Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Use of Romance in Video Games

*This article contains slight spoilers*

The use of Romance in Video Games.  Everyone knows that this is indeed a special week because for one reason and one reason only: it is the theatrical release of Die Hard 5: a Good Day to Die Hard.  There may be another occasion that is quite irrelevant, and hardly even matters for those who are in a relationship: Valentine’s Day.

Wait a minute...  That's not Peach!
Romance and relationships is a huge aspect of human life, it has barely anything to do with bare reproduction, but now it means the connection of two people in a special bonding partnership, not mattering race, religion, or even gender (age matters don’t even try to say it does not).  Some famous video games, both from the present and from the past, use romantic elements to drive layers into a plot for a story telling aspect and to drive help motivations. This can derive from the most basic of games, such as Super Mario, whereas the hero (Mario) must save the damsel in distress (Princess Toadstool) from an ominous danger (usually Bowser).  This really only gives an explanation as to the motivation of the game, and makes the player feel encouraged that they are heroically saving a lady from a giant gorilla or a dragon-turtle monster. In the classic Super Mario Bros example, we do not actually know the details. Is Mario in a relationship with Princess Toadstool?  Are they merely in love, or is it a one way relationship in which he is only in love with her?  Perhaps the rescuing has nothing to do with passionate motivation, and perhaps Mario is just rescuing the Princess because he is a good person.  The romantic drive had lots to improve, and in some famous games it was a very big part of the game.

Another example of a very famous game with a good passionate drive is Silent Hill 2. This is considered by many to be the best release in the series, for it has the plot with the most meaning behind it. The main character, James, has come to Silent Hill to find his wife, Mary, who wrote him a letter to meet her there. A very strange thing to happen considering she had died due to an illness a while back.  One way or another, Silent Hill found a way to attract her to it, as it has with many others.  The entire game James is so determined to find his wife that it really can get to the player.  The game also tends to use a lot of irony as the town often presents deadly foes that are disguised as comforting beautiful women that throw themselves at him, simply teasing him because he wants to find his beautiful woman.  This not only taunts him, but also shows us that he is just that much more true to his love for his wife.  The game uses the romantic drive as a huge story element, and it really helps the player get into the mind of James.

Love is in the air.
The Zelda series is also a good example of a game that consistently uses romantic elements to help players get engrossed in the plot.  In practically every single game Link finds himself romantically involved with some woman.  He's even had a inter-species relationship or two.  Link has even had multiple romantic relationships going on at once, referring to Ocarina of Time when Link had continuous amounts of women fall in love, or flirt with him.  Malon has a bit of a crush that is slightly evident, as well as Princess Ruto being his loving "FiancĂ©" who is completely head over heels for Link, despite being of a different species.  Even the sage of spirit flirts with adult Link, despite having first met him as a nine year old boy!  These romances do not really contribute to the story, simply adding some comedy elements to the story, while the only romance that really matters is with Saria, which gives Link’s character more depth about his past and relationships, and Zelda. The first Zelda attempt at romance was in Zelda II, in which the end of the game showed Link and Zelda in an awkward kissing position. Some Zelda games did miss in terms of making romantic drive relevant, a good example being Twilight Princess in which Link has a relationship with Ilia, and for the first half of the game you can really see that Link cares about her.  His primary drive to do heroic actions had nothing to do with saving Hyrule or saving people, it was primarily so that he could find and rescue Ilia.   She was talked about all the time and gave the player a good goal, however after a certain point (Lakebed temple) Ilia is forgotten about, and not even mentioned again for a very long time.  She does not appear or matter to the story until much later in the game, at which point the player forgets how much she mattered and no longer really cares for her and Link’s special moment.

