From swords and staffs, slaying dragons, riding magical beasts, and cooking and crafting, video games provide something new and exciting, letting us live our greatest fantasies in the expanse of a developer’s world. However, despite how meticulously crafted and varied these worlds are (sometimes with mechanics based around urinating, wearing warmer clothes in cold areas or even the need to purify dirty water before drinking) one aspect always has audiences invested. It has proven to be a respectable game mechanic in itself: romance.
Games like the real-life simulator The Sims have allowed you to live your greatest mundane fantasies, like meeting someone in the morning, having them married to you by midday, and pregnant by noon. The Mass Effect series saw us go on galactic adventures and battle aliens while having the freedom to form relationships with a variety of characters and races that we saw fit. Fire Emblem Awakening has us play match-mater as the newly formed marriages led to an inevitably of children, influencing the second half of the game as their offsprings became playable characters. Even the reward for completing every task in a Harvest Moon game is the chance to form a relationship with the superior Harvest Goddess. All of these are just a few exemplary examples of romance in games, but the inclusion of this mechanic and the success of them helps to highlight how players love a good romance option.
One reason is it tends to lend itself to be a more thoughtful gaming experience, pushing developers to think about the writing of their characters and ensuring they seem as real as possible. It streamlines the experience to be as organic as possible and provides a facet for expressing a romanticised part of ourselves we may lack in the real world. In the worlds where you can create yourself as uniquely gorgeous or hideous before romanticising the most stunning in-game character, it allows you to live the fantasy where physical appearance matters little. In a game, we find ourselves free from judgment, having in-game confidence that we can explore as freely as we want. The gaming world can lack superficiality even when it parades an array of beautiful characters because it’s the gamer’s choice whether they engage romantically or not, and it’s their choice in what they look like. It’s important because in these games you don’t just play the character, you become the character – this form of investment translating into how we feel about other figures within the worlds we enter.
Through gaming, we follow a character’s journey and along the way you become captivated, and it’s only fitting we get to play our journey however we see fit, romanticising whoever we feel oddly connected to, despite whether they’re “real” or not. We fall in love with characters of books, films, shows etc., and so it’s only fitting we do this in games as well. There should be no double-standard that says we cannot because… we can. They are just as real as any other fictional character and their supposed sense of will (if it’s a game governed by player choices) is something that has us undeniably drawn to them.
Despite what people may say, there’s a lot more to gaming than just fun. Incorporated in every release is a story weaved together by the masses. It’s the only medium where the audience can influence what happens, and so it is the only experience where we feel like we are truly in control. Behind every character is an entourage of dialogue and choices, actions and reactions; and the moment we finally get to decide and explore some romance in the game is when a game feels most freeing and expansive. For once, it’s the player who gets to fall in love and not some detached body within a piece of text or a captured image that flaunts across our screen.
If you think about it, playing a game is the closest thing to real-world romance we can get!