Love And Marriage In Games

Let’s try something new. A co-op article by Jennifer and Shelby.

Why do so many games miss the mark?

Shelby: I originally wanted to write a post about the best examples of relationships
portrayed in video games, but I ran into a problem: I was having trouble thinking of examples. Granted, there are a few that are worth mentioning (we’ll get to that later), but there’s a severe lack of realistic depictions of relationships in games.

Jen: Let’s be honest here, do we really want to have realistic relationships in our video games when real life relationships are hard enough? Imagine Geralt going to get some potions at the store, comes home, and Yen is like, “WHAT DID YOU BUY????!!!” That wouldn’t be much fun now, would it?heart-and-brain-web-comic-awkward-yeti-nick-seluk-44__700

Shelby: Just hear me out. As Athena mentioned in her article The Power of Virtual Love, video games (and media in general) can do good by portraying relationships and love in a realistic manner, and it wouldn’t be without precedent. 

So many games do such a poor job of depicting relationships between their characters. Just look at the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, which are commonly lauded as examples of games that focus on relationships in addition to gameplay. Relationships on Bioware games have traditionally consisted of wading through conversations in between quests in the pursuit of the end goal of sex. Worse still, once the act of sex takes place, the game more-or-less ends. Hooking up is is the culmination of the relationship in that case…

Jen: Because it’s fun!

Shelby: Sure it is, but relationships don’t just end there!

I’ll give credit where credit is due. Bioware deserves to be recognized for their efforts to not only have meaningful dialogue between characters in relationships, but also that the buildup of a meaningful relationship takes time. For instance, in Dragon Age: Inquisition, players can get to know Iron Bull, Cullen, or Cassandra. Almost all of the main characters are complicated in their personality and motivations, and getting to know them forms the basis of the relationship. It just doesn’t go much further beyond getting them into bed 

Jen: I am not against what you’re saying, and I totally believe that it would be with precedent, however (no offense, my love) relationships are a lot of stinkin work. I just don’t want to play a game where I have to suck up to my man. Or tell him to do the dishes. Much like reading, I don’t like playing games that are too close to reality. Gaming should be an escape from reality. In games you can go bang anything that moves (The Witcher for example) but in real life that kind of behavior has consequences, diseases…

The point of the game isn’t to portray excellent relationship behavior. And if it did, who would be in charge of depicting the “correct relationship behavior?” Because society certainly doesn’t depict relationships clearly as seen by any movie ever made, so why should video games? If we are going to talk about depicting relationships in a more real life way, then we also need to discuss game creators and their inability of depicting female characters in a realistic way. The Witcher is a great example of poor female depiction.

Gaming isn’t meant to be like real life and if it was, what’s the best part of most relationships? Shagging.

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Austin Powers understands

Bioware definitely puts effort in making the relationships extensive. I loved the relationship between Kaidan and Commander Shepherd. However, they are short lived. I would love to see my characters fall in love, shag, and then continue getting to see where that relationship takes them. But again, the shagging is the best part. As Bioware has proven with Mass Effect, players just wanna see their characters get naked…

Can we really expect any video game company to sit down with their team and say, “Alright, team, how can we make our character relationships even more realistic?” It’s not gonna happen. People don’t play the game to have a realistic relationship with their characters, they play to get away from that kind of stress situation.

Shelby: Don’t you watch shows and movies with relationships in them? How would you feel if every show and movie you watched just had gratuitous banging in them? No actual connections, just sex. That’s the case you’re making.

Jen: I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy, thank you. I am not saying that games should just be about banging; I am saying that to expect a game to have involved, in-depth relationships is unrealistic. Sure, you have your two that have that, but how often does the dude from Red Dead Redemption even see his wife? And yeah, you get a furthering relationship in Uncharted, but they were already married at the start of the fourth game. Same with Red Dead Redemption. Neither of those games had to build a relationship from the ground up and continue it throughout the game. Those relationships were already established with the characters.

You know me, my favorite part of any relationship is the first kiss.

Shelby: Is it unrealistic to expect all games to include in-depth relationships between characters? Sure, and you make a good point about Red Dead Redemption and Uncharted 4; they already have established relationships. However, so many games that include romantic relationships in them are so formulaic in nature that they have become predictable.

Going back to Bioware, you can almost guarantee that once you get through enough conversations with the significant other of your choosing, you’re rewarded with a sex scene. There’s so much room for a better portrayal of burgeoning relationships (which is the type that Bioware favors). 

