Here I’m again, in a hopeless endeavor to search for a satisfactory answer (that I won’t be able to find) by questioning the very own nature of the games I consume, relentlessly hoping to be enlightened by opening a discussion only to find that these very same hopes are being crushed down by the fact that the mechanics in which a game operates are not compatible with my desire of a deeper meaning. I don’t learn from my past mistakes.
That paragraph you just read is my pretentious way of saying that this is not the first time I’ve opened a thread like this. I personally cringe when I read my old posts, seeing how I detect a problem, I express my opinions about it in a way that I eventually find clumsy and inarticulate, I read the opinions of other people, I conclude that games have their own limitations and I’m just making a big deal out of nothing, I feel embarrassed of opening the thread in the first place and I leave with a feeling of reassignment, probably because I wasn’t sure what I’m trying to find when I start discussions like this. And I’m about to do it again.
Nor is it the first time I talk about this issue in particular, let’s talk about the subject of LOOOOOOVE… I opened a thread some time ago about the portrayal of romance in COG (don’t read it, it’s old and not good). I was a little hesitant to make a thread like this again, but I feel that my opinions have developed since then, I’ve gained a better insight after listening to other people, and that the main point of this thread is different enough, as I’m going to address the subject in a more meta level. Also this is a prevalent problem in most games and not something exclusive in COG games.
In videogames, love is a reward, feels like work. You interact with a character, give gifts, and say what they want you to say in order to fu… I mean, end up with them. This is an immature way of treating love, deprived of the complexity and emotion that form part of its very own nature, a selfish viewpoint that puts the main character as subject and the love interest as object.
Am I expecting too much from this media? Isn’t it unavoidable when the idea of translating something that operates in emotions and works in many dimensions into a measurable and quantifiable concept? Is this something that will always be constrained by the limitations and mechanics that form the nature of the media in question? Maybe… yet it doesn’t seem like games are unable to explore other kinds of love and emotional experiences in deep level, or even integrate them in their own mechanics. I’m talking about fraternal love, familiar, even philanthropic, the burden of being a hero, of dealing with the consequences of your actions, the way you connect and interact with the world around you as a personal experience… but romantic love, no… not yet.
Treating love as a reward or a quest, the idea of win and earn a romantic relationship is quite noxious itself. Even when you are able to create a complex character, with depth, layers, and able to communicate feelings and emotional complexity, the mechanic in which romance operates is based on doing the right decision, and if you aren’t able: repeat and choose differently. It kind of reminds me to the movie Groundhog Day: repeat the same interactions again and again, trying to manipulate the object of your desire until it falls in love with you, not understanding that love isn’t something you can manipulate or achieve in this way.
It also reminds me of the way that some teenagers think about relationships, often as something achievable, a test to pass, a test that you can “fail” and if you lose you end up in the “friendzone”; another reductive concept that tries to transform something complex into something simple and easy to understand.
Even if love is well represented, is often from a one side perspective. It only exists through the eyes of the main character, and the other, half of the relationship doesn’t really exist. And love is something of two (or more) people. Often this selfish vision of romance also limits your options and your perspective, you have options to choose, and you will choose the one that suits you better in a superficial way, the one that fits better in a model of your ideal love. In real life, I found myself liking people that I wouldn’t think I could like… because they didn’t fit the idea of love that I fabricated for myself… but the through is that relationships don’t take a form in order to suit your needs or your desires; they are subject to change, undefined, and able to surprise you when take occur outside the expectative you have created.
Best case scenario: love is a part of the story, a subplot in which the game has little effect, but this still feels incomplete, as it’s something separated from the very own mechanics of the game, and something that feels added, put aside from the main focus and not designed for the medium. However, those are technical issues and maybe we will eventually find a way to integrate love in a mechanic that feels more natural… that is not my main concern about love though, because I think that the biggest problem runs at is core in a conceptual way, the entire way in which love has been conceived and included in games is built around the idea of “desire”.
A lot of people experience this at some point; you like a person and desire to be with that person, obtain this love start a relationship. But often, they don’t know what to do with a relationship once it’s obtained, how a relationship works and how it becomes something of more than one. How many games treat obtaining this romance as the final goal? How many don’t dare to explore beyond that, what is it like to be in a relationship?
It is often said that romantic movies and books have unhealthy and harmful depictions of love, that make people have unrealistic ideas of how a relationship should work. But, aren’t games far worse? With an increasing concern about how technology and media affects our worldview, shouldn’t we be more aware of this? More invested in trying to find a better way of represent this? Maybe there is a need to convince the industry and the audience that love is something that has a place among games, and that it can move a lot of people, that there is room to explore.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to shame anyone for enjoying romance options, nor I will deny guilt on taking pleasure in romancing characters too. But the more I’ve been used to see it in games, the less satisfaction it provides, the less memorable I find the romances, and the more I yearn for something else that is able to portrait a human experience in a human way…
Do you think there is a solution? Do you have an opinion? Is there something, a game that treated love in a way that really connected with you beyond “love as a reward”? Share your thoughts below, and thanks for listening to the ramblings of an incoherent fool like me.