Full Force: Relationships in Video Games

Full Force is GFN’s weekly look at some of the biggest news in geekdom, from video games to anime to movies and everything in between. We also welcome your comments below, if you want to join the conversation. This week, our panelists examine the newly announced Nintendo 2DS.

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Romance is becoming a more prevalent option in modern video games, especially as storytelling evolves in series like Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, etc. Do you think the introduction of relationships into video games is a benefit to the industry? Why or why not?

Chris: I think it’s a positive overall, because anything that helps people become more immersed in the experience is a good thing. Being able to marry someone and have my own house in Skyrim added to this feeling that I was capable of doing anything I wanted to within that world. Conversely, watching my romantic interest in Mass Effect 1 melt to death made me feel more invested in saving the rest of my crew.

Cary: As someone who likes doing mundane things in games, I’m all for the addition of “real life” qualities to them, including romance options. They absolutely help me become more invested in not only my character but others as well. With the current trend of (mostly indie) games moving away from video games as “games” and towards video games as interactive and social experiences, romantic relationships in games will probably become more prevalent. Sure, we’ll all want to keep stomping on koopas and throwing hadokens at each other every now and then, but having games that include the chance to form deeper connections between characters is necessary to growth and evolution of the industry as a whole.

simpleek: I naturally love good stories and characters, so when I saw that Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins is not only a really involved story that you can shape however you want to, but you can also romance a number of the characters in the game too? I was sold. I became obsessed with the game because a lot of the characters were really well-written and I had such a strong emotional response to every single one of them as I kept playing. The romance system in Dragon Age: Origins isn’t perfect, especially since you can win almost any character’s heart over by just giving them the right gift or picking the right lines they want to hear, but overall, it gives video games a personal touch for each player. It’s a benefit to include these relationships because it adds another layer to the story and you get to learn more about these characters if you choose to romance them. Games like this one might appeal to those who are interested in compelling stories and characters. It’s like reading a really great book, but the only difference here is you can actually participate in the story and interact with the characters. It’s the ultimate role-play experience.

Crystal: This is one of my favorite topics simply for the fact that I love how BioWare integrated romance options inside of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. They became my favorite games because of the romance system and the relationships you could build or destroy. I like it when I’m able to invest myself inside of a complex character, so being able to mold something deeper and more intimate is always something I enjoy. Adding multiple romance options also heightens the replay value.

Ashley: As others have said, being able to pursue a romantic relationship in a video game as your character adds another layer to the story and deeper character development — so I love in-game romances! The cool thing about having control over it is that you can create a character who is a romantic or a character who pushes people away, and then you can kind of destroy the relationship for the sake of your character’s personal journey. So yeah, I get really into it. =)

LadyCroft3: I think it’s important in context. I don’t really want to make these choices in every game I play, but in games like Mass Effect or Skyrim I think it can only benefit the player. Romance and intimacy are ways in which we bond with others on a closer level in reality, it’s that line between friend and more than friend that we cross. Having this in video games that call for it is not only fun, it helps the player further establish a bond with a character they care for in the game.

Jason: I think anything you can add to the industry is a benefit. I mean sure, not every game gets relationships right; but those games only help make the ones that do get it right even better. Now I’m sure there is an argument floating around on the internet somewhere saying that “reducing relationships to a simple game robs them of their complexity” or some such nonsense. Like somehow games are going to ruin real life relationships in ways that romance novels and movies haven’t over the last century or so. I think every medium of entertainment deserves to touch on every aspect of human life; and that goes double for our social and romantic relationships.

Shaun: So, apparently I’m going to be the odd man out here, but while I agree that romance in games in good (because every sort of storytelling medium in games is good), I prefer something that is totally scripted that I can explore, rather than being given the decisions and dialogue tree to build this. I become as immersed in Mass Effect as anyone, but for some reason, the romances fell flat for me – I just wasn’t sold on the progression, and the build up felt really “gamey” to me (which is also a little weird because I felt like the “bromance” in my case with Garrus was as real as the streets). With that said, I’m still glad it’s something that’s being explored in the genre, because it’s only going to get better with time.

