Pop quiz for you all. What do the above four things all have in common? Those of you guessing that they're all capable of being very intimate, emotional, and 'competitive' in their own way are absolutely correct. So, what is the point? Well, mostly that there are lots of ways to handle disputes, add excitement to scenes, and keep the game rolling with the conflict that drives everything along. So, let's talk about a few of these things and how we can use them in our games to keep things moving and communicate about the characters involved in the scene.
Fighting in RPGs is nothing new. From the very first dungeon crawls, to the latest narrative controlled games, fighting is a large part of the action in RPGs. However, how many of us actually think about what is really happening in a fight when playing our characters or running our games? Sure, some fights it is just all about the action. There is simply too much going on for anything else to happen. However, fighting is a deeply intimate affair. There is a reason that sayings like "fighting styles are like finger prints" and "you don't truly know someone until you've fought them" are around. Fights tell us a lot about ourselves and about our opponents. How do we handle the situation? How do we handle the fear? Do we press the attack and kick the person while he is down? Or do we let them get back up and get ready before the next pass happens? I'm bringing fighting up first because these are the base line emotions that can be present throughout all of these things. Keep this in mind, and what actually happens in a fight - a real, close, down and out fight - while reading the rest.
Sex and Violence are pretty much eternal partners, but they have kind of a strange relationship. In the U.S. we have this strange thing where we're perfectly fine with violence, ultra-violence, and everything else like that, but bring up a bit of sex and suddenly things are gross. Now, the idea isn't to make people feel uncomfortable, but a lot of the intimacy, the struggle, and the passion that is present in fighting can also be present in sex with characters. Sex can be a competitive struggle in its own way as well, even if the only cost for 'failing' is just intense embarrassment.
Now, I'm not saying to embarrass your players by going into detail with sex, but if you are running a game where sex can happen, you can play out a lot of the same emotions and character drives with a gloss over that doesn't put in the gooey details but still touches on the important parts. Namely, the intimacy and the approach. Someone who is "athletic and competitive" in bed will give a much different sense than someone who is more "slow and sensual" or even someone who is "inexperienced but eager". And, while we're talking about gloss overs. Each of those were just three words, but I'm willing to bet people reading it had three very different characters pop into their head of their preferred gender. If not, try again and see what happens ;)
The connection to dancing should be obvious at this point. After all, both fighting and sex have been described as dances in numerous places. Dancing is an interesting combination of the two in its own right though, and deserves to be looked at. With dancing you have the close emotion, the dependency of one person on another, and perhaps even the athleticism and energy of both. At the same time, you can easily have both the competitive nature of one upsmanship and trying to come out on top, as well as those involved - through individual efforts - making up an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Compared to the other three, racing may seem like an odd one out. However, when you think about it, it isn't actually all that different. Hell, I've even heard a race be referred to as a dance, granted not in the same way sex or fighting are. However, the other common word used to describe a race is a battle. Drivers in races are told to "fight it out", or are known for how they "fight for position." The emotions and energy that can come out in a race are very similar to actual combat, they're just directed in a different direction.
What They Have In Common
By now you should see what the four things have in common. They all have the ability to create a huge sense of intimacy as well as a huge swell of emotion (no pun intended.) These emotions, the action, and the intimacy are things that you want to play up when it happens in your game. Some of this is description, some of it is just choice in what you do as the GM. Give an enemy a chance to return on numerous fronts. Shake up how things interact to broadside your players with sequences and situations they simply weren't experiencing. If everyone is used to straight up fighting, then maybe drop them into a chase or a race. For a more social game, don't be afraid to play up how a person "really" is with how they dance, or how they have sex. Look under the skin of what is going on, and play that up. The rest should flow naturally.
There are other things like this that can be used just as well. Almost anything competitive can be used, and if you want a wide variety of examples you don't have to look any further than anime. Anime has been trying to play up the excitement by playing up the emotions and tensions for years, and studios have done a good job of it. There are animes making racing exciting, animes making playing go exciting, and even one about competitive bread making. So, if I missed something you've used, or think is good to know, by all means drop it in the comments. Trust me, it won't be too outlandish.