Love is a reward

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.


TL;DR this thread is about discussing the problems of representing love in games.


While I’m definitely an advocate for deeper and more complex romance mechanics, and absolutely one for ROs that feel more real and alive within the world, and someone who generally isn’t a fan of ROs that feel too blatantly “this is the Y-stat preferring romance; this is the X-stat preferring romance; etc” … I think I’m going to argue a little with this point.

I’m absolutely someone who has described romances in games as “insert nice coins until a kiss comes out” but I think parsing the issue down to “when playing a game, if you do the options the RO likes, then they like you,” and then speaking of that as a problem, is somewhat reductive. I mean for one, I’m absolutely more interested in that type of romance mechanic than say, Wayhaven Chronicles (which is not at all a bash on the series, which I enjoy thoroughly, and I agree with the author’s creative decisions around her work specifically–but it’s a handy counter-example) where you just–choose your love interest and they like you back. It works in that series for a number of reasons I won’t get in to here, but personally I vastly prefer romance options who do have preferences, who like MCs that exhibit certain traits (which often comes down to preferring certain stats, yes, since that’s how traits are tracked in these games). It makes it feel more natural to me to have an RO who is capable of rejecting an MC that isn’t to their taste, it makes the RO feel like more of an actual person.

And yes, that means in order to romance them, you have to make the “right” decisions–but, whether or not as a player that breaks immersion for you, I think diegetically it works very well. To us, picking from a list of choices, it might feel disingenuous–but the game doesn’t know that. Barring times where you can actually choose to lie to your RO–when you pick traits that the RO would like, that your MC has and acts on, that means that the character you’re crafting is now one that the RO would be more inclined to want to be with.

Yes, you can go back and replay and remake your character to get the right stats for a romance–but you can do that with any element of a CS game, it’s just the way it goes. And in the hands of a good author, it won’t just be numbers bumping into each other–there’ll be elements of characterization, plot, etc, surrounding the RO and the MC that can effect how they interact with each other, think about each other, how the player thinks about them–other facets that can influence how much the player is incentivized, or needs to be, in order to make those correct-for-the-romance choices.

There are some ineffable parts of an actual romance with a living breathing person that can’t necessarily be translated into CS, but honestly I think making a romance a bit more specific, making it so that the player has to take (or not take) certain options in order to make it work, I think that takes characters steps further into feeling more like actual people with actual agency, as opposed to just goalposts and achievements.


Just wanted to point out that this exact subject is broached in Creatures Such as We


I mentioned this in another thread, but this is what I had, and have, to say about it.


To be honest, if I could have a relationship, bonus points if it’s a romance option too, that mimicked the Warden’s relationship with Sten from DA:O that’d be pretty awesome.

One of the ways you can increase your relationship level with him is by questioning his beliefs or getting into debates with him about his perspective and I think that’d be a cool thing to recreate in a IF since that feels more realistic, in a sense where you’re character doesn’t have to become a ‘yes-man’ in order to earn relationship points.

DAII took this a step further and allowed Hawke to enter into a rivalry with characters which basically was “I don’t like you, but I respect you,” sort of thing, at least to my understanding (then again, I was only successful at developing a rivalry with Fenris so I’m biased/skewed).


Ah, the Creatures Such As We conundrum. It’s a difficult thing.

Simply put, characters are just lines of code. Theoretically, you could make a subroutine of some sort to randomize each character’s personality and way of responding to the player, in order to give some form of agency, but the system will always be gamed.

The best balance I’ve ever come up with - and have posted on the forum various times, when similar topics have come up, over the years - is to allow the characters to have sexualities, to have preferences in physical appearance and personality traits. Sure, it’ll make the options kind of just feel gated, to the player, but at least the character has some form of agency.


well my turn to ramble in an incoherent way though…

romances and relationship in games is a recent thing . I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to other medium that have been at it for ages . Heck , I consider romances in game still in the larva stage . They have alot and lot of ground and growing up to do before I consider them anywhere near ‘‘Seem normal like the real thing’’ . They are often treated as ‘Fluff’’ , ‘‘optional’’ and a side dishes .

but what is a good representation ? that’s the real question . Are we talking about the lulle that happen in relationship ? the up and down of it ? the day to day things?

