Rejecting the ‘He Hurts Me Out of Love’ Trope

I’ve been spending my free time playing Amnesia; Memories. It’s an otome dating sim, which means it’s designed for women. All the potential prospects are male. What I like about the game is that each route is its own little romantic mystery. Instead of parading a group of prospects in front of you, the person you’re dating is chosen based on the ‘world’ you enter at the beginning (alternate dimensions are a thing in this game). But what really makes the game shine is that you’ve forgotten something critical in each world. Not only do you have to guess who you were and how you acted before you lost your memories (the game does not make this easy, by the way), you have to find the missing component of your relationship in order to get the ‘good’ ending.

The stories are surprisingly varied; I expected each of the characters to be basically the same in every world but, while their personalities often carry through, they occupy different spaces in the main character’s life. Sometimes a character is your brother, sometimes he’s just a guy you work with. And each of the first three stories I played through ended up being really sweet, even if one of the guys insisted on calling me an idiot all the time. (In the end, the main character does somewhat tell him off and demand he be nicer so small victories, I guess?)

But when I got to the fourth (and final before you unlock the secret character) route, I balked. I’m being a bit vague to avoid spoilers, but if you’ve played the game I’m sure you’ll be able to guess which one I’m talking about. He’s the guy who drugs your tea and locks you in a cage to protect you from the big bad world.

I don’t play these games seriously (they’re ridiculous), but Amnesia; Memories has been a pleasant surprise. The routes aren’t as bad as other games in the genre; such as Dandelion, which features some borderline abusive routes. I gritted my teeth and wooed the guy who couldn’t stop telling me I was stupid and horrible at everything (even though he wanted me to be happy and date him?), but when the game wanted me to decide I wasn’t sad about being locked in a cage because my digital boyfriendo previously promised to protect me, I just couldn’t. Someday, I’m going to want to finish this game, but I can’t imagine a sweet ending after the way this guy has treated my character.

In high school, I firmly believed that love conquered all. I was a stickler for romances in which my favorite pair ended up together. And I will admit I often fell for the ‘bad boy’ and the ‘cold and aloof’ main character tropes. I’d forgive any wrong done between characters throughout the story so long as I got my sappy ending. I’m not sure if it was because I had googly eyes for those ‘bad boy’ characters and wanted to believe they really had hearts of gold, or if I was just so inundated with stories where the woman gets pushed around and eventually falls for the guy that I accepted it as normal. Probably it was a bit of both. The idea of ‘strong female characters’ is still, in many ways, coming into its own and there were many ‘rescue the damsel and then marry her’ stories in my youth.

But as I’ve matured, and learned more about healthy relationships, this has become, for me, one of the most cringe-worthy tropes in fiction. I chose it as one of the top four tropes I’d like to see die. If I read a book where the female lead is constantly treated like crap by her love interest, to the point of physical pain, I cannot stomach the two of them ending up together.

Whether we want to accept it or not, stories like this perpetuate abuse. They teach us from the time we’re young that it doesn’t matter what happens to us, as long as we’re in love. As long as the object of our desires is going to pay attention to us and spend their lives with us, it doesn’t matter if they grab our wrist and drag us around. It doesn’t matter if they call us names or make us feel like crap. They love us, right? It starts out small, but some stories try to pass off so much abuse, I wonder what the female lead sees in her love interest at all.

It’s not okay for the love interest to abuse the female lead and have that behavior magically evaporate. Love does not make the world a place of happiness and rainbows. This game plot has all the textbook earmarks of abuse. The first thing my digital boyfriendo did was isolate me by insisting I go to his house to hide from people who were harassing me. At first he didn’t give me a key. Even after he did, he insisted I not go anywhere without him. And every time I’ve tried to interact with the other characters, he’s forced me back into his house. The only time I’ve seen one of the other characters is when he came to my boyfriendo’s house to check on me, and the game didn’t (sadly) let me scream at him to take me home with him.

Eventually my digital boyfriendo gave up pretext and started drugging me to make me sleep all day. When I woke up he would say things like, “my you were so sleepy,” and “do you nap this much all the time?” Until I finally woke up in a cage. Which, I would like to inform the game, I’m more than sad about. I’m quite mad actually. There’s no romance in this plot. It’s creepy as hell. I cannot imagine a scenario in which these two can live happily ever after. How could she trust to spend her life with this man after this? She would never even be able to accept food from him again!

“Otome” games are supposed to be designed for women, often by women. To me, that makes the plot choice even more grievous. A woman should not ‘stand by her man’ or ‘keep trying to gain his attention’ if he hurts her. There may be women who fantasize about being locked in a cage by thier love interest, but I guarantee you that’s a very different kind of story. Hurting a person – drugging their tea and locking them in a cage – is NOT how you display love. Female characters deserve better and so do female readers.

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