Making Love… Less Awkward in Gaming

Since its inception, the video game industry has had one lasting flaw: love. Other forms of entertainment have never seemed to have a problem representing this basic human emotion, yet gaming always has. Literature is evidently able to handle complex emotional relationships, and drama too proves itself a fantastic outlet for varied emotional narratives (one particular stand-out is Frantic Assembly’s LoveSong, which all but reduced me to tears because of its realism and relatability). Film also copes well, providing you look past the conventional truck-load of sappy rom-coms—no negativity intended here, I do enjoy a cheesy rom-com when the time is right! Movies like Marc Webb’s genre-aware 500 Days of Summer, and more affectingly Steve McQueen’s Shame—a dysfunctional look at sex, love, and life—show cinema is capable of mature and real insights into love. Gaming sadly isn’t.

Since the days of Pong, gaming’s main draw has been its interactivity, you put in an input and get the instant gratification of an output, but I feel that this idea has dampened true attempts at storytelling, particularly with regards to human emotion. After all, how can you examine human emotion when you are using AI to do it? It’s a weird predicament, and one that only gets weirder when representing love or affection in video games. Intimacy, for one, can become one of the most uncomfortable and uncanny things to witness in games, especially when said game is po-faced, or attempting to be ‘adult’ (as David Cage’s Heavy Rain proves see below).

‘Press R1 to unhook bra’: Teaching hormonal pubescent boys everywhere how it’s done…

‘Press R1 to unhook bra’: Teaching hormonal pubescent boys everywhere how it’s done…

The effect is often laughably ridiculous or just plain awkward. And it seems to be the level of interactivity that makes it so. It is the same issue that made the now-infamous funeral scene in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare—where the player had to ‘Hold X to Pay Respects’—so funny. More to the point, it is the same interactive uncanniness that even caused Rockstar Games (makers of the controversy-fest Grand Theft Auto) to cut their frankly pathetic interactive sex-scene ‘Hot Coffee’. When Rockstar Games shies away from controversy, you know something is wrong. Gamers don’t want interactivity when it comes to portrayals of love in videogame narratives, they want something tangibly emotional (you know, like love is in reality). No more shallow love-relationships, or uncomfortable intimate scenes ripped straight from a teenager’s deluded fantasies—it’s just embarrassing.

Now there are certainly noticeable examples of attempted maturity regarding relationships in gaming that show things may be heading in the right direction. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity prioritised the relationship of its Romeo-and-Juliet-esque protagonists amidst the French Revolution with a decent degree of success. Bioware’s RPGs have consistently been improving their own brand of constantly evolving choice-based friendships and relationships in their epic stories. And the kooky puzzle game Catherine, which was praised for its refreshingly adult, if somewhat flawed, take on relationships and adultery.

Now there are certainly noticeable examples of attempted maturity regarding relationships in gaming that show things may be heading in the right direction. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Unity prioritised the relationship of its Romeo-and-Juliet-esque protagonists amidst the French Revolution with a decent degree of success. Bioware’s RPGs have consistently been improving their own brand of constantly evolving choice-based friendships and relationships in their epic stories. And the kooky puzzle game Catherine which was praised for its refreshingly adult, if somewhat flawed, take on relationships and adultery.

Nothing more romantic than a kiss whilst wielding an axe…

Nothing more romantic than a kiss whilst wielding an axe…

Romance, love, intimacy, friendship, emotion—these can all be achieved within the world of gaming. It’s about time the medium was no longer viewed as immature in this regard, so on this Valentine’s Day—a day to celebrate all things superficial and fake about human emotion—why can’t a game developer gift us the opposite: a real, tangible, emotionally affecting love-narrative that can prove the maturity of videogame storytelling.

 

By Jordan Watson

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