I agree with this .

It brough to mind something I saw a long time ago , related to Star Trek . There was a scene of 2 Trills females kissing . And back then…that was a big no no . Anyway, I remember…(cant find the website now, cose this happen a long time ago), those behind the scene got calls about the ‘Filth’ shown in that episode . one of the caller said I remember ‘‘Couldn’t you get them to kill each others instead of that ?!’’ and the guy said ‘‘So let me get this right , you rather see two womens kill each others then kiss each others ? if something is wrong here…it’s with you!’’ and he hang up .

Now this nice little story isn’t about gay or whatever . But about the idea that ‘Love’ doesn’t sell on screen where Killing , shooting…does better .

And I think that’s the root of the problem . Love only sell if its sexual in nature , love sell only if its slutty and there is a whore house included in the package .

in a general world wide kinda of thing ? no . In a small tiny way ? write your ideal relationship…and make it a game for everyone to play. And be the 1st step toward the new…:stuck_out_tongue:


I think one of the pitfalls that folks can fall into, both players and writers (of all types of games, Bioware is particularly guilty of this), is the idea that romance in a game should have a win state or goal posts. We put a lot of emphasis on the build up and the chase, but realistic portrayals of a relationship shouldn’t end after a couple kiss or have sex, in real life things are just starting to get good at those stages. A good romance plot should have its own narrative arc, but the peak of a romance isn’t the first kiss, or at least I hope it isn’t. I don’t want to win the romance, I want to live in this relationship, that’s the fun part.


I hate to be this person, but that’s actually false. For as long as story-driven games have been around, romance has been an aspect. Aside from dating sims, it wasn’t really a priority until around the early 2000s, though.

I’m totally guilty of this. I don’t really do long term relationships (my longest one, to a boy I almost married, was 50 weeks). The beginning parts of a relationship - the will-they-won’t-they, the flirting, the guessing - is very exciting. That said, I’m starting to reach the age where that isn’t as exciting to me. The drama surrounding it just tires me out.

I’m totally starting to see the appeal of reading “domestic bliss” kinds of storylines, and I agree that it would be nice to see that portrayed more (outside of Voltage’s horrifically overpriced sequel stories).

I think a lot of the “chase” mentality surrounding romance in games comes from the fact that, subconsciously, we all like YA fiction the best. There’s so much going on, mentally, in that 16-20 age group: discovering yourself, discovering romance, learning what life is really like, outside of the cocoon of youth…It’s the perfect age group to put most interactive stories in. Romance is incredibly immature at that age.

Gaming has only just reached the point where older characters are often the mains. Shepard was in their 30s. The Inquisitor is implied to be late 20s. The Witcher is like 5000 or something, right (never played the series, due to how disgusted I was by the first game)?

The romance subplots just haven’t caught up to that, yet.


That’s a really good point, I will say that I’m in a stage of my life where I’m more interested in the soft mushy bits than I am the heightened drama of the build-up to the relationship proper. But a good subplot should fit in with the overall story, so the romance can borrow some of that external drama as well.


Wow! :astonished: Mine was almost 2 years, which is something of a magical barrier in the Dutch gay community that I indeed have only once come close to breaching. Generally, long term relationships seem to have eluded me too, for one reason or another. Sometimes it was even me doing the breaking up.

That said I would love for more stories to explore the relationship between the mc and the ro when they are “officially” a couple after the first couple of dates and well into the further romantic and sexual relationship. While most games cover too short of an in-game chronological period for this we do have some series that might be able to explore the post-dating relationship in more depth and detail.

Agreed. Along with other stages in most mc’s lives than just teens and early 20’s. Much as I do love me some good, vicarious, teenage angst and drama.

