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So, occasionally someone approaches me with an RP idea because they've seen me post somewhere about how I prefer more wholesome stories, or in one instance, someone asked me about what kind of content was allowed in my group because one of the words I use to describe it is "wholesome."

I'm getting the vibe that most people don't have the same definition of "wholesome" that I do.

A wholesome story, to me, is a story with a good ending, where the characters will end up in a better place than they were when they started.

A wholesome story is a story that makes the assumption that the characters it focuses on are fundamentally good, even if they don't start out that way, or at least that the overall group is good-intentioned and generally does right by others.

That doesn't mean a wholesome story has to be lighthearted though. It assumes the ending will be good, but makes no assumptions about the inbetweens.

I don't actually like "lighthearted" stories that much, to be honest. I don't like things to be needlessly edgy, nor do I see the point in trying to "adult up" some canon universes to contend with "mature" themes when those canons (like Pokemon, for example) have plenty of heavy content in the source material already that can be focused on, but I find things like "slice of life" anime, or most Western cartoons, lack the kind of weight and friction that I can relate to.

I like happy endings and kind moments, but those things have to feel earned. Optimistic characters in broken worlds have earned their optimism to me. Silly characters in lighthearted worlds feel like products of their environment, and it certainly isn't an environment I can connect with in a meaningful enough way to play out a story in.

This is just, more or less, a thought I've had for a while. Some of my characters would fall under the edgelord category for most people on first blush, but are intended to be in stories about healing. I don't make characters that glorify violence, nor am I interested in scenes that are just meant to generate shock value. At the same time, none of my "wholesome" characters are intended purely for lighthearted low-stakes stories where nothing happens. I suppose I give off that impression because I have some aversion to 'dark' fantasy, but that has a lot to do with GoT's idea of "dark" (read: edgy and glorifying violence) than with any actual dislike of heavier themes.

I also don't think the presence of violence in a story inherently disqualifies it from being wholesome, it really depends on the context. I like stories about healing, and tortured characters who have violent pasts or trauma relating to violent actions are interesting things to explore when the end-goal is getting the characters to work through it and find a better place in life. Sadly, it seems much more popular to just make murder-hobos and live out power fantasies, which, more power to someone if that's how they have fun, it just isn't what I do and isn't the only way to use violence in a story.

Side-note, but I feel like the way media sometimes trivializes war and death has made anything short of comically edgy backstories seem twee by comparison, and that reads like a bit of a problem when most of us absolutely have heavy and sometimes temporarily devastating life experiences that can be traumatizing or stressful in their own right, and we don't tell enough stories about more mundane stress, or even moderate stresses like sudden injury, or estrangement from a community, or losing faith in your beliefs and having to cope with what that means for you.

I really just wanted to get this all out. Sorry if it reads like a bit of a spiel.

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To me, "wholesome" makes me think of a rather fluffy RP with a lot of good feelings and where the majority of things go well. Characters are at peace with each other, there is nothing pulling them down a path of worry/fear/general darkness and instead everything is just good. Picture a happy outing with the family, to a park on a sunny day where life just feels good and there is nothing to be concerned about. That is what I personally think about if someone asks me to RP something "wholesome".

Many of my characters and the type of RP I am interested in resembles the ones you describe, but I tend to refer to them more as "realistic and gritty with a happy ending". To me calling an RP realistic also includes the good aspects of life, since it very much is realistic for things to shift between good and bad. So to me, "realistic" includes "wholesome" too. I add gritty in there just to let people know I wont shy away from delving deep into my character's psyche/past if there is ever a reason for it. Hard subjects will be tackled with realism and not glossed over.
I don't think I could ever have an RP where the characters didn't grow, and where they didn't come out stronger on the other side. It just seems depressing to me to leave an RP with an unhappy endig, so to me a "happy end" is pretty much always a given.

I think also "wholesome" rings to me like something void of adult content, so no violence, gore, upsetting themes or sexual content whatsoever.

All that being said I agree that we've seemingly been so desensitized to themes of violence/war/extreme stress that "mundane" every-day issues never seem to come up. I personally love working through and portraying the smaller pains in life, and I've found few other characters that seem to have/pay any mind to any of those "small" issues at all.

Like the general anxiety or worry about meeting your significant other's parents for the first time and making a good impression, or the perhaps ridiculous (but for some people very real) fear of working the washing machine by yourself for the first time and fearing all the clothes will come out the wrong size and color, or the more detrimental fear of speaking up for yourself when you feel wronged because there is a deeply rooted need to be liked spawned from trauma experienced in childhood when one's parents were simply emotionally unavailable (and not necessarily abusive).

