Romantic Plots and Subplots in Video Games

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I have noticed a trend that story-driven games often have the same sort of romantic subplots as Hollywood films, where they are almost mandatory. Regrettably, these subplots are often chronically superficial and acutely sentimental. The romances in games are especially light and easily left unheeded. Is this because gamers are still viewed as a bunch of kids, social retards and man-teens, who are unable to appreciate the finer qualities of drama and tragedy that passionate love can lead to.

No doubt some of us, myself included, are immune to the various hormonal-chemical imbalances that are often referred to as love. This does not mean that we are unable to sympathize with the victims of this affliction. On the contrary, it is a great source of entertainment when it drives people to jealousy, rage and despair. People being the self-centered bastards that we are, love is much more believable as a motivator than the altruistic ones we are usually fed.

When you consider this subject, maintain a broad perspective. The romantic themes can be explicit, implicit or merely hints. Here are three examples: Ico is one of my favorite games because of the unique relationship between Ico and Yorda, and how integral it was to the story and gameplay. Also, the relationship between Wanderer and Mono was the driving force for the story in Shadow of the Colossus. Lastly, I have always liked the idea that Chief and Cortana have something going on. The relationship may be platonic, but it is also believable due to their close proximity and their similarities in being unique and artificial. I bet they would have very little in common with anyone else.

1. Are romantic plots unneeded in games?
2. Can you mention good or bad examples?
3. Does writing this make a pathetic idiot?

1. It depends on the game really. Imagine, say, FFVIII without the romance plot. However, developers should make it meaningful, you know, not like The Witcher.

2. Good Examples: FFVIII, Mass Effect

Bad Examples: The Witcher, GTA:SA

3. No, it makes you deep.

1) When it fails to aid the story, yes. If it's executed in a thoughtful, non-exploitative way, then no.

2) Not off-hand.

3) It makes me want to lick my own elbow out of sheer joy.

And what's with no gay romance? It's rather unfair, no?

1: Romance is definately a potent emotion to add into a plot, often worth exploring unless it doesnt fit into the context or is poorly written.

2: Ill echo the above stating, ME and FFVII. But Raz and Lilly in Psychonauts are also briliant, the dialogue between the two before the lungfish grabs here is briliant. I also liked Manny/Meche in Grim Fandango, admitedly it seems a bit shallow and not alot of it is shown. But it fits extremely well into the game and is believeable.

But the ultimate ingame romance is ofcourse Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance. Infact my only complaint with (pre-episode) Half-Life 2 was that she got to little screen time. The fact that she realy does seem human and that you both rely on eachother makes it feel like the best videogame romance out there.

3: Not realy

Surggical_Scar:

And what's with no gay romance? It's rather unfair, no?

I actualy get a little annoyed by this myself, like how in Mass Effect there is a lesbian relationship but not a (male) gay one. I probably wouldent explore it but the lack of it is a bit dissapointing.

sammyfreak:

Surggical_Scar:

And what's with no gay romance? It's rather unfair, no?

I actualy get a little annoyed by this myself, like how in Mass Effect there is a lesbian relationship but not a (male) gay one. I probably wouldent explore it but the lack of it is a bit dissapointing.

Mass Effect was a good point, as a matter of fact - but then again, considering the ass-kicking they got for sex at all in the game, if they'd slipped in an option for man-on-man, the Republicans would have stormed the gates.

It's actually quite ironic in any case, considering how much Yaoi has been spawned by the Final Fantasy series from 7 onwards. Well, it's their fault for making all the characters so sexually questionable. Except for Barret, obviously.

Surggical_Scar:

sammyfreak:

Surggical_Scar:

And what's with no gay romance? It's rather unfair, no?

I actualy get a little annoyed by this myself, like how in Mass Effect there is a lesbian relationship but not a (male) gay one. I probably wouldent explore it but the lack of it is a bit dissapointing.

Mass Effect was a good point, as a matter of fact - but then again, considering the ass-kicking they got for sex at all in the game, if they'd slipped in an option for man-on-man, the Republicans would have stormed the gates.

It's actually quite ironic in any case, considering how much Yaoi has been spawned by the Final Fantasy series from 7 onwards. Well, it's their fault for making all the characters so sexually questionable. Except for Barret, obviously.

