I think before this post begins, I have to talk about myself a bit. I’m an avid reader. I’m an obsessive writer. I enjoy the epic romances that sweep people off of their feet. I enjoy angst inside of these romances, as well as danger and action and everything else that makes a story memorable. I enjoy the feeling of fragility in fictional relationships… as long as there is a somewhat happy ending when the last page appears.
My thought process on this subject might dramatically differ from yours, and in a way, I hope it does. Maybe it’s “just a gurl thang” but I look forward to the romantic subplots more than the initial story and in a way, these subplots become more interesting and more important to me than the main plot.
Recently, David Gaider, lead writer of the Dragon Age series, revealed in his blog that to him, “romances are a side show, not the main game.” As a massive fan of both Dragon Age and Mass Effect, I find this comment kind of odd, which is odd in itself considering the types of replies I received when asking about the importance of romance in RPGs.
Being a Grey Warden was cool. Ending the Blight was awesome. Being the most badass commander in the universe was freaking amazing. But seeing how these personal relationships survived beneath the weight of these monumental events was what made these games enjoyable for me. Don’t get me wrong, having the “main plot” coincide with different romantic events is what makes the story even more epic, otherwise these games would be turned into shallow dating sims, but I find it impossible to enjoy Mass Effect or Dragon Age without my love interests.
Gaider also said, “I dislike the idea of every character being sexually available to the player. Not that it cheapens them, necessarily, but it would lend itself towards their objectification.
“I would, however, resist making the romance elements of our games more prominent without also changing the nature of that content. Adding an element of failure, for instance, or by having not all characters be available to all player characters (they’re attracted only to certain types, for instance). Adding different types of romance: tragic romances, romances where your partner cheats on you, romances where the character is already involved in another relationship, characters that don’t know how to relate to someone else on a romantic level or aren’t interested in such. It needn’t all be unhappy, of course, but were I to cross the threshold of making all followers possible to romance I’d at least want to change the approach into something more plausible.”
If the resources were present and the writers could truly add depth and complexity to such a variety of characters, then that idea could present multiple twists, and I definitely enjoy the idea of such characters. But the hopeless romantic in me still enjoys the fluffy endings (Liara and Shepard need their blue children. How many times do I have to repeat this?!).
Ultimately, I believe that if games include romantic subplots, then they shouldn’t be watered down. To me, nothing cheapens a game like a character that exudes sex without any kind of explainable background, or a romance that is barely touched on inside the chaos of the main plot. Mass Effect and Dragon Age did something right with their relationships (not just romantic ones), and I hope to continue to see games take on the challenge of creating such amazing characters.
Because I want to see Liara’s blue children, Tali’s smile without a mask concealing it, Isabela and Hawke exploring the sea, and Anders and Hawke raising their own… kitten. Y’know, if he/she didn’t kill the dude.