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The Head of Vecna: Women in Gaming and Other Myths

Arranged Marriages and the Myth of Romance

by Hilary Doda
March 5, 2002
Edited by Drew Meger  

It seems fitting, coming out of a month of enforced romantic displays and red'n'pink over saturation, to write a column on that most unromantic of situations, the arranged marriage. Prevalent in various forms through most of human history in most cultures, the arranged marriage is now and has been the subject of heated debate. Promoted by some as the ideal way to make a stable and enduring match, while devalued by others as a crass and ultimately materialistic expression of parental control, arranged marriages in their prototypical sense are as distant from the swooning romance of modern western ideals as you can get.

Romantic love and marriage is an ultimately lower-class and modern conceit. Practiced by those with no money or property to control, and made 'mainstream' less than a couple of hundred years ago, self-directed romantic partnership has been elevated by popular culture and media to an all-encompassing ideal. When one cannot attract a mate through sheer charisma, or when a relationship predicated on lust begins to fade with time, the persons involved are considered failures on some fundamental level, unable to sustain the levels of heated fervor deemed appropriate and necessary by such literary giants as Harlequin Publishing.

Arranged marriage, on the other hand, as practiced even now in the families of the nobility and among the populace in places such as Japan (more akin to arranged blind dates) or India, is predicated upon the concept of matched family backgrounds and lifestyles. Families pick out appropriate matches for their children based upon certain economic and social factors (often, but not always, similar family stature, economic standing, titles, bloodlines and influence).

Depending upon the area and culture involved, the bride and/or groom may then choose from the proposed spouses based upon personality, compatibility, and attraction. The attention paid to the appropriateness of the spouse, in theory, helps to improve in-law relationships (since the spouse is deemed acceptable by the family first), improves compatibility and ensures that property does not descend to castes or bloodlines 'unworthy' or somehow lacking in specific qualities.

I am My Beloved's

Historically, the arranged marriage was the standard form. In ancient Egypt, the royal family arranged marriages within itself in order to keep the divine blood pure. Roman elite traded daughters back and forth in order to seal political and martial alliances, and clear pathways to high rank. The same practices were recorded among the Hebrew patriarchs and royalty across thousands of years, with cousins of the correct faith recruited for young sons and royal daughters given to Hebrew kings to ensure peace across the eastern Mediterranean.

Royalty and nobility depended heavily on the practice to insure the appropriate lineage of the kings of old, trading daughters and sisters across seas and mountains. A son was vital to inherit, but a daughter or two was always useful as barter material, either to gain a wife for oneself or for one or another son or nephew of high rank. Girls were often married as infants or children, proxies making their vows and the child raised at home until she was deemed 'old enough' to meet and be bedded by her (often far older) groom. Princesses Royal in medieval Europe could often be married off two or three times by father and brothers, returning home a widow to be bartered away again within a year or two.

Despite the theoretical benefits of arranged marriage, in many cases - especially those of royal families - life was exceedingly difficult for the women who were often sent far from home to live with their new husbands and families. Many were often strangers until the wedding night, and even long afterwards, as they maintained separate quarters and the men were often away from their lands for battle or trade. The marital partnership, if it could be called such, existed solely to arrange for diplomatic ties to the in-laws, for the maintenance of the home and instruction of the servants while the lord was away, and the production of heirs.

Royal matches even today have many problems, though less severe for most, resulting from variation of this arrangement. Appropriate (virginal) women are difficult to track down in this lustful age, and the examples shown by British (divorces, adultery, attempted suicide, etc) and Japan (incredible pressure to bear sons) show the vestiges of ancient attitudes.

The lower classes and modern matches had things easier in some respects. With no thrones or countries to pass on, diplomatic arrangements are less in vogue. The details can range from setting up parental-approved blind dates (Japan) to settling the intricacies of the wedding after a single meeting (some parts of India) and most involve at least the pretense of consent from both intended spouses (sometimes under extreme familial pressure).

The matches tend to be made based upon friendships between parents, as well as recommendations from relatives from either side, and are prevalent in areas where the genders do not mix freely. Married with the understanding that they share values, culture, religion and background, the couple begin a new life together on a theoretically equal footing, avoiding many of the conflicts which can come into play when the romance and early lust of an independent relationship begin to fade away.

My Beloved is Mine

Arranged marriages can work well as a plot point within a game setting, particularly in games which focus on political machinations or interpersonal relationships. While marrying off PCs may not be appropriate for the plotline, NPC relationships and the machinations of authority figures can be enhanced or disrupted entirely by the introduction or removal of a character brought in by or sent away to a match.

