This topic came up recently in the discord servers I haunt. What does romance the best? Books? Movies? TV series? Or video games? And I thought about it, and I have “Opinions”, but you know what they say about those being like assholes. So rather than be an asshole right off the bat, let’s save the asshole-being for the end, shall we? Let’s analyze this shit!
Now I’m not talking about which medium has the best specific examples. The topic at hand is which is the more effective medium for pulling you into a love story. It’s more about what the medium can do, and less about the stories themselves. Does that make sense?
First, we need a ranking system. We’ll base it on the qualities that make romantic storytelling immersive. I probably should have polled some peeps for this shit, but I didn’t, so we’re going with my random whims. Also, I’m ranking them on a scale from 1 to 4, to avoid a middle ground for some reason I’m pretty sure there’s a logic to, but I don’t know it. And because anything over 5 is too complicated for this shallow dive.
Here’s our criteria:
Suspension of Disbelief
We don’t want to be ripped out of the story too easily
Vibrant Sensory Triggers
We need to feel, see, hear, taste, and smell the experience, even if it’s all in our head.
Do we feel like we’re playing a role in the story, or passively observing it?
Suspension of Disbelief: 1/4
Movies probably rank the lowest with suspension of disbelief. The time restraints for set-up work against them, and most movie romances have to go straight to a meet cute, and dive into whatever misunderstandings or unspoken exchanges will serve as the bulk of the story with very little room for subtext and leading the viewer’s emotions.
Vibrant Sensory Triggers: 2/4
They’re not all that great at triggering your senses beyond sight, either. Have you ever seen a character on a movie recoil at a smell, and you could practically smell it too? Could you feel it when the love interest caressed the MC’s cheek? You may rank this differently, but I’ve never experienced that while watching a movie. I’m not going to include 4D theatre experiences in this, because they cheat.
Interactivity is getting better! As movies and video games are merging, more possibilities are opening up! But that’s still in it’s terrible infant stages, and pure movies are still quite passive experiences. Except, you know, Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Suspension of Disbelief: 3/4
You get plenty more time with the characters, especially in long-runners like popular Soap Operas. Plenty of time for setup and to get absorbed into fictional worlds, so I think TV series get to sit pretty at a 3 for this one.
Vibrant Sensory Triggers: 2/4
We run into the same issues here as with Movies. Though, perhaps some of you may be more likely to experience the other senses when you care about a character and a story more?
I don’t know of any interactive TV love stories. Maybe there are some, like there are with movies merging with video games, but it’s getting a stinky old one based on the capabilities of standard TV format.
Suspension of Disbelief: 4/4
You’re essentially becoming a character. It’s a lot easier to overlook things and get pulled into a story when you’re having to do the fighting and running and stealthing shit yourself. Hell, games weren’t always cinematic fucking experiences — there was a time when the writing was atrocious and the acting was even worse, and gamers still got absorbed and fell in love with stories and characters.
Vibrant Sensory Triggers: 3/4
I still haven’t smelled anything on a video game, but it gets one up on TV and Movies, simply because the senses you are using are more engaged.
I mean… Obviously. Obviously this is the most interactive on the list. So many video games with romance aspects now let you CHOOSE your romance! And do the work to win them over! Though the depth of the love story isn’t quite as deep in current mainstream video games as it is in TV, and Books, it has the capacity to be.
Suspension of Disbelief: 3/4
Maybe it’s just me, but because you rely so heavily on the way the language is crafted, it’s still a bit too easy for personal preferences and little things like commas and syntax to get in the way of a good story. But that may be more something grammar nerds deal with rather than the general population, so I’m only gonna knock one point off for that.
Vibrant Sensory Triggers: 4/4
Because your imagination is doing all the work, if it’s a good book, and you’re properly absorbed into the story, all the sensory stuff is going on in your head. You should be smelling all the smells and feeling all the caresses, at least on some level.
Books have been merging with video games, but they don’t even have to. Choose your own adventure stories have existed for ages. And visual novels have become such a popular format for love stories in fiction. They offer choice; they offer alternative endings, and though the depth of the choices and interactivity don’t quite match an honest-to-goodness RPG, they’re still up there, and the romances themselves are deeper than you’d find in a video game more focused on a non-romantic overarching plot.
I think Video games are the winner, but with multi-media experiences on the rise, those lines are getting blurred. I’d love to hear your thoughts; what medium is your favourite when it comes to love stories? What are your favourite examples? What would your criteria be? It’s an interesting topic, with lots of room to explore!
More by Sam Clover
Sam Clover is an author of M/M speculative fiction. Though she dabbles in a variety of genres, dark themes always find ways to permeate her work. She is a prairie girl from east of the Canadian Rockies, and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. Her debut book “Cold Snap” was released by Ninestar Press in December of 2020.