[Featurama] Video Game Romance: I’m Just Not That Into You
This article shouldn’t go on for too long. Menial controversy will be intermittent and you will most likely have an opinion that will remain unspoken because you think it’s not worth the effort to rock the boat, leading to a more unsatisfactory experience than is necessary. The problem is clearly your inability to empathize with my correct ideas. The end will most likely instill a cold, hard reality and a feeling of deep defensiveness. This description of our relationship as author and reader more accurately portrays a real life romantic relationship better than any video game romance ever has.
I challenge anyone to provide a good example of a realistic romantic relationship in a video game (extra points if it’s from a big name publisher)! The focus has always been on more realistic textures, more realistic physics, more realistic gore, yet there is a notable lack of realistic emotion in many games these days. The portrayal of most human interaction is so overly polished that it lacks everything that makes it human at all, rather relying on a fantastic musical score and environment to set the mood. Something like The Walking Dead is a fantastic exception to the rule, where human interaction and emotion finally shine through more prevalent than sheer violence in a game. The closest thing to a romantic relationship in that game always ends terribly out of your control no matter what choice path you take, which is the most realistic example I have yet to find.
Now, it must sound like I’m some jaded ex-lover, which is not the case. I am in a very happy relationship right now, which is a direct result of the amount of effort my fiancé and I put into it. Realistically though, the average person will be in more failed relationships than successful ones; this is scientifically and intuitively founded. Relationships are gritty, difficult, and never perfect; they take real work. The effort to truly convey such emotion would require the best team of writers and a plot direction that lacks any real objective other than to make it to the finish without feeling significantly worse than you did at the start. Truly, there’s not much more to say about this, which is why I think there’s something more important on this topic to ask. Should video game romances even try to portray something so personal, visceral, and real?
The more real a character feels, the deeper the emotional connection we can make with them, increasing the game’s desirability. On the other hand, if a game’s goal is to provide an escapist reality, then the idea is to provide ideal outcomes for situations that tend to turn sour in real life – a place where one can rectify wrongdoings and build relationships through strong actions, not vulnerable words and a lot of time. Overall, this Catch-22 could be considered a problem with a lot of our media: the intended use is to escape the stress of real life decision making, yet that same media unconsciously sets up a series of incredibly unrealistic expectations, especially in children. I can imagine many people getting defensive by this thought (just like a real argument, we’re on the way to breaking up baby!), claiming they played games as kids and turned out fine.
In a perfect world, most kids would have an upbringing that overrides this unintentional brainwashing from playing through some idealized game romance. Yet, we all still encounter adults every day naively thinking they are living in some fairy tale world, vainly doing “nice”, superficial things for their crush, or maybe just thinking they will be swept off their feet after waiting long enough for their dream partner to find them. They think they simply deserve affection in return for saving the princess or being saved by the prince, respectively. A sense of narcissistic entitlement (and shitty gender roles) pervades this thought process: we should be able to “have” anyone should we decide we want them regardless of life’s all-too-frequent bad fortune and other human beings’ personal tastes. This is not romantic, does not build trust, and certainly is not love.
I suppose my bottom line is that I am okay with the state of most game romances only because I know real life works nothing like them. Many people claim to “know” this only to have their actions prove differently. Therefore I also recognize the negative externalities of these perfect game romances and I admit that I don’t have the answer, so what do you think? I am willing to listen, and that is how you avoid a breakup.