My current main character's biggest flaw/set-back is that they just happen to be anxious and a people-pleaser, so much of their arc in the story is to work on improving that. I don't feel like there needs to be this whole big detrimental thing, but then again I am someone who really adores exploring what makes us human, even the things that make us flawed. All the little things that make up a person. It's fun for me to explore those aspects, but I think some people just want a big epic fantasy tale with dragons and war and death, which is fine too. Everyone's taste is different! ^_^
It's good to bring this up, because yeah, a lot of us get used to relying on simple terms when we don't necessarily define them the same! (I actually did a little soapboxing about using "literate" as a measurement of post length awhile back, partly because of such confusion.) I think it's always good to clarify what's meant by something.

I can definitely understand your meaning for "wholesome," especially since that matches up pretty well with how it tends to get used in reality. In fiction... I tend to associate it with things that are not only positive (whether that's a happy ending, a good lesson, etc), but also typically kid-friendly-basically. A lot of that might be because the vast majority of media I've experienced that clearly have good lessons and moments of "aww, that's so sweet!" tends to be stuff that's either targeted at kids or at least meant to include kids in its audience. That said... yeah, among my RPs, the ones that have generally had the most wholesome moments are not games that I would describe, overall, as wholesome. They tend to be games that it feels more accurate to describe as "dark."

My concept of "dark" is... a bit of a mess. To me, plain old realism (which I'll come back to) frequently, if not usually, can qualify as "dark." Basically, I count anything that allows for "dark" themes to be involved as qualifying as, itself, "dark." This splits a bit though, because I'm never sure what others mean by "dark" and am aware that different folks do, in fact, mean different things by it. Some, it may be as loose as my definition. Others may want a heavier focus on heavy topics. Others still may want something as you mention, glorifying (or at least being heavily steeped in) violence. Some folks do even look for tragedies; I've actually had games where that wasn't the original goal, but did seem like the only satisfying end for things that had happened, whether because it's what seems fulfilling or because I can only handle so many cheep miracles (and if I get into something that ends up warranting "chapters," it's almost guaranteed that at least some of those will end tragically if just to help set up the next, like a cliffhanger or something). Actually... tragic endings can sometimes still be "wholesome" or debatably "happy," with probably the most obvious example being a self-sacrifice to save others kinda thing. Bittersweet. I do typically favor more clearly happy endings, though, and others lose their weight and meaning if they're just the norm.

And since "realistic" was mentioned... I'm aware that some folks apparently think that has to be dark and tragic and in a sucky world and yadda yadda, but naaaaaaaaaaaah. Yes, reality has a lot of suck and pain, but as was mentioned, it also has a lot of nice and wholesome things. I wouldn't consider something that's all dark all the time to be "realistic," especially in cases where there's something almost poetic in how things play out. Possible in reality, sure, but far, far from any sort of standard. Murphy's Law was never intended to become endless Disaster Dominoes. Reality is complex, and actually one of the things that can make struggles so difficult to identify and get help with is the inconsistency, since that's a huge source of the "someone has it worse than me so I should just deal with it" mentality. Probably one of the most realistic occurrences are the sorts of things that rarely ever appear in games: plain, simple, and entirely non-critical mistakes. Goof ups that just kinda blindside you, interrupt the drama, maybe get a few chuckles or awkward looks, and that... have little to absolutely NO effect on the goal/plot. The simultaneous reality and rarity of showing up in media is probably why there was a bit of a boom in anti-climatic moments in stories that were not comedy-focused.

And heck, people just... need breaks. I remember making an attempt to watch Attack on Titan, for example, and I probably only made it 2 or 3 episodes in because there was just no room to breathe. It starts in action and terrible things, and then things get worse, and then things get worse, and then things get worse, and any time there's any glimmer of hope it's pretty much immediate stomped out with even more bad things. From what I've heard, that never really changes even as the show continues. Still has plenty fans, so clearly works fine for some in some way, but... eh, I need something positive to continuing caring.
I'm glad you've brought this up, and in reading your post and other's replies it's really helpful to get insight on a range of thoughts and opinions on this topic. I guess for me I consider 'wholesome' as potentially either meaning the more fluffy, positive, slice-of-life focused version; or I also innately think of something as being 'wholesome' if it's tied to positive character growth. For example, getting to a place of recognition and struggling with internal matters, such as a character that tends to wall others off (due to whatever psychological background) but comes to open up and trust others, being a more open or raw moment that sees a part of them being understood by another and be able to actually trust in that. To me, that's a wholesome moment for sure - though I should clarify, that deeper and more raw aspect isn't necessarily required - I consider other avenues and outcomes, so long as they result in a character's growth either of themselves or in terms of relationship between two characters, as wholesome even if there isn't a deeper analysis to it. In fact, that can often be a much more common approach!