A perfect example of romance done right was in Skyward Sword.  Link first lives an ordinary life in which him and Zelda are very close.  At the literal moment when she has something “important” to tell Link about “them” she is captured by Giraham.  Link spends the entirety of the game pursuing her, and once he finds her so much has occurred that neither of the two are the same.  Link has become a great hero, while Zelda has discovered her true self in her time away.  While they have changed so much, and when it appears that Link may not see Zelda again, she tells him that she is still his Zelda from home, and wishes that she could have stayed with him forever in Skyloft.  That moment gave me volcanic goose bumps!  At the end of the game all is resolved and Link and Zelda live their life together in the surface world.  The player is so relieved to have a happy ending.
Redefining "sexy"

Another important subject to cover is talking about romances when the protagonist is a woman, which can be a little awkward.  Pretty much the first female protagonist in video gaming was Samus Aran from the Metroid series, who is revealed to be a woman in tights at the end of the game.  I am not sure about Nintendo’s goal of doing that, perhaps they wanted kids to like Samus more by making them have a “crush” on her, why else would they make a Nintendo character so attractive?  Or perhaps they just wanted to make the statement that women can have just as big a role as men when it comes to video games?  It's hard to pinpoint just exactly what their thought process was.  The same goes for Laura Croft from Tomb Raider, who also had a few romances, as Samus did in later games. If it is true that a player has feelings for the character, then would not their romance with another (virtual) man make them jealous?

And less us not forget romance in role-playing games.  The aim of many role playing games is to make the player feel like they are experiencing things in an ideal life, and in a virtual life there should naturally be a romantic aspect, as in real life. This is why in the Fable series marriage is a possibility, however in that game it is not really fulfilling. The wife (or husband) says the same things over again, and the only special thing is a blackened out screen with moans during sexual intercourse. An RPG series that does a great job with the romantic aspect is the Mass Effect series. General Shepherd has relationships with a number of women, and based on what happens in the game the player actually really learns to care about the romantic partner. This adds more interest and fulfillment into the gaming experience.

Unfortunately, even with all these positive attributes that romance can create, the most popular games among modern gaming do not even begin to have any amount of romantic drive, such as Call of DutyBattlefield, even Assassins Creed (for the most part) really touch on the idea of romance, which would give a story more layers and interest.  On the other hand, a good example of modern games that use romance is the Halo series.  It does the element well, because it is not the primary drive of the game, for it is a first person science fiction shooter.  However, the relationship between the Master Chief and Cortana makes the game so much more intriguing and rewarding in the end.   The series really puts the term “love is right no matter what gender, race, or religion” to a whole new level, for Cortana is not even a living thing.  In Halo 4 the story was very much based around making Cortana as human as possible, for she has the personality and emotion of a human being.  She even has the ability to age, just as lifeforms do.   To add to the romance, she and the Master Chief have some similarities, such as the fact that Master Chief not much of a human either, and at the end of the game the player truly sees how much Master Chief appreciated her; loved her, even.  That aspect of the game made it special, and really made it fulfilling.

This about sums up what Leisure Suit Larry is about
While it is important for a game to not be entirely based on romance, it should not get out of hand, and to the point of being maudlin, much like the Twilight series.  This series makes the romance so over-attempting to matter that those who are not in a menstrual cycle cannot even begin to make it through the story.  That being said, it is also not sufficient for video games to present the “physically passionate” side of romance to a morbidly abundant level, such as in the Leisure Suit Larry series. The entire game is literally based on Larry’s pursuit of having sexual intercourse with various women, and is self proclaimed a “romantic game”. Any woman would cringe within their first play through of the game, for it is very inappropriate and only appears to meet the sexual needs of desperate gamers.

Yes, romance is an interesting plot mechanic that many games use to help the person behind the controller really feel like they are the character they're playing.  Not all games take these attributes into account, and games like Call of Duty or Assassins Creed could really benefit from implementing them, and really giving us the emotions of the characters we play as.  That being said, there are also many games that use these attributes to their benefit, some, like Super Mario Bros, uses them in a very subtle way, while others like Silent Hill 2 and The Legend of Zelda use them to really bring out the best in their characters.

With all this being said, I hope you all have a happy Valentine's Day, and remember to take your romantic partner to go see Die Hard 5: a Good Day to Die Hard!


  1. What did you think of Die Hard 5?

  2. Sorry I had to delete my first comment it repeated twice. Die Hard 5 was a generic action movie, nothing more. Nothing compared to the amazing glory days of the old Die Hard movies. The original Die Hard was one of the best action films in history, and Die Hard 5 was a crippled shadow of that.

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