Indeed, that’s why it is the low-hanging fruit and easy pickings for many, if not most, romance writers to cut their teeth on. But, again, while I am guilty of liking a great many of those games and stories, as long as it is about two teenage guys, I am also interested in stories that either look or eventually move beyond those low-hanging “easy pickings”.

When it comes to supernatural/immortal characters who either age very slowly or have eternal youth they most often tend to behave and be taken for early to late twenties, depending on the specific case.

The protag of the Hong Kong Blood Opera wip is early to mid-thirties, I think. In my case a very cute early thirties mixed-race kid.


Fun fact: Even Geralt is broke between Triss or Yennefer.

To the topic, here’s some thought for food for writers/designers, especially those who dabble in CScript.

Perhaps it’s time to consider to not treat romance/relationship bar as an opposite value.
Rival vs. Lover
Friend vs. Foe
Like vs. Hate

Track them both!

A rather lengthy part

Rival: X
Lover: Y

Approve: X
Disapprove: Y

Like: X
Dislike: Y

And when it comes to a scene where the relationship status needs to be checked, you can check both stats, so

*if disapprove >= Y
   I don't agree with them.
*elseif approve >= X
   I'm with them.
*elseif (approve >= X) and (disapprove >= Y)
   They're a bitch, but I have to agree with them this time.

Love? What is this thing you call Love? Is it self-love, love of others or agape love?

As horrible as it sounds, I just get bored of people. Out of all my dating situations (of which there were an embarrassing amount, until I stepped back from it. I’ve gone on one date in the last 3 years…like I think I’ve dated 13 or 14 people), I’ve only been “dumped” 3 times, and only 1 of them wasn’t mutual.

I agree. I want to see the relationship play out, beginning to middle. I don’t like it ending early or, worse, being thrust upon me (EG: x character is your spouse, and you have no say).

Yeah, I’m getting to the age where it’s difficult to relate to teen angst on more than just a superficial level. Some of the more realistic depictions of the teenage experience are completely alien to me. Seeing a character in the mid-20s to mid-30s, experiencing love in a more mature manner, would be gr8.

It’d be nice to see more games like that. But I understand why the teens and early 20s are preferred. People roughly 15-21 act very similarly, and we all at least vaguely remember being that age, if we’re older, but it’s hard to empathize with something you’ve never experienced. Having an older MC potentially alienates a primary source of audience.

All this being said, I still stand by the fact that I think characters should have some form of agency. I said this on the “player-sexual” threads way back in the day, too. By having at least some form of gating the romance, it feels slightly less…icky to me, I guess.


I see your point, though I wouldn’t know if that is something positive. I understand that there is not going to be a perfect way of translating a human emotional and complex experience into a code, and therefore most attempts of getting a relationship will be inherently flawed. It’s understandable to want to reach for what seems like the more naturalistic approach, which may be similar to what you just described.

However, I think that my main concern is not so much whether or not the mechanics are able to create a natural way of getting a relationship, but instead that the mechanics themselves are built around the idea of getting a relationship as an ultimate goal, hence the title: Love is a reward.

I think that @SirEdmund hit the nail on the head when she said:

And as much as the other option where you choose a RO and they like you back might not be preferable, I can see that the potential it might have to explore the romance beyond the idea of getting the relationship.

I think that some of the romances I remember most fondly in a CoG, might be a the ones from A Styudy in Steampunk, I know some people have mixed feelings about this game for different reasons, but I think that one of the main strenghts of that game was the relationships between the characters and how the more interesting parts of the romance are arguably those that take place long after the relationship is initiated. I especially like how there were instances where you could argue and disagree with your love interest, yet not be pending of how that causes a relationship stat to increase or decrease.

I think that romance still has a lot of room to be explored in games I hope we can center our attention in more facets of a relationship, especially now that love starts to take a place in the medium.