If you had the chance to romance any one character from the wide world of video games, who would it be and why?

Cary: Without a doubt, Lowell from The Last Story. Sure, I love me a good Bioware romance any day, but Lowell was more than just an interesting guy with a nice voice — he was downright captivating and sexy. Don’t think such a thing is possible in a JRPG? Well, The Last Story isn’t just any ol’ JRPG. Its writers wonderful wove together an adult story about friendship with romance at its fringes. Sure, it also involved terrible monsters, fate and fantasy, and all that, but all of it revolved around the bonds formed between the core group of characters, one of which was Lowell. He had quite the wacky and witty way with words, and he was a joy to be around. Plus, he was as great with magic as he was with a sword. Win-win if you ask me!

simpleek: This is a tough choice and I’m always fangirling between Kaidan and Alistair, both from two different Bioware games. Big shock, right? I think between these two, my choice would be Kaidan from the Mass Effect series. I know a ton of people, especially guys, tend to hate on the Bioware men, but I think Kaidan has a lot of depth and complexity as a character. Aside from being gorgeous, he has a sweetness and sensitivity which is, thankfully, different from the usual military men type of characters who are portrayed as being solely tough and macho. It’s as if being a soldier means you can’t have any deep emotions. And just because Kaidan is the sensitive guy type, it doesn’t mean he can’t hold his own in a battlefield. I always take Kaidan with me on missions because his powers come in handy in a fight, at least if I’m not playing a Shepard that is already a biotic. I also think the writers wrote Kaidan in such a way to make the player feel as if a guy like him could actually exist in reality. He has the whole package for me as a romance: sexy, sweet, and strong. As much as I love Alistair, he’s more of your fantasy romance type that wouldn’t exist in real life, as much as you want him to.

Chris: I’ll go with a pick from when I was younger: Celes Chere from Final Fantasy VI. To me, Celes is the most compelling character in a cast that isn’t exactly lacking for interesting stories. Her time on the island with Cid is either a little heartbreaking or a lot heartbreaking, depending on the speed of the fish that you catch. Thanks to some genetic enhancement, she’s more than capable on the battlefield. She’s certainly not tough on the eyes. Best of all, she’s a general, not some opera floozy.

Ashley: Definitely Garrus Vakarian from Mass Effect. I always thought he had it all — a great sarcastic sense of humor, a badass side, an awkward side, loyalty. He’s one of the most well-rounded characters ever. And it’s totally okay that he’s an alien.

LadyCroft3: I’m going to have to go with Ashley on this one and say Garrus Vakarian. The last time I played through the entire series (a few months back) I tried to analyze why I like him so much/ Sure, he’s sweet. Sure, I have a thing for aliens with sexy voices and a bad-boy attitude – but what is it really? I learned that he and I happen to share a lot of the same ideals and morals. I mean, I’m not flying around fighting Reapers or anything and he isn’t sitting around in his PJ’s playing video games all day, but we both have similar qualities. We both love justice, we both like distance weapons, we are both trustworthy friends, we both love Shepard (wait, what?), and we both are realists. I may be looking to far into this though. *Zoidbergs out of room*

Jason: God, is it terrible that I too want to list off a Bioware character? I mean, there are certainly a lot of other great ladies out there… bah, screw it. I pick Jack from Mass Effect. As far as I’m concerned, she’s got it all. She’s a BA, she doesn’t take sh!t from anyone, and deep down she’s a big old softy. I mean, I won’t lie; she’s got a rock’n body and I’ve always had a thing for ‘crazy’ chicks. But it goes deeper than that. Jack has overcome a lot in her life and still manages to make the best of it. I admire that kind of adversity. Likewise she’s got a soft spot for kids, and passing on what she’s learned to the next generation. As someone who’s spent a large part of his “professional” carrier working with kids/children, that’s a trait that really gets me right in the feels. Of course I have yet to actually FINISH a romance playthrough with Jack, (cause ya know: Femshep 4 life) so Jack would probably just tell me to **** off and then toss me out an open airlock… and I’d probably enjoy it.

