Hello there dear reader, before you read this article I ask of you one simple task, to ask yourself something relevant to this time of the year: Valentines Day. Do you consider yourself quite the Lothario? Capable of commanding the unified attraction of multiple people at once, with a silver tongue and striking looks to boot, and the ability to sway even the coldest heart with your wit and charm?… Me neither, but do not fret! Since their invention several decades ago, video games have attempted, and in some cases even succeeded, to emulate themes felt in our everyday life. It was only a matter of time before these individuals of unparalleled brilliance managed to inject our thirst for romance and love into our favourite form of entertainment. However, no journey is totally without it’s problems, and this one in particular has been fraught with bumps all throughout, whether that be ridiculous dialogue or truly bizarre ways of engaging in said romantic interactions. I will attempt to discern and explore the lengths that video games have gone to in order to create a truly genuine romantic experience.
Would I consider myself a fanatic of said experiences? Well, yes and no, since I do enjoy them as a supplement to an already well written and crafted story, especially if they are well paced themselves. As a genre in of itself, I can’t say I have ever been truly interested in romance in fiction. However, gaming has allowed for some very colourful mechanics and some truly bizarre creations in regards to romance. One that comes to mind is Catherine, a game where you play an average guy named Vincent who is in a long term relationship, but is approached by another more alluring woman one evening in a bar. In the day you simply speak to other characters and based on the decisions you make the narrative will change, but during the night you are forced into a puzzle/nightmare whereupon you must climb a series of platforms as an anthropomorphic sheep-man in plight of the falling platforms, or else you lose. Pretty simple right? In my line of dating I can’t say I’ve ever had to evade falling to my death via a collusion of incredibly difficult puzzles, and thank god because my upper body strength is shocking. The winding staircase does not end there either my friends, beholdHunie Pop, which appears to be your average dating simulator, but in fact this masquerade hides its true form as an extremely addictive Candy Crush clone! Haven’t you ever dreamt of seducing women with your talent to explode corresponding coloured hearts? Well, I’m sorry to say that your skills in ‘Sex Tetris’ wouldn’t translate well into reality, different strokes and all that I guess. “Come now!” I hear you yelp, “There must be some kind of dating simulator which can help me learn to interact with the opposite sex!” Never fear, through my travels in the world of PC marketplace Steam, I came upon another gem to tantalize your romantic desires. Hatoful Boyfriend is a dating simulator with a seemingly simple objective. You play as a high school student who simply wants to get through their classes and perhaps meet somebody special. The only snag is: everybody is a pigeon. You read that right, everyone in the whole world, bar you, is a bloody sentient pigeon. Don’t ask me how, but as for why… well, eventually every creative idea has to be conceptualised, doesn’t it? That said, I don’t see this working in real life either, unless you have a unique fascination with our feathered friends. In that case I highly suggest you go see a doctor. At least these games follow a familiar formula: whilst playing Undertale, I discovered you can ‘date’ both a narcissistic skeleton, a fish warrior and an otaku dinosaur scientist (and kill them but that’s beside the point). You’d think these far-fetched ideas of love would remain reserved to independent titles, but you’d be wrong.
As far as Nintendo goes with portraying romance, all we had was the vicious love triangle of Mario, Bowser and Peach, which showed us that all you need to get the princess is to be a plumber with an unhealthy obsession with mushrooms. That was until Fire Emblem: Awakening which introduced the feature of allowing players to become friends with, and even marry, characters within the game. Although, one of the characters expresses their love for the player based on your shared love for throwing rocks at snakes, who knew? This is not nearly as immediately odd as romance in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, where apparently I can go to a village I’ve never visited before, hand a woman some ring I’d looted off some poor dude’s body and proceed to get hitched. Or in Fallout 3 where you pay a prostitute for ‘sex’ and spend the next two minutes clipping through the bed. Let’s not forget the classic game The Sims, which proved that speaking gibberish to a neighbour, for at least seven hours, with no sleep, food or bathroom breaks is guaranteed to get you laid. In the case that they ever cross you, all you have to do is lure them into your conveniently placed swimming pool, remove the ladders and watch them drown, and who said video-games were sadistic? At least there was an attempt, and it’s not like romance is the focal point of these games either. Bioware, the company behind juggernauts like Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age, show us that video games do have the capability to construct an actual believable romance without all the weird game mechanics and abruptness. Lets take Knights of the Old Republic for example, where the first encounter of the protagonist and their love interest is fraught with peril, because of this they initially get off on the wrong foot. Thankfully, instead of an incredibly convoluted way of them becoming closer they… er… “Force Bond”?! Sod it- I’ve searched endlessly and I’m convinced that there has never been a genuine display of romance or love in video games.
I’m afraid that taking video games as the digital Kama Sutra or guide to dating is indeed a dangerous path, a restraining order is almost certainly on the cards, and in the unlikely event it does work you better brush up on that Konami Code to spice up your love life.