I know I’m harping on Bioware a lot, so let me shift focus a bit. Bethesda has recently begun including romance options in their games, like with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4. Both made mistakes in their handling of relationships. Skyrim‘s version of a relationship was the game equivalent of Tinder, where you basically display that the Dragonborn is single and everyone that’s interested looks at him or her and says “Yeah, I’d totally marry you”. Fallout 4’s romance just feels out of place for a game that puts such heavy emphasis on family being important. Why does the protagonist want to hook up with someone new when his or her spouse was murdered so recently? Sure, you can come up with justifications for either case, but Bethesda comes across as lazy.

My point is that there’s nothing wrong with asking for a little more depth and realism in video game relationships. Nathan and Elena Drake’s marriage in Uncharted 4 feels so natural to watch, and it was refreshing to see a marriage in a game that seemed more real. They had problems obviously; when Nathan screws up in the game and hurts Elena deeply, you can see the pain he caused her. Yet she still sticks by him and they work out their problems in a mature manner. Abigail and John Marston even had a more realistic relationship in Red Dead Redemption, and that game was made by Rockstar, of all companies.

Jen: Of course it isn’t unrealistic to have that expectation, the point is that realistic isn’t what snotty, greasy, gross nerds want. Not saying that just because funsies in a game sells well should the company always do that first, and only then explore other ways to make a game appealing. Companies know what makes them money, so why change that? I agree that game relationships are formulaic. I would love to see more well-developed relationships for my characters. I mean I would loooooove to see a relationship between Shepard and Kaidan go beyond the bedroom. Seriously, can someone make this? Or write a book. Hell I’d buy that.

Hahaha I love the Skyrim bit. Yes, agreed.

Shelby: To be fair, you made the point about Skyrim… 

Jen: Well shanks, I guess I was probably concentrating on pooping but I’ll take that.

o-poop-emoji-ice-cream-facebook
I was totally putting makeup on when we talked about Skyrim, but I couldn’t use this if I went with that story… Sooooooo.

But Skyrim wasn’t about relationships. I mean you barely get to know your companions beyond, “well, would ya look at that” when you see something amazing with Marcurio by your side (totally my side boo-thang in Skyrim btw). I have no context for what you are saying about Fallout 4, so I am taking your word for it. Booooooooo!

I would love to see my characters in RPGs have further, more detailed relationships than what we see right now. I think it would be absolutely amazeballs to have relationships bud into marriages over series like Mass Effect. BTW that Nathan guy sounds like a butthead and needs to be butt-punched. I’m just sayin. If they start making lifelike relationships in games, I want the choice on whether or not I am a jerk in the relationship or the best thing to ever have happened to my person. #truth

Shelby: You make some good points about realistic relationships in videogames, that’s for sure. And I want to make one thing clear before I continue. Not every game needs to have realistic relationships, just like not every game needs realistic graphics or realistic blood and gore. It would just be refreshing to see a game or two that do put a heavier emphasis on having believable relationships between their characters that don’t follow such a strict script. I mean, it’s like developers are taking The Sims’ approach to relationships, where all you need to get two characters to fall in love is to make them kiss and hug 15 times before they’re ready to get married the same day they met, and then have ten children. 

Jen: I swear you just described real life right then. We are living in The Sims. Apparently we are failing at this life, Shelby, because I don’t has the babies yet… 

Shelby: I know… I want to start a family too. Maybe that’s why I’m so into this whole
relationship thing with games?

There’s so much more room for depth. For substance. And for God’s sake, maybe some less terrible kissing animations. I swear the romance scenes in some games look like two dolls awkwardly bumping against each other, confusingly accompanied with the someone making kissy sounds.

Jen: We want the same thing in our games. There is a reason why only a few games have caught my eye these past, uh, seven or so years. I want depth, I want substance in my games. Not many give that to gamers because gaming is such an easy escape from real life. UUUUUUUGGGGHHHH the kissing animation is awful! Please somebody fix this. If you’re gonna make my characters bump uglies, then at least make it skippable and look better.

mass_effect___kaidan_and_shepard_kiss_by_lealea25-d50f0z9
Om nom nom! I eat your face!

 *Insert awkward kissing, sloshing sounds that sound nothing like kissing and for some reason have sloshing sounds*

Shelby: I think we’re getting a little off track.

Anyways, I think we can both agree that games that have a focus on relationships, as an important part of the experience, need better, more fleshed out interactions, outside of just mannequin humping or whatever that is.