Shaun: God…so hard. Annnnnd that was a very poor choice of words. My gut would initially go to someone like Jill Valentine, because she’s awesome – brave, beautiful, resourceful, adaptive, calm under pressure…but she’s seen some s*** and that might be hard to deal with…but if I could help her through it that would be so romantic…

Then I go to Cortana, who is witty, wicked smart, and more genuine than most of the female characters in gaming (who also happen to be, you know, alive). But the fact that she is a computer might be a deal breaker.

So then I go to Tifa Lockhart, but not for the reasons you’d think – I actually prefer the Advent Children version, with the reduction and more emphasis on her pretty face than her sex appeal. She’s stood by her comatose bf through thick and thin, she’s great with kids, super sweet, and also a grade A badass. But she’s SO stuck on Cloud I don’t think I have a chance really…and that blonde spiky hair…

So my answer is Jill.

What is one game or series that you wish would include some kind of relationship element? Or, conversely, what game or series do you think has butchered relationships and you wish they would stop?

Cary: Is it wrong of me to wish that something this side of temptation, or hell, just steady feminine friendship had been set into John Marston’s story in Red Dead Redemption? One of the first people he met in the game in the game was a rancher named Bonnie, and I really enjoyed bonding with her. Not that I expected anything to happen between them, what with all of John’s professions about his wife, but their friendship just fizzled out. (Not that there really were any chances to form extended relationships with any of the characters in that game.) Did I want John to end up in bed with a prostitute? Not at all. But it wouldn’t have been out of line to add a strong, tempting female character to his world. The era of the game was as much about the push and pull between the sexes as it was about the government’s desires concerning the West.

simpleek: I haven’t finished the game yet, but I kind of wish Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning had a relationship system. As much as I like having my character fight through bad guys and create her own destiny, it’d be nice if she had someone to come home to after a long day of slaying creatures and saving the world.

Chris: I kind of wonder what would happen if games from our past had been made today. For example, what if you had the opportunity to make your silent protagonist choose between the love triangle of Marle (canon), Lucca (best friend syndrome) or Ayla (rule of life, no change rule) — or any of the cast? Would it add to the game, or detract from it? On the other hand, the Mass Effect series has done relationships extremely well, but I wonder how much would be missed if that element didn’t exist at all. It’d be a less complete experience, for sure.

LadyCroft3: There are plenty of games that have relationships that I hate or don’t have relationships where I want them, but when reading this question the first thing that popped into my mind was Metro: Last Light. There is a really awkward relationship that seems to have just been thrown in for nudity’s sake and to be honest it kind of ruined the game for me. Luckily it was towards the end so I got to enjoy the great gameplay and intriguing story for a good while before being disgusted. Without getting to deep into it, I can really just say that is was one of those “WTF WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS IT MAKES TO SENSE” kind of moments and I wish it was just never added into the game since it demeaned the female and had no real benefit to the male (other than pure, carnal sex I suppose).

Jason: OK so, I love me some Skyrim. It’s really the only Elder Scrolls I stuck with playing. And I love my waifu Aela, she’s the best werewolf woman a man/woman could ask for! But if there is one game that REALLY needs to start upping their game when it comes to relationships it’s the Elder Scrolls. I mean, they have almost literally turned “significant other” into a type of resource. You put on a necklace, they say they like you, you get married. DONE. Want to start a family? Well, better adopt than. Wanna spend time with your wife? Well I hope you like generic conversation wheels where she makes you food you don’t need or buys junk off you. And don’t even get me started on the “Lover’s Comfort” buff you get from sleeping in the same bed as them. Relationships in Skyrim are seriously the most 1 dimensional things ever.

Shaun: KINGDOM. HEARTS.

Okay, look. I know it’s a game that also has to appeal to kids. And I’m not saying I want a sex scene between Sora and Riku. I meant to write Kairi, but you know what, that fits too.

But seriously – all we’ve gotten to this point is that every character is just really great friends. NO! Young peeps are allowed to be in love, even if it’s puppy love. And let’s remember, these characters have saved the world like two dozen times already. Is it too much to ask for them to start exploring a little more complex feelings than “basic friendship?”

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