With regards to realism, to me that's a tricky term - it can be defined a bit differently by different people, and so it's important to define what is meant by that. Min-ya, I love your description of 'realistic and gritty with a happy ending'. Somehow that captures the meaning much more clearly than simply reading the word 'realism'! I will say also that I very much agree with rp's generally having the goal of a positive outcome - I'm very much aligned with appreciating ups and downs, and letting there be various degrees of both struggle and success for the story and characters. With this in mind and considering that I personally tend to have a lot of flexibility with how I play, I think there is definitely room in a wholesome rp for adult themes to come into play - just as much as if they aren't included.

All this being said, I feel that for me I personally adopt one of two approaches with regards to 'wholesome' rp: either in that the characters have a primary goal to achieve or problem to solve, and otherwise keep a more light-hearted approach although with some challenges coming in from time to time to various levels of severity. The main focus of the rp here would be more on the characters' relationship and the adventure as they move forward in trying to achieve their goal/solve the main problem. I should probably include here that I am increasingly taking on this approach without a goal in mind or problem for the characters to solve - sometimes, it is more fun to take this approach and let things evolve as they do. It's also very helpful to check in via OOC messages for plot ideas, direction, general chat, etc. etc. Alternatively, the other approach I might take on is a bit grittier, to varying degrees; and honestly I have a hard time finding people that would be interested in this! I suppose this is where the 'darker' side of realism comes in for me, in that I would be up for an rp that is more focused in struggle, a difficult environment, etc. However, the caveat is that once the characters come to agree to work together - if they aren't already starting off this way or in some cases, have a shorter or 'looser' time of coming to such an agreement - that there is room for periods of calm and respite. Zelphyr. you make an excellent point on this with regards to needing something positive, I couldn't enjoy an rp without any hint of respite or calm - constant action is certainly not my go-to, but more of an occasional flavoring than anything else. I'd think that an rp with this kind of approach could have wholesome and/or realistic themes, and potentially a very rewarding outcome - even if it isn't a 'big feat' outside of the impact it has for the characters and their own individual story/ies. Also agree re: 'disaster dominoes', certainly not the point and to be avoided.

While I personally don't opt for the more fluffy, light-hearted sort of 'wholesome'-ness; certainly bits of comedy and slice-of-life moments are welcomed. There's something particularly fun about matching a character with someone else's and just poking fun at them together, after all! :) That said, I personally am not one to go for silliness just for the sake of silliness. The same goes for any conflict, darker themes, adult themes... overall, I just really want to focus on the story and the relationship between the characters. Keeping some flexibility and an open mind to shifts and injections of various things are definitely my modus operandi.

If I could summarize my points, I'd leave it at this: roleplay is somewhat a reflection of ourselves and our imaginings, injecting and/or playing with various pieces of reality and the imaginary are what makes it so interesting and enjoyable. Everyone has a different goal in mind in just how they enjoy the process though, what someone wants out of an rp is so important and there is no right or wrong in that.

But overall, I would agree that a wholesome focus, or at least having that be a part of play, is certainly my go-to!
I'm not sure if I forgot, or just decided not to, or what... But I know that I'd at least thought about giving examples of some of my favorite relationships to have appeared in some of my RPs. There are definitely others I've adored, but the ones I'll be mentioning just kinda stand out to be in odd ways, and I absolutely consider them wholesome even though... some aspects aren't.

Found family
First up, one where the characters meeting in the first place was entirely incidental, and the bond very much unplanned. My character was a young woman with an excessively confident attitude that masked a whole lot of insecurities, and she was, frankly, a spoiled brat. (Highly protective of her family and a well-intentioned sense of morality, but still.) Partner's character was a lazy mooch sort who spent most of his life as a "player," and who was getting to an age that pretty much his second greatest nightmare was all the kids he might have potentially fathered coming to look for him. (And he's also a hero type at heart.) Chick's dad and the guy knew each other, which is how they ended up talking at some point. Despite going so far as to outright tell the guy that she thought the way he lived his life was bad, she found him a lot more relatable than just about anyone else she knew and came to think of him as an uncle. At one point, she even almost called him "uncle," which actually left the guy with a big ol' smile. Neither character is particularly wholesome themselves (well, the chick was pretty wholesome as a kid), but I find the bond between them to be so sweet. ^_^