Jen: My brain is always off track… I think we are in agreement. I am excited to see how fleshed out the relationships will be in Mass Effect: Andromeda (eeeek!!!).

I guess if you were being controlled by some plastic monster that had decided to invade Earth and create mannequins, you could, in fact, have mannequin humping. In video games, though? I doubt you’ll be able to find much of that. 

Have we managed to come to a conclusion? An agreement? Video game companies need to focus on what makes a relationship in a video game worth pursuing for the gamer. Is it just the sex? Or is it the fun back-and-forth between characters?

Hope you have enjoyed our discussion!

What drives you to develop a relationship with other characters in your game? Do you agree or disagree with us? Let us know what you thought about this post in the comments!

 

Did you like this post? You should click “Like” if you did. Feel free to follow Falcon Game Reviews and Nerd Thoughts Blog as well. You can also find us on Twitter (Shelby/Jennifer) and even send Shelby a direct email to FalconReviewsBlog@gmail.com!

17 thoughts on “Love And Marriage In Games

  1. Can we really expect realistic relationships when the games we play are the for the most part not realistic? I don’t know if we can apply our ideals of a relationship to the world of Skyrim. An interesting discussion at any rate!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That is true, but despite our games not being realistic we are still involving our characters in relationships. Therefore it stands that we should be able to expect some form of normalcy with a relationship in game than one that ends when the characters hang out in bed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Skyrim example is so on-point. When I played through the Dark Brotherhood quest line for the first time, I really wanted to be able to marry Karliah. You spend a lot of time with her and it seems reasonable that the two could form a connection. Instead, the “Dark Brotherhood” marriage option is some random chick you do one assassination for. No emotional connection, no story significance…it’s really disappointing. I also agree that The Witcher left something to be desired (I only played the first one), as I worked really hard to forge the perfect ring to propose to Triss, and then it turned out Geralt was just trying to bang her again. So I definitely feel like there needs to be a way to incorporate depth and significance in video game relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bethesda games in particular are ones that I’d prefer just not bother with relationships at all anymore. After Skyrim and Fallout 4, they just don’t seem to know how to make a believable relationship at all. It’s almost like having that sort of mechanic is just a check box to them.

      Also, with The Witcher, Geralt is kinda a man whore. It’s almost uncharacteristic of him to want to have an actual relationship at all!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My ears were burning… 🙂

    I do agree that it can seem like characters fall in love with the PC based on how many times you talk to them, which does seem artificial, but from a storytelling perspective, I’m not sure how much else you can do in a game for a love subplot. It’s one thing to characterize the characters – like in Red Dead Redemption, in which the player doesn’t have too much input – and another to put the responsibility of building a relationship in the players hands, like in Dragon Age or Mass Effect. For example, as much as I love the romantic subplots of games, I really don’t want to worry if my love interest is going to be pissed at me because I’m late to dinner due to slaying dragons. Although seeing a dialogue options box for that argument would be fascinating…

    At any rate, I think having some sort of “maintenance” for the relationship wouldn’t be too hard to add, like you should probably keep talking to them every once in a while for them to stay “interested.”

    To contradict myself a little more, I’m also really looking forward to Mass Effect: Andromeda’s promise of more nuanced relationships, which are supposed to be a little more realistic…

    And I’m very proud of myself. I didn’t go through a whole analysis of all the romance options in Dragon Age: Origins (or any BioWare game). I’d say that’s progress! haha

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As I’m currently playing The Witcher 3, I’ve been thinking about this too recently. Apparently Geralt’s pretty much irresistible to ye olden world maidens, which is great for him I guess, but quite honestly, he’s already got enough shit to be getting on with, thankyouverymuch. On the plus side, he’s making me feel slightly more optimistic about my own hair and beard’s alarmingly rapid transition to gray though, so, like, every cloud….

    Anyhoo…. Relationships. I think Gaming’s still limited by a few things. Firstly, in the case of the more linear games, time – and in that respect, they suffer from pretty much the same problems as films. Whilst games are slightly longer, it’s basically the same meet/go through an experience/immediately fall in love scenario that films have been relying on forever. A bit of peril, some wisecracks, probably some stripping down to a vest at some point and, badabing-badaboom, off they both go into the sunset – and as the audience, we don’t get to see what happens when, for example, one of them comes back home with the Xbox One they were specifically prohibited from buying.

