on a new fantasy RPG. RH might not classify as fantasy, but it's more like a traditional JRPG (compared to Etrian Odyssey and MegaTen), so it might be something like that. There aren't any details on it, but this is a funny article about it.

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    1. Hm. Well, if you click on that text, does it bring you to the page at all?

      I don't think it's really a thing in Japanese culture at large. I mean, I could be wrong, but, like, I don't recall really seeing or hearing about this scenario occurring significantly often in anime, or manga, or anything, and I certainly haven't heard of any references to it in actual life culture in Japan, either. Could be wrong, of course, but even if I am, it is, at least, not AS prevalent in other aspects of Japanese media .

      In the case of Radiant Historia, the siblings are actual, biological siblings, and also don't ever show any interest in one another prior to discovering their connection, so there's no real relation (pun) to this. In the case of Tales of Legendia, Senel only sees Shirley as a little sister (except that he is, of course, only deluding himself on that point, because dumb writing) due to her being the little sister of the woman he loved, and while the three of them had a long history together, I don't believe that there was any implication that Senel was actually raised with them as family. The situation is closer (though not a perfect match) to the scenario I mentioned with Dart and Shana.

      Thanks for sharing the article!

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    2. I get directed to https://www.patreon.com/user?u=133265 when I click the link, so it does work in both of those browsers.

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    3. Well, that's something, at least. I wish Blogger would just have a basic Patreon button function; I certainly don't know what I'm doing with HTML.

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  2. My HTML knowledge is a bit rusty, but if you give me the link to the image, I can try to make a functional replacement.

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    1. It also seems that Atlus has a 25th anniversary project lined up for SMT? It might be for the Nintendo Switch since it was announced a day before the presentation/event thing.

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    2. That's mighty kind of you. Here's the image link: https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/k_dbwK8ijZLR0OvupwbAUOzHf5mZQmVvJs3qsZzuQdNPhwsFSNo6F8IagbuoPUitqSZowHivMjNl2p6f-7FMd-uYYJUkAQnQTLHwYjkF6u7J5peY10hehiwCSK0dSqnYg9GekLj8wQ_5YMhpMaJqpCUqWr3AoECEFQU7KMie7SJiFO_MhDg4ywNpOMnw6vPUXnIed1rVOBvRVv9wWt3VWKxZYoQbzNPk3Kqsm8HwqedUZAr3_FO7hu4p1QzQ-PW7orwUl5SMcCw-442Lqb-ll-mkc9xoc3B_03SiFZTuj4oYBY9rnJDdSMlJN75VyPJn0n9bQdgz8cpduvoJAs9uIsuk7TaZVTGrJuj0EGTn6hh6dctztfoac22Ib8RQpLgoon1hsw1jQ7IWRgF8sZQlg9vxQX1gG5cM6MjuUszp3huHm6niCh-Owj532oj5bU5p4UdtsGXfQQELqQqR-tjqgjNdJMV0KMHFVAkcf8XNuhe6Ho3odHhsl_gX4WqrPVEhFeSRAm7MurQJ_gx-PWv-J044YXHXDbkYo7fDBp7RnnlngK0jhCcnaplScmu3Kx2OGoXAO4Dy7KsewPhVyGO76vaqClS5QKeKdNH7C6EjKx7awJ9x=w176-h201-no

      I appreciate your help!

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    3. I think there was an error when uploading your image? All I could see is a circle with a line through it, instead of a Moogle.

      My main suggestion is for you to reupload the image. I don't know how Google's uploading service works since the image presumably works for you but not for others, so maybe another hosting service like this might be better since I haven't experienced problems like that with other image hosting services.

      Anyway, once you do reupload the image, replace the ih3.googleusercontent.com link with the link to the image you uploaded and you should be fine.

      If that sounds a bit complicated*, you could email me the image as an attachment at nanoplag (at) outlook.com and I'll do all of that for you.

      *I don't want to be insulting/condescending, but you did say that your technical knowledge was bad.

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    4. Alright, I THINK that my tiny pea-brain has gotten this thing working. Can you see it now?

