With the oversaturation of grim and bloody narratives in all forms of storytelling, it can be predictably drab to find yet another title that equates darkness to maturity. Inspired by this wave of casualised butchery, I questioned what the outcome would be if, instead of a death-centric fight, players were pitted in a competition to win each other’s hearts. The result of which was Why Won’t You Love Me?: a card game where the awkwardness of seducing your best friend is met by the frustration of constant rejection.
As suggested by the title, the aim of the game is to make another player fall in love with you by any means necessary. You play a spurned lover equipped with a deck of courtship actions that are unanimously awful, disturbing and easily borderline criminal acts of stalking. This constructs a forcefully romantic narrative not many could take part in without an understandable degree of discomfort. However, it is the blatantly unromantic actions of the player that create an aesthetic distance far from the awkward realism of a conventional dating game, verging from unsolicited poetry to setting their lawn on fire and mailing your own ear. Thereby, the narrative of Why Won’t You Love Me? becomes a comedic experience hallmarked by its ceaseless attempts at affection which are, inarguably, just plain wrong.
In kind, the desired effect to have players obsessed with romancing each other is compounded by an intentionally aggravating system of being rejected. That is, players will have the secondary aim to be the pursuer of their target but not the target of any other and will consistently remove cards played towards them. This mechanic is designed to madden players as the namesake of Why Won’t You Love Me? and entrench them into the role of a fanatical lover. While players may not experience a sense of mania to begin the game, if successful, the compulsion to win will fuel their desire to have other players simply give in already by its end. Why Won’t You Love Me?, in this regard, aims to draw players into its narrative by providing the circumstances of its fictional world to induce the same experiences in the real world.
This brings into question the tangibility of the game and the vital aspect of how exactly it is played. Inspired by the card game Gloom, where the aim is to make another player’s family as miserable as possible, I adopted a point-based system. Each action card is given a number that represents the level of overwhelming affection, or browbeating in a sense, that can be placed on another player. These points can accumulate with each card, driving the primary mechanic of the game in which the players must choose to spend their turn placing a card on somebody else or removing one from themselves. While Gloom awaited the deaths of an entire family to end, I set a number of points that must be met by the pursuer and avoided as the pursued to allow players more direct control over winning and losing. In practicality, the game mechanics of Why Won’t You Love Me? remain vague and faulted as further notes on playtesting will extrapolate, but they currently serve as a manoeuvrable basis for improvement.
In terms of the material components, the focus of prototyping is to deliver a set number of cards with points that are easily countable and distinguishable for each player. Meaning, players must be able to recognise whose cards belong to who and be able to count points with as much ease as possible. In kind, that there must be enough for at least four to participate. Gloom utilises transparent cards allowing points to be seen as they’re accumulated while only ending in fives and zeros, along with specified decks via colour. However, ignoring this format would not prevent players from counting points altogether, it may allow more space for text on cards and specified decks would restrict the number of players in the game. Demonstrably, there is a variety of avenues for the material components even without consideration of a board, but all of these formats be tested and finetuned in further sessions of prototyping.
In comparison to other games, Why Won’t You Love Me? shares a similar concept to Love Letter. In which, a letter of affection must be delivered to Princess Annette while the attempts of other suitors must be blocked. Its main degree of abstraction from Love Letter can be seen in content and form, considering the intentionally mad aesthetic of the game and its inclusion of players in both roles rather than the suitor alone. This aspect of unrequited love and disturbing love is what distinguishes Why Won’t You Love Me? as a social space where, not only are conventionally inappropriate and transgressive actions allowed, but written off as playful.
Finally, the playtesting phase highlighted where development is most needed which was, without question, the mechanical facets. Four people sat down to test the game, first requesting a way to designate who would be the target of who. Likewise, there were suggestions for multiple people to pursue the same person or else the game would become disconnected between certain players and unchallengingly predictable. This was also recommended to improve the point-based system when only one card was being placed or removed at a time. In totality, the idea of the game and its narrative was the most commended aspect, but its tangible manifestation required greater work and inspiration.
Though not quite hitting the goals of psychological entrapment it aspires to, the ambition of Why Won’t You Love Me? remains well-received in its efforts to answer self-proclaimed games of maturity with a brazenly immature attack on the line between passion and aggression, between a game of fighting and a game of love.