    In more open-world-ey games, there’s the potential to go into slightly more depth – in the way TV series can, for example – so you get a bit more of a realistic representation, I think. However, because the open-world-ey stuff’s still largely illusory, the relationships are still mostly self-contained episodes – so, for example, Romantic interest A doesn’t know that five minutes ago you were busy with Romantic Interest B. Likewise, the Game’s Developers can’t know how you’re playing, so the cumulative Romancing between characters has to work if you’ve done that stuff back-to-back, or if you’ve disappeared for 30 hours trying to locate somebody’s missing farming implements in the meantime. For me, that accounts for a lot of the problems – if it’s the former, it’ll seem like your characters have gone from strangers to lovers waaaay too quick, and if it’s the latter, you’re left wondering why your love interest hasn’t mentioned the fact you fucked off for a year.

    The reason the Nathan and Elena thing worked so well, I think, is because Naughty Dog didn’t have to worry about the open-world discrepancies, but they also had a full four games to develop the relationship, thus meaning it could be more detailed and nuanced as a result of the extra time they had.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jennifer made the point about Uncharted and RDR when we were discussing this topic before writing this post as well. I suppose it makes sense that those relationships eliminated player agency and were already established. There are definitely design constraints to take into consideration. Having more genuine relationships would likely be unrealistic from a game design perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I believe that The Witcher 3 does it not correctly but in a way that is natural, Geralt’s in love with Yennifer his one true love and he’s in love with Triss Merigold, a person he met while he was on his adventures in The Witcher 2 and he must choose who we and he wants to be with while he’s on his adventure to save the world and ultimately retire to Beaurclair after one last contract. I chose Yennifer because it was who he was meant to be with and they have the most history with each other.

    Other games like Bethesda’s games, especially Fallout 4 don’t do romance and “Sex” correctly. They don’t know how to make a believable relationship, you just get to them to like you so you can unlock a piece of dialogue and you can’t even marry them in Fallout 4 like you do in Skyrim. Either Bethesda drops it or get a better writer to make the relationship aspect right.

    I believe that the only romance and “Sex” that I felt it correctly to some degree, is probably the original Mass Effect saga. You had a connection with Liara, Jack, Tali, and other characters and you felt for them and you brought them along with you on your adventures. I wonder how Andromeda is going to handle it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, that is certainly true. I was just explaining the relationship side of their games, but mainly yeah: Piper in Fallout 4 is so wooden, mainly all of the characters are wooden even the ones in The Elder Scrolls games.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. A quick correction: In Fallout 4, your spouse is dead for 20 or 10 years because by the end, your son is an old man so it isn’t so recent but for us, it’s pretty much recent but yeah, for me that wasn’t a problem but the whole entire relationship aspect of that game is so out of place and just so gimmicky, Bethesda needs to get a better writer for that time of stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Bethesda’s takes are a bit…shallow, like you’ve mentioned there as well. “Hey, I helped you out with this thing here. Marry me!” “Yes, I’ll marry you!” and done. That’s…not great! I think Bioware is probably the company that does it best when it comes to relationships in video games, too.
    I also think that the fact these relationships are still a bit “too unreal” (you talk a lot with said character, yadda yadda yadda, sex. Then it’s over) is due to the fact that these aren’t the main objective of the game and just some add-on (let’s call them add-ons). And they’re good add-ons! Flawed, yes, but good.

    As for getting my relationships going in games, it depends obviously on the playthrough but also depends on how I’m feeling. The first time I play an RPG with such choices, I play it like I’m the character (so, the decisions -though limited- are mine). So I “pick” the lover that I’d like the most if it’d be me. Makes sense? Then, on another playthrough I might just play some weird thief/rogue character. Then I’d probably pick the shadiest of them all to marry me (or just have a deeper relationship with). I think a lot of people do this, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. well said overall, but I think relationships in games are something that are evolving more and more. I still remember my first intro to anything remotely in the realm of relationships in a video games was FF8. Yes it was totally scripted and there were not choices, but it was romance no matter how you look at it. Since then it’s grown and evolved quite a bit through games like KOTR, Mass Effect, and now many countless others.

    I do like your point about Mass Effect, as fun as those are, it’s essentially the romance a character for the big bang romance scene end game, you don’t get to see what happens after until a sequel if there is any.

    I personally love how the Witcher handles relationships. I loved playing Witcher 2 and not only being introduced to the Geralt/Triss romance instantly, but even getting the option to see a romance see way early in the game. Leading to the sequel, they introduce an element, which I have yet to really cross, but have read about it, where going with one romance can shut the doors for the other. It gives the feeling the relationship has been growing throughout the series and not just in that specific game.

    Liked by 1 person

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