Yeah, i always wondered why Vaan dident hit on Baltier.

sammyfreak:

Surggical_Scar:

sammyfreak:

Surggical_Scar:

And what's with no gay romance? It's rather unfair, no?

I actualy get a little annoyed by this myself, like how in Mass Effect there is a lesbian relationship but not a (male) gay one. I probably wouldent explore it but the lack of it is a bit dissapointing.

Mass Effect was a good point, as a matter of fact - but then again, considering the ass-kicking they got for sex at all in the game, if they'd slipped in an option for man-on-man, the Republicans would have stormed the gates.

It's actually quite ironic in any case, considering how much Yaoi has been spawned by the Final Fantasy series from 7 onwards. Well, it's their fault for making all the characters so sexually questionable. Except for Barret, obviously.

Yeah, i always wondered why Vaan dident hit on Baltier.

I was amazed that Zell and Irvine didn't screw just to break the tension.

But that's sensationalism, and my own peverse fantasy. It wouldn't be too hard to at least allude to a romance between to male characters, even if they didn't have the guts to go all out and seal the first in-game gay kiss.

BTW, you can have a male gay relationship in Jade Empire with Sky. I knew he was gay.

Really? Damnit.

Actually, I just remembered you could not only be gay, but bisexual in Fable, inserting your rod of tender love/violent ravishing into whoever you damn well pleased.

Shame that although you could marry that evil bint in the main city, you couldn't marry some virtuous damsel, or indeed, some innocent boytoy...

*Stares into space for several moments*

...sorry, I think I need to go and have a lie down.

Baldurs Gate 2 was good for romance

It was a good distraction from the main quest although it could have been expanded I thought

Hmm. Romantic subplots in games, eh? Well my opinion is a tad torn on this one. Check it:

It seems that not only are romances genre-specific, but are format exclusives as a result. When is the last time you saw a tale of sweet, sexual tension between a man and a woman on your PC, after all? Aside from the obvious strong, mutual emotions between Kane and Lynch on their newest adventure*, then PC gamers world-wide are a bit limited when it comes to this sort of area. The last time a game on your computah went really into detail about creating a fascinating, platonic relationship between two people might just be as far back as the likes of Pyschonauts with Raz and Lilly; or even in Grim Fandango sporting the Manny-Meche slash. It appears that people on this format are just satisfied with blowing one another up in their gaming worlds, whilst creating strange 'fan' forms of art in their spare time to fulfil their romantic desires. No doubt I could quite easily turn this into a thesis about how if computer games included more romance then we wouldn't have as much gamer-focused, fan-made cartoon explication. I mean, how come it is that we have lots of Tomb Raider pornography, but no Mass Effect stuff? Especially when, logically, there's far more 'meat' to the latter's favour, making it easier for these so-called 'skilled' artists de perversion to create their own erotica.

Anyway, so we've established that PC gamers are mainly perverts but don't like to fap over videogame characters unless its been under the tablet of an amateur's pirated version of Photoshop and stuck up on Deviant Art first. They're more than happy to trundle around, shooting each other and laughing at pornographic sprays on Counterstrike than actually be involved in a true, deep subplot. Or at least its been mainly that way for a number of years. In a case exactly the opposite of this, console releases (well, the releases which initially are publicised as being on consoles-only), designers can't simply get enough of forming little affairs between characters. Ranging from the highly 'controversial' mannerisms of the protagonists in titles such as Mass Effect or Grand Theft Auto, to the more sublime and dramatic features of those as the Final Fantasy series, or even Metal Gear Solid. This only becomes a problem, however, when gameplay or overall quality of the release suffers because of this inclusion of a subplot. I guess you're all expecting me to bring up the likes of The Witcher due to the unclassy inclusion of the whole 'collecting women as cards' thing. Well yes, but I understand that whole part of the game is somewhat optional. The same can apply for Mass Effect; unless you're extraordinarily horny and haven't got access to the unrestricted Internet - it is entirely your own choice whether or not a (pointless!) romantic subplot develops. I am more in favour of this sort of type, because, after all, I can't think of a game where a romance is instrumental to the storyline (aside from Mario, maybe?). Certainly Tidus may be driven by love not to let Yuna die in FFX, or Octacon might be a little more against the Patriots since their rogue project killed off his source of semi-incestuous romance, but would these games fail to function if these arcs were not included? No? Then why do writers feel the need to include such an element if all it furthers is 'character development'. Sure, I appreciate these loving scenes where the players of the story express their passion for one another in an untimely fashion; but what about the rest of the gaming world whose opinion of such events amounts to no more than a mere sigh and rolling of eyes?