      It hadn't occurred to me that it might just be Google's service; I've used their stuff with other images for this blog (then again, maybe those didn't work, either--obviously what I'm seeing isn't always what you guys are seeing).

      Assuming everything went to plan, thanks a lot for your help!

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    5. I usually zoom into blogs since there's a lot of wasted space otherwise, but here's what it looks like for me: http://i.imgur.com/2VhvP7C.png

      It's a cute picture, but I don't know if the black background is meant to be there.

      I don't remember seeing any broken images on your blog, but I remember a few images from the rant about Amano's art and the links there work for me. It might only be a problem with embedding images instead of making them links.

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    6. The black background is part of it, yeah, but is it just a still image, or is it moving? Cuz it's supposed to be an animated gif.

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    7. Sorry. I didn't think a screenshot would be misleading like that. It's an animated gif with the Patreon logo moving into the Moogle's hands and then being thrown to the upper right.

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    8. Spectacular, then it's working as intended. Thank you very much for your assistance! I think I owe you a reward. Email me and I'll set you up with a GOG code for an RPG!

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  3. I think 'Since We Are not Related, It Will Be Ok Syndrome' (swar-E-bOs) is just a lazy way to "explain" why the two people are having a "romance" in the story as it is with fake incest porn both in videos and hentai manga (which many of the artists that work in the manga and Japanese video game concept art trades practiced their artistic chops with). Romances are hard to write well, so SWARIWBOS is a shitty shortcut to just say, "Ok, these awful characters are in a relationship that MUST be interesting because we imply they already have a close history in lieu of creative characterization that brings them together, and, ya know, taboo &=D (trollface)"

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  4. http://www.sherv.net/cm/emoticons/trollface/my-little-pony-trolling-smiley-emoticon.gif

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  5. Dude, what the hell?! You're actually calling Camilla's interaction with the self-insert WELL-WRITTEN?!

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    1. I am, yes. Camilla's character (if not her personality) is subtle, and the depth of it ties well into her relationship with Corrin, creating a love that, in spite of its strange and dark origins, is heartily genuine and inspiringly absolute. More relevant to this rant, as I mentioned, it accomplishes what most other adopted sibling romances fail to, and addresses the issues that should naturally arise from such a situation, so yes, as I said, it's a sadly rare positive example of how this trope can occur.

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  6. What "problems" are addressed? Camilla never gets any development! She's a whore from beginning to end, and nothing those insufferable support conversations say could ever impact on how fucking insufferable she is, even if I was stupid enough to read them!

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    1. Alright, look, little guy, I'm not the internet RPG firebrand I was 15 years ago. My days of taking people on Gaia apart for having no knowledge yet extremely strong opinions on RPGs are behind me. I just don't have the time any more. So frankly, when you come here and try to convince me that your hatred for a character is legitimate while outright admitting--bragging, even!--that you formed this unshakeable perception without reading what her character has to say on the very same subject that you've condemned her over...well, my instinct a decade ago would be to take the time to publicly humiliate you for your willful ignorance and have a fine time doing it. But my instinct nowadays is just to neutrally inform you that you're demonstrably wrong according to evidence that you prefer to keep a secret from yourself, and dismiss what you say on this subject from this point on as irrelevant, unexamined, and simply not worth my time. Which I probably should have done back when you were trying to convince me that your non-factual knowledge of the game's trailer meant more than the experience of actually having played the game.

      In closing, please learn the definition of 'whore' if you're going to insist on using the word so often.

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  7. For what purpose would I want to learn more about a character I hate from a game I absolutely despise?

    Weak-willed fool, too stupid to realize you're being brainwashed into liking a game where you're given free reign to molest anime stereotypes whose only method of communication is screaming "B-baka!" 24-7.

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    1. "For what purpose?"

      Well, for one, you'd be able to avoid the embarrassment of committing to public record the fact that you make decisions and form opinions based on ignorance rather than knowledge. For another, it's very handy for one's self esteem. For instance, the fact that I actually know what I'm talking about gives me the satisfaction and confidence of clear and objective victory in this little spat, and thus the raging insults being spat at me by the intentionally uninformed and proudly ignorant don't affect me in the slightest.

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