“Basically Quite Weird”: The Queer Medievalist Virtual Romance of Alexis Hall’s Looking for Group

Alexis Hall Looking for group

Kristin Noone (Irvine Valley College)

Session 12.4: Love in Other Worlds


In a recent blog post, award-winning romance author Alexis Hall comments that “something we’re grappling with as twenty-first century people is the way our assumptions about relationships are changing and that’s something I tried to explore in the new book, both explicitly and implicitly…the ways people interact in virtual words, and the reality of those worlds as spaces.”

The “new book” in question, Looking for Group, utilizes a medievalist virtual reality space to explore identity, romantic possibility, queer sexualities, and heroism. As Eric Selinger has observed, Hall’s romances are concerned with games-playing and pastiche, whether in terms of genre, temporality, or multimedia connections, e.g. the steampunk Lovecraftian Cockney street slang of Prosperity or recipes for comfort food in Glitterland.

In Looking for Group, Hall invents a medieval quest world—the online role-playing game Heroes of Legend—to suggest that virtual spaces might both destabilize and create new possibilities of romance and desire, both medievalist and queer, that invoke other temporalities and imaginary settings. Largely set within game-space, the novel is a romance with queer (gay and bisexual) protagonists who explore multiple identities; it exists at the intersection of narrative and game design, with the (fictional) game’s rules, medieval-fantasy backstory, and history of updates freely available, enhancing the multimedia experience of reading the romance. Hall writes that “it’s very much about the reality and the value of online spaces, which is something—as a long-time gamer—I always took for granted. Since then I’ve obviously been moving in romance circles, but the message remains the same….” Looking For Group optimistically suggests that the message does remain the same: one value of these temporally complex online spaces might lie in the emotional and affective connection of the romance’s happily ever after.

Looking for Group is a novel about online game Heroes of Legend, identity, male vs female characters, amount of time spent playing game online etc. It is a romance between two male characters, although both of them play female characters in the game.

Massive Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) such as World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings online have big player bases. Players can immerse themselves in the setting, and play the role of either a male or female character (and in many cases a non-human character).

Alexis Hall has build a lot of wiki pages for the fictional Heroes of Legend game that appears in his story, including the fake expansions to the game.

Like all MMOs, in the story there are virtual quests, and gifts which have to be acquired which can be presented to other players. Hall is making a point about the value of online relationships and spaces which are often overlooked or dismissed.

“And this was like the worst date ever, except it really wasn’t, it was just two strangers on computers, looking at an elf and an orc sitting on a rock.”

Looking for Group, Alexis Hall

There remains mediaevalism itself as a form of love, with the academic as lover and the mediaeval world as the beloved or love object.

Character in game has “a magnificent grounds at Pemberley moment”.

As a gamer, this was a fantastic session on which to end the conference. I haven’t read this book but I have definitely added it to my pending list.

Thank you to all the conference organisers and session presenters, it was a fabulous experience.

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