If games such as Ico and Half Life can have both powerful male-female roles within but without a necessary romantic element, then why cannot this be applied across the board?

*May not be true.

1) It really does depend on the game. Some games the romantic subplot is an essential part of the storyline, while others it just seems tacked on. There are some games, like Mass Effect, where the romantic subplot is optional but still plays a large role if you choose to go that route.

2) Good example: Mass Effect. It progressed naturally and fit into the overall story, but if you chose not to pursue it there wasn't really a hole in the story.

Bad example: Fable. Talk about tacked on. The fact that you could woo any potential spouse just by doing certain poses and giving gifts was ridiculous. Then after the marriage the only real depth to the subplot occurs if you pose and give gifts to some other woman (or man) in your wife's presence. The last time I played I murdered my wife, then flirted with the only witness and married her within five minutes. There's something wrong there.

3) If writing that makes you an idiot, then I'm an idiot too. I was just thinking about this same thing the other day.

1. They can add flavor to the game, provided they are done well.
2. Alyx Vance & Gordon Freeman is the first one that comes to mind. It's very well done, mainly because Alyx Vance is a detailed character. Your actions don't impact the relationship, but how could they - it's not a free-roaming game. And it fits into the plot very well. Of course, there isn't much more that can happen - so long as you can't talk, it can't go very far.
3. No.

1. If it's an organic process that happens based on how the characters interact, it's fantastic. In the same way that throwing a group (say six-10) pretty evenly split between men and women into close quarters will result in at least some romance, it can make sense. What makes it stupid occasionally is the "we started off sarcastic toward each other, but that sexual tension bloomed into a relationship". We expect that from Hollywood, games should do better. The Bastila/Revan relationship in KOTOR was on thin ice for a while with that, but there are some really bad examples in games.
2. Good examples: any relationship you create in Mass Effect, Tidus and Yuna in FFX
Bad Example: FFVII

Let me defend that for a moment: most gamers had a personal connection to Aeris (or Aerith, but I'm American, darn it). The issue was that her relationship with Cloud never made any bloody sense. It was unnatural and inorganic.

3. It makes you both thoughtful, and way nerdy. It's all good

On the gay relationship question: I'm counting Sora and Riku from Kingdom Hearts as a homosexual relationship. There's a great VGcats on the subject

(http://www.vgcats.com/comics/?strip_id=209 )

The point of the Aeris-Cloud relationship was that it was odd. Cloud's psycho and Aeris wasn't enirely human.....

Dare I say it? Link and Midna.

A good romance side plot is a good thing. If it's a cheesy love plot just thrown in as filler, then it isn't a good thing. The lack of gay relationships or gay characters bothers me.

thebobmaster:
BTW, you can have a male gay relationship in Jade Empire with Sky. I knew he was gay.

Voiced by Cam Clarke. Who is.

GloatingSwine:

thebobmaster:
BTW, you can have a male gay relationship in Jade Empire with Sky. I knew he was gay.

Voiced by Cam Clarke. Who is.

Really? Huh, go figure. He was one of the only somewhat decent voice actors, too.

Not exactly a romance plot per se but Leon and Ada's relationship in Resident Evil 4 (I can't say about 2, not played it) is a good one, because it's subtle, it's more about sexual tension than anything overt and, to me, that made me WANT them to get together, but perhaps that's just me.

For romance to succeed in a game (or any medium for that matter) it has to be a good fit for the story. If you're going to do romance in a Metal Gear game, it has to be grim n'gritty, and ideally it should end tragically.

My favourite videogame romance was Sly Cooper and Carmelita Fox. It was perfect for the game, perfect for the idiom, perfect for the characters. The most delightful part of all was the dance sequence in Sly Cooper 2.

