Relationships in Video Games – Time to Evolve

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In my real life I can almost certainly promise you that if I were to flirt with the girl at the local GameStop my wife would not be at all happy with me. In fact I would think that what would ensue would be a 4 hour impassioned apology from me and a well deserved lifetime of distrust from her.

But there’s more than just my ability (okay let’s be honest I have no ability I got lucky) to flirt with people. I have chosen a companion that I will put before all others. In my relationship I have said “I choose your missions before anyone else’s.” I looked my wife dead in the eyes and said “I voluntarily choose to miss out on a cornucopia of potential companion missions with friends and acquaintances to forge life with you and do your missions.” She then gave me a sword. Dead serious. She had a custom forged katana made for me. I’m that lucky. She also had my wedding ring made from sword. Again I’m very serious. She knows me.

Miranda Mass Effect 2

She's not even shooting something because for me.

In Mass Effect 2 when you choose to be with Miranda Lawson all you miss out on is a sexy video with another crew member and bit of “I want to be with you” dialogue. You still get to do all of their deep companion missions. You still get to fully complete the game. Hell Miranda doesn’t even give you anything that helps you. Come to think of it when you gain her allegiance SHE’S the one that gets something. They all do. Why didn’t we get a fancy new suit? We’re the ones risking out asses to help your families. Where’s my fancy pants?

But more than this nobody seems to care that you’re potentially in a relationship. In Dragon Age: Origins when Morrigan gives you a ring or Alistair and you become Ferelden Royalty what really changes? Do you miss out on any part of the game because you’re in a relationship?

This is what I mean by adult themes. It is the decisions that have significant weight in the world. It is saying “Yes I want this. This is my decision and there is no going back, there is no middle ground, and I have to stick through this.” In Catherine it was the seemingly inane questions that created a very black or white picture of the world. Ultimately you decided between Catherine or Katherine. That was your decision, it sucked, it was difficult, and it was one of the most gratifying and real experiences that I have had in gaming all year, because of the consequences.

This is what other games need to bring in. Make a relationship mean that in return you get some real and deep companion mission. Make a relationship mean that you are not, in fact, running around with everyone doing whatever you want. You have consequences for your decisions that will carry through the entire game based on who you choose to be in a relationship with.

The additional benefit to this is a terrific increase in replayability. In all likelihood I’m probably never going to replay Dragon Age II. With two play throughs I was able to do almost everything I wanted to. There is no more story to surprise me or grab my attention. However uncovering more about Isabela or Merrill would absolutely bring me back for another go-round if the stipulation was that I had to be in a relationship with them.

While this would certainly rub a lot of gamers the wrong way it’s something that would both intrigue and beguile provided it’s done correctly. Video gamers are growing up. Isn’t it time our in game relationships do the same?

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Posted On
Sep 17, 2011
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On the subject of Mass Effect 2 romances, I personally think they are particularly bad. I never played any of the ME2 romances because Mass Effect as a series actually has two protagonists: my Shepard and Liara alongside him – and he stayed true to her in her absence in ME2. However, Ive seen pretty much all of them and their paltry five minutes worth of content, and I honestly have to say after the problems I thought ME1 romances had, ME2s are awful.

The Mass Effect romances so far have had a “complete a few mildly suggestive conversations to unlock a romance scene”. In ME1 there was more content, and a few moments of genuine emotion, but in ME2 it was quite literally as outlined above. Also ME1 had, IMO, possibly the single most tasteful depiction of sex in video games ever. There was literally nothing to seperate it from how a movie would handle sex and nudity.

Im singling out ME2 here, because its the biggest offender and also the one who gets the most praise for the (ridiculous) claim for its “deep” companions.

Im hoping (partly because Liara is back where she belongs, hehe) in ME3 they try a “ME1 but more” take on relationships. So far, in certain respects even compared to other Bioware games, the intimate relationships you build between your Shepard and his romantic interest just dont seem…. meaty enough (no pun intended).

Ive heard ME3 companions speak more than in any other Mass Effect game so far, and that ME3 has by far the most lines of dialogue. Since I think the easiest way to build better relationships is more talking (both between your characer and his partner, between other characters about the relationship etc) Im hopeful ME3 will offer the most realistic relationships not just for the series, but for all games in general.

Id like to see more than just the not quite fully developed glimmers of hope present in ME1 coming from the whole series. The fact that, like me, many will have built these relationships over the course of 3 games makes it even more promising, provided they really do make “staying loyal” have an impact on the relationship your Shepard has in ME3.

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Posted On
Sep 20, 2011
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I just read this… and it made my morning! xo

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Posted On
Sep 20, 2011
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…and then my wife started stalking me on my website and things got creepy…..hehe

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Posted On
Sep 23, 2011
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Awww… That Wadoobie is just so cute! You wrote the whole thing for her!

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Posted On
Sep 30, 2011
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I think Bioware’s treated relationships as side things you get to have a little fun with. So yeah, while the conversation options may feel mature, in that you’re dealing with stuff that adults with, they wind up not feeling very mechanically adult, in that sex is treated as it is in action movies (which, hey, makes sense come to think of it), a goal in itself and not an expression of anything or a solidifying of a relationship.

And you’d think that creating these entanglements in the middle of a brewing war might actually make things worse. Why not have you romancing whoever you like set an example that may have consequences down the line for other crewmembers who think it’s OK (or resent you for doing it when they can’t).

I find Dragon Age II’s system, as I understood it, to be mildly creepy, in that I like characters in games, if they have any personality at all, to have some sort of internal integrity. If you can flirt with and bounce on the bed with anyone, they seem more like replicants or something. At the same time, I dislike it when characters are so rigid in their outlook that the player character is basically there to activate their romance gene, if possible, like it was a puzzle to unlock.

Real life’s simultaneously more fluid, and more permanent.

I have tons of ideas on how to change this all up and make things, at least in my imagination, be a lot more dynamic. But that may mean shifting the emphasis more toward human interaction, which not everyone is comfortable with. The market seems scared of taking that step, although there are plenty of signs people would totally dig something like that if it was presented correctly.

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