Stereotypical but sweet couple
Next up, a romance that I probably should not find as utterly adorable as I do. It's got a stereotype of a guy who's a manchild and useless at domestic stuff and a woman who's really good at taking care of all the things (to be fair, this includes knowing when she needs a dang break and being comfortable with delegation). Both have a dating history primarily composed of hook-ups (which plenty people exist who'd claim is not a wholesome thing). Some of the situations they've been through have also been pretty intense. Initially, they flirted a bit, and aspects of the situation quickly led to him using her place as a crash pad until he should decide to head off to some other city (he's a drifter), and they "played" in the meantime. And... they had great chemistry. They balanced each other out well (he does contribute, and actually has the brunt of house chores). They communicate well and are pretty much on the same page about a lot of things. They repeatedly proved to each other that they can trust and rely on each other. And then one day he complained about something hard in the pancakes, ended up dropping the thing, got down to pick it up... and was actually proposing to her in this awkward, stupid way that she actually thought was great, and he'd even gotten a ring that was fancy in a very specific and unusual way that would help keep it out of the way in her work (more thoughtful than it might sound). It was dumb and adorable and it got even better from there, despite further struggles they had to deal with outside of their relationship.

A toxic but truly loving family
And then... there's the family that, from the outside, seems anything but wholesome. The guy and the woman are both deadly career criminals. Both have a lot of trauma, trust issues, and are terrible at communicating emotions. They met when he basically hunted her down to rob her, and after they both tried to kill each other, they reached a deal that he'd owe her a favor that he'd have to deliver on unless he was already dead. That deal was how they met the second time, and how he found out that she was, well, a woman; a deal had gone bad, and he was tasked with helping her get out alive. It also shoved them both a bit more into each other's personal life than either was used to or... really knew how to respond to. When they ended up inadvertently having a kid, they refused to even go to a hospital and just read up on how to handle things themselves, which was almost a disaster when things did not go smoothly; it also got them even more tangled up in each others lives. And they had no idea how to be parents; both had been orphaned as kids, and her "family" was a bad situation even before that. They did learn how to open up to each other, though. Each was consistently there when the other needed some kind of support. When they managed to accept how important they'd come to consider each other, they finally shared their real names with each other to seal the bond with mutually assured destruction (and yes, a joke was made about how they had a kid before even knowing each other's name). When they eventually accepted their kid would have social needs beyond them, they managed to push further outside their comfort zone for the kid's sake, so he could interact with other people, play with other kids. Now, their way of living was absolutely still really toxic through most if the kid's childhood, especially between the two adults; they were aware of it, though, and did everything they could to hide at least the worst of it from the kid and to push him away from a life like theirs. And as nasty as their arguments could get, each would have readily done pretty much anything for the other, and each took comfort in knowing that the key exception was that each would kill the other if it was necessary to protect their son. And over the years, they softened up... eventually left crime... helped each other to cope with all of that... and in time, on top of that "mutually assured destruction," they basically got married (in as much as they really could) with apologies and assurances to do better. And they've been doing pretty well, and have been delighted by their kid taking up a legit (if not exactly traditional) career.

The person I've probably played with most, like, ever has told me on multiple occasions that his games with me tend to be among the most stressful he has, but that they are generally also among his favorites by the end. Probably also helps that we've learned to understand and accommodate each other's styles better over time.

Elysian-Wolf wrote:
There's something particularly fun about matching a character with someone else's and just poking fun at them together, after all!
Poking and pestering each other is what friends and loved ones do! ;)
Aardbei Topic Starter

It took me forever to catch up on this topic, ha.

I think I have the same hangups with "realistic", generally. It means different things to different people. I prefer using the word " believable" to "realistic," especially since realism is used as a blanket-term for edgy and nihilistic. My preference for realism tends to begin and end with how relatable the characters are, including whether or not they respond emotionally to a situation in a believable way, but the world itself doesn't need to be misery porn for it to be realistic. I find the people who think that it does to usually be people without a sufficient amount of life experience to be sound judges on anything outside of whatever their esoteric sphere of interests includes.

My objections to using "wholesome" as shorthand for light and fluffy boil down to my more generalized disdain for toxic positivity, a real problem in communities which often claim to be wholesome.

There are, of course, reasonable things to omit from a story based on tone and intended audience, but I find the idea of leaving out negative experiences to be the same problem as the "realism fans" have with leaving out positive ones: you end up with a story that is missing too many human experiences to be relatable, and I cannot take something seriously that I can't relate to.

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