Carmelita: You seem familiar. Do you work in law enforcement?
Sly (in disguise): I often deal with police when I'm on the job.

Priceless.

thebobmaster:
BTW, you can have a male gay relationship in Jade Empire with Sky. I knew he was gay.

Yeah, and if KoTOR II had been made by BioWare, you know Atton would have been available either way. After all, any pazaak player knows flippable cards make you more likely to win the hand.

I view romance subplots in games the same way I do in movies. For instance, in "Aliens" there's a little romantic thing going on between Ripley and Hicks which works because it doesn't feel shoehorned into the plot. In the first Bourne movie, the romantic subplot is a key part of the main plot.

On the other hand, if some studio executive had tried to shoehorn a romance into "Lawrence of Arabia", I would be disgusted. Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an example of a shoehorned romantic story arc. Fans hated Riley, and with good reason - he should have been one of the team, not the Obligatory Boyfriend.

Games that aim to be cinematic in scope will try for the full range of plot options that movies do, including romances, and like some movies, some will be great, and in others will be controller-throwing bad.

thebobmaster:

Really? Huh, go figure. He was one of the only somewhat decent voice actors, too.

I suspect that he still is, not being dead yet. Pretty damn good singer as well. (though his tendency to pop up everywhere and be instantly identifiable due to only doing the one voice has started to wear on me a little)

OK....ground rules....if you have CHOICES to pick who you want....they should damn well make a difference. Granted tales of Symphonia had a great way to ignore Collette 90% of the game and replace her with Sheena....but that ending scene....who's the one Lloyd picks? It ain't Sheena.

FF7 is another example, no matter what you do...Cloud will choose Aerith and then it doesn't matter 30 seconds later anyway but still, whoever you took on that date didn't make a difference in who he chooses. They could have gone so much farther with that. Even at the end of Advent Children....he still chooses aerith and drives off to meet her again. In the KH games he chooses her....for crying out loud. What was the point of choosing your path of if it makes no difference?

Games have a tendency of giving the player a choice that doesn't make any difference outside of a paragraph of text. Granted I dislike most non-JRPGs but at least they understand that you can make a choice that actually effects the game. Sure it makes double the cutscenes or something but it's worth it.

GloatingSwine:

thebobmaster:

Really? Huh, go figure. He was one of the only somewhat decent voice actors, too.

I suspect that he still is, not being dead yet. Pretty damn good singer as well. (though his tendency to pop up everywhere and be instantly identifiable due to only doing the one voice has started to wear on me a little)

I meant in the game.

1. No
2 Good Max Payne games specifically the second one. The Darkness. Bad: Mass Effect.
3. No

I would love to see games where you as the player were forced to kill your lover. Not just at the end of the game either through out the course of the game your goal becomes the death of your partner. It would also be good to see a game where your lover is actually a corrupting influence on your character. Someone that drives the player character to steal, kill, etc.

See, I actually hate Hollywood-style romances where it feels the game did it for the sake of having a romance subplot.

I love it when games do it well, however, such as Jaheira's or Viconia's romance plots in Baldur's Gate 2. The same game, however, did a terrible romance for Aerie, and a mediocre one for Anomen, two other, less lovable characters to my taste (by that I mean nearly incompetent practically and harboring crappy, annoying dialogue).

Similarly, it's weird when you're a male central character and in your party there's an attractive, single friendly and relatable female, who you could easily strike up a romantic relationship but not be able to because the game didn't allow it. I mean it won't destroy the game to not be able to romance the character, but if it stands out like a sore thumb that your male character and the female NPC should be connected by the hips then it will leave you as a player feeling that something is amiss or being driven out of the context of the game.

Some things seem natural and some don't, and I suppose it weighs in on how good the writers are for an RPG/Adventure game should they write convincing romance subplots.

I find myself on neither side in this as I don't take in or reject game based on whether or not it includes romance, but whether or not it includes realistic, believable romance or lack thereof; in other words, an understandable context.

shadow skill:
1. No
2 Good Max Payne games specifically the second one. The Darkness. Bad: Mass Effect.
3. No

I would love to see games where you as the player were forced to kill your lover. Not just at the end of the game either through out the course of the game your goal becomes the death of your partner. It would also be good to see a game where your lover is actually a corrupting influence on your character. Someone that drives the player character to steal, kill, etc.

