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?
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.
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
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.
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.
*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!
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