Telling Stories: Going to the chapel, et cetera
Ah, marriage! That binding of kindred spirits, that most loving of all acts, that quick and easy way to cause plenty of drama. And not just via the usual routes of drama where in-character romance throws all sorts of wrinkles at you; that is actually secondary to this particular flavor of dramatic potential.
Unfortunately, most roleplaying weddings really do just treat weddings as the endpoint of a romantic relationship, which is fine as far as it goes. I’ve used it for that purpose, and in real life I am relatively certain my readers here do not want to hear yet again how much I love my wife. (A lot.) Marriage is certainly useful for that.
But there are so many other ways to get drama out of weddings. Many ways which can not even require romantic relationships, or actively work against the in-character relationships you already have. So let’s talk a little bit about how you can make good use of weddings in roleplaying and what marriages can provide for drama.
It’s not just the who, it’s the why
Let’s say your character is an Ishgardian nobleman from a minor house in Final Fantasy XIV. He’s very happy with his boyfriend. Despite this, even though it’s a known thing that weddings will be open to all genders in the game, he won’t marry said boyfriend. Why?
Because he needs to marry someone who can have children with him and continue his house lineage.
Marriages have a lot of different roles in society, not all of which have to do with affection. Your character doesn’t need to have inherited nobility as motivation as above, though; perhaps this was an arranged marriage, perhaps it’s got more to do with religion, perhaps it’s a matter of needing approval that he wouldn’t get with his romantic partner. Maybe he has no romantic partner, but he’s getting married just the same because it provides other important social benefits that he has to acknowledge.
Attitudes about non-affectionate marriages can vary wildly, too. In the above example, perhaps it’s understood, even accepted that the husband and wife won’t expect one another to be there as more than a presence on occasion to try for children. Perhaps your nobleman feels that way, but his wife genuinely wants to make this a functional marriage. Perhaps the marriage is meant to be a loveless union or perhaps it’s meant to be loving. There are a lot of different dials to twist here and lots of potential sources of drama when a character gets married to someone he doesn’t even like too much.
Nothing really changes
The weirdest thing about waking up the day after I was married was that it was exactly identical to the day before I had been married, except now I wasn’t single. I was still with the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life alongisde, just like I had been the day before. Nothing actually changed. It was a codification of commitment, but it was a commitment I had already made a long time ago.
Marriage is significant, but it’s also oddly insignificant. It’s one of those life events that just sort of happens, and there are a lot of people who believe that it’s going to change everything. Which is something that can produce a lot of interest in roleplaying in lots of ways, starting with the simple disconnect of having people rush into marriage when neither of them are ready for it as a means to save the relationship.
Even if your character is marrying for love, they might not be quite ready for the commitment it entails. Or they might have very different concepts of the post-married life than their spouse does. One of my main characters while playing in World of Warcraft was happily married for about six months at a stretch… and then would spend the next several months nowhere near her husband because she couldn’t stand the sight of him. She liked him in bursts, but she had thought that being married would somehow change everything, which it most certainly did not.
There’s loads of drama to be milked out of the expectations and responsibilities that do change, but there’s also plenty to be worked over with everything that stays the same when it was supposed to be different. Don’t neglect it.
It is also the who
Marriages kind of force everyone in your character’s social circle to respond, at least in part. Even if it’s just by way of congratulations, you can’t keep it a secret for long – and if it is a secret, well, it has a tendency to be found out, since secret marriages aren’t interesting unless there’s some sort of drama. But usually you have a whole lot of people who suddenly need to find a gift, find something to wear, reconcile any long-standing unpleasant feelings they may have had regarding the betrothed, and so forth.
The spouses have an impact on on another’s lives. If your draenei marries a human warlock in World of Warcraft, odds are you’re not welcome back for traditional draenei tea and biscuits on Sunday. Perhaps you have an old lover or two who wants you to reconsider. Perhaps you’re marrying for politics and your current lover wants you to reconsider. While real weddings rarely contain the “speak now or forever hold your peace” bit, that doesn’t mean you won’t have plenty of people speaking up beforehand.
And that’s not getting into the simple issues of logistics, catering, and everything else. The point being that there’s a lot of drama involved in weddings, and when they come up, you should milk them for all they’re worth. It only happens two or three times for most characters, after all.
Next time around, I want to discuss how to maintain tension in a medium wherein anyone can simply decline to participate, sometimes mid-stream. The column after that, why don’t we talk about how your characters make money? It may be enlightening.
About expostninjaI've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.
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