You put down Mass Effect as an example of bad romance. I'm not saying you're necessarily wrong, but I'd love to have your reasoning

shadow skill:

I would love to see games where you as the player were forced to kill your lover.

I was marginally more concerned about this part of his post, rather than anything about Mass Effect.

Issues, much?

I cannot give specific examples of bad or good games with a Romantic subplot. I simply cannot find any good ones, or if I may be blunt, any good Romantic subplots which would make the player want to continue 'listenining' to it.

The thing which always stings me is when the main character is emotionaly dead. Example, Godfather, I simply do not feel him... We need good characters, proper emotions and right reasons to make the subplot well thought out and sensible...

shadow skill:

I would love to see games where you as the player were forced to kill your lover. Not just at the end of the game either through out the course of the game your goal becomes the death of your partner. It would also be good to see a game where your lover is actually a corrupting influence on your character. Someone that drives the player character to steal, kill, etc.

I sort of agree with this. I don't mean killing your lover necessarily, but a game where relationships can have a darker, more pervasive effect on story / gameplay. The OP mentioned this as well - "it [love] is a great source of entertainment when it drives people to jealousy, rage and despair. People being the self-centered bastards that we are, love is much more believable as a motivator than the altruistic ones we are usually fed."

For me, this is one of the things that made Max Payne 2 so good. There is so much scope for love / lust / obsession / whacked out freakiness in gaming, it's a shame it doesn't get used much.

Surggical_Scar:

shadow skill:

I would love to see games where you as the player were forced to kill your lover.

I was marginally more concerned about this part of his post, rather than anything about Mass Effect.

Issues, much?

Wow, shows you where my priorities were last night. I think he point was that we only ever see one side of relationships, really. True love kind of stuff. He's commenting that it would be interesting to see a game where not only does your love interest possibly die, but by the main character's hand as well. It'd be an emotional arrangement we don't often see. Ironically, his post contradicts itself, because there are situations in Mass Effect under which you may end up killing your primary love interest

There is no real attachment to your fuck buddy in Mass Effect (Hence the phrase fuck buddy.) partly because there really is no time to actually build anything resembling an actual relationship throughout the course of the game. Killing your fuck buddy does not really have an impact on the player character emotionally, it does not really colour the plot it's in fact inconsequential to the main plot. Not to mention that as far as I know you can only choose to leave behind your love interest, you as the player are not actively killing them, though you are indeed allowing them to die; it's not really the same.

I read a book some ten or twelve years ago (the title escapes me.) where two teenagers are travelling around the country, and the male character routinely causes major accidents, however he always needs the permission of his girlfriend before he can set some disaster into motion. In effect she was his enabler. Though it turns out that the pair and other teens they meet and eventually begin travelling with are possessed by demons who subvert their real powers into their negative opposites. The male character had the power to create order from chaos and was in turn possessed by a demon of destruction, and the female was bravery and she was possessed by fear.

Most of the time we are shown loving relationships that generate positive effects, we almost never see the dark side of love. Hell we barely even see lust when it comes to manipulating characters, we don't see what happens when someone is so drawn to someone that they begin to do things they would otherwise not do.

It's actually kind of pathetic really since I can think of books for younger pre-teens and teenagers that have dealt with this sort of thing. Dragon Lance having a rather nice example of this in the relationship between the black wizard Raistlin and a white priestess whose name escapes me at the moment. Suffice it to say that the priestess is not only intrigued by, but is physically attracted to Raistlin in spite of the fact that they serve entirely different gods and have very different personality alignments. This is of great importance since Raistlin is trying to become a god and needed the priestess' help to open the gateway to the goddess of darkness' realm in order to kill her and absorb her godly powers.

No Gordon/Alyx, please. I feel like Alyx more admires or has a crush on him, but I'm tired of every single male/female relationship in all media ending up in an *actual* relationship.

Plus, if you play the game in third-person, he's just a pair of incorrectly-proportioned waist-height forearms floating in midair.

if its done well its good. Take most recently Lost Odyssey

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