The arranged marriage can be utilized as a main plot rather easily, and is a mechanism by which even the most apolitical of PCs can be brought into conflict with the powerful and mighty. Faced with an innocent runaway child-bride or groom, or begged by a friend or suddenly regretful parent to rescue a 'kidnapped fianc, PC groups are faced with difficult choices; what the law permits may not always be right, and balancing whom you want to piss off the least may be good for survival, but not for the conscience. GMs should be careful how they use the plotline, however, since its one that can really only be used once, unless the setting dictates otherwise.

As a subplot, the theme of arranged marriage can be a lot of fun, forcing character decisions and actions over a longer span of time. This variation works best when it involves one PC and an NPC or two, although suddenly 'discovering' a proxy or childhood marriage can be great fun when inflicted on two warring PCs, especially in a slightly more light-hearted style of game.

Whether set in motion at the beginning of the game - inciting a characters drive for freedom, adventure, and living anywhere-but-here - or after the characters relationships and responsibilities have been well established - prompting angst and emotion-wracked decision-making - inflicting an arrangement on a PC can give the character some real meat to play with between adventure scenes and combat bouts.

More politically-oriented games provide the perfect setting for marital alliances, binding families together against a common foe, or ending decades of battle between themselves. Plots often hatch within plots, however, and even once the marriage has been carried out, unwilling spouses are often more willing to take part in plots against their forced mates. Marriages within nobility and highly-ranked politicos are often contracted for the express purpose of bringing about manipulatable heirs for one side or the other, and the manipulation of fertility, potency, pregnancy, viability and the like are more likely to take place in a marriage where the bond of affection is not a given than in love matches.

Where one spouse is unwilling, of course, the other may well see the marriage as the answer to all their prayers, and a scorned would-be lover - especially one who has the legal right to the character in question! - can be the worst enemy one may ever face. Leaving the fianc to work behind the scenes to carry out the fleeing characters destruction can provide a long-lasting nemesis, whether the characters intended remains unmet and unseen or right in the center of the PC group. Simply because the arrangement was made by others does not preclude the possibility of affection or other strong emotion, and the PC who finds herself on the receiving end may well wish shed taken her parents advice after all.

Tips and Tricks

Imzadi: A message is sent to a character reminding him of a promise made long ago/when he was a child. The date set for the marriage is coming up quickly, and the character must choose whether to honour this old promise or keep the life he's since made for himself.

Take Two Cows...: A character's love interest is being used as a bargaining chip between families. How the PC reacts may change his reactions completely; the stakes are being raised with every day that the deal is stalled. At what point does the love interest cave in to his parents' wishes over his own?

A Plague on Your Houses: A young spouse is accused of murdering the person he/she was recently married to. Did they do it to end an untenable arrangement, or for more callous reasons?

The Princess Bride: Highly-placed aristocratic or royal families are arranging a marriage that will end decades of warfare. The groups have been at each other's throats for so long, and the fighting has caused so many deaths, that the peace initiative is welcomed by all. The only problem? One of the would-be spouses is very young and/or innocent, and the other has a terrible reputation for cruelty. Will the PCs sit by and permit a child to be given over to an abuser, or does the need for peace trump the life or happiness of one person?

Unworthy and Unwanted: Dowries add a complication to the equation, and when an NPC bride's family does not provide enough money to the groom for her keeping, his family gets upset. Legally there's nothing they can do, but the temper of the time is such that an accident can easily go unnoticed. Once they get rid of the girl, their son (who may or may not love his wife or be in on the plan) will be freed to marry a wealthier girl, who will bring them a larger sum of money.

Reading List - Essays:

Novels and short-story collections:

  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Arranged Marriage: Stories. Anchor; ISBN: 0385483503; 1996
  • Hancock, Kaziah May. Prisons of the Mind: A True Story of a Girl Subjected to an Arranged Polygamist Marriage at Fifteen. T&S Publishing; ISBN: 0961989815; 1988
  • Russell, Ching Yeung. Child Bride. Boyds Mills Pr; ISBN: 1563977486; 1999
Hilary Doda grew up in Toronto, but managed to escape to Montreal following the HentaiCon Tentacle Disaster of '97. Slaving away in the RPG sweatshop known to insiders as Dream Pod 9, she divides her time between managing the Tribe 8 game line and scribbling desperate cries for freedom on smuggled-in sheets of paper towel. She can be reached at hdoda@seamchecker.com TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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The The Head of Vecna: Women in Gaming and Other Myths by Hilary Doda

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