Also a gentle reminder that:

I hope this has not come as a criticism to the CoG games, since I don’t consider them to be the worst example of this problem by any means. Also, I realize that is easy to read my original post as overly cynical due to the way I describe the aspects of romance that I found somewhat problematic and unsatisfactory, but I do recognize the positive aspects of the way they are presented as a major part of their popularity and appeal.


It doesn’t matter how complex somebody make a romance system. The nature of games and interactive stories is that that there will always be a system and thus something for people to game. And some people will always game it. There is no solution to this.

Honestly I prefer a relatively open approach to the romance in games. It often allow for broader roleplaying. (With maybe one or two major breaking point if you go against something that is the core of the RO.). Also love is only a reward if you play it like that. That is one hundred procent on the player. There is only few games where the MC and the RO are aware of the fact that the MC have other choices or other potential personalities. In game from both (or more) point of view once the MC picks a choice it is a reflection on who they are.

That said. I do wish for more relationship stuff past the getting together. Which is why I almost never go for the ‘slow burn’ RO personally. (Unless it’s a series and part 2 is out.)

In real life I loathe the uncertainty of the infatuated pre-relationship phase and that uncertainty almost always make me withdraw from someone untill my infatuation passes. (Being deeply in love has ruined two friendship for me, so I prefer quell the emotion.) I like that I don’t have to worry about that part in games and generally when it comes to COG, Hosted and other RPG, interactive stories I always try to get as spoiled as possible beforehand so I know which option I have. This include it for the RO’s.

So, yeah, I game the system, but it has much less to do with actually winning and more getting the story, I wish to be told. And for me a good story contains a little romance. It always has and it always will. The exceptions (and I do have exceptions) are few and far between and those exception are rarely the stories I go for in games and interactive fiction, because those kind of stories can rarely be told well in this medium.


Games are Games. Not real life. People plays them to Fantasize and have fun. Even if is true we should demand and following a depiction of healthy and variety of orientations and personalities in base of equality … It is a game. I want have fun. I want that my character even if it is deep and complicated have an option and adventures and achieve something. I don’t want be bored with the stuff neeeded in real life Same I don’t want have to pee or be in a time real rush hour two hours. I don’t want play FIFTY hours to find my npc husband has cheat on me because I was slaying dragons lol. Fantasy is not reality


There is an increasing interest in games that dare to explore different subjects, and a lot of people who are fond of them think that they should be considered an art form, a medium that is capable to express and communicate different messages and feelings. Yet, when discussions like this arise, trying to analyze and demand attention to problems we might be able to find a common position is “they’re just games, and they are meant to be fun”.

I don’t want to be over reductive and unfair with your post, since I can see where you are coming from, but I trust from your past comments that you are insightful enough to understand why this might be an issue of concern for many.

The reality is that, whether we like to take part on it or not, romance is becoming more prevalent in games, and the issues that arise from the fact should not be dismissed. You are able to play games that are not concern with this and just have fun, of course, but there is still room for exploring and discussing these aspects.


Another thing is that in a lot of games, we are basically mass murderers. The fact that the NPCs often are the aggressors doesn’t excuse this for me. Thus my PC often end up as some kind of somewhat moral myopic or amoral. Thus I also prefer my romances in most of these to have a bit of an dark edge to them, to be a bit twisted. If they are not I would feel like the relationship is uneven or that one of the partners is completely deluded.

Also games might be an art form, but saying stuff like they are only serious art form if they adress ‘difficult’ topics are elitist.

I for my part is tired of the fact that I should be ashamed that I like romances. But I do. I like them in book, I like them in games and I like them in movies and I am glad that they are becoming more prevelant in games, because in the other two art forms they are on their way out.

I also don’t think there is anything wrong with how they are written. They are after all written very differrently both mechanically and textually from game to game here and that is fine. The fact of the matter is than when romance and/or characters aren’t the main focus (such as in Wayhaven) there is just not as much room to make them flexible and drawn out. Different authors solve this differently and that is fine.

Also we are not going to ever come to some kind of agreement about what is the problem. Because people like different things.

A devout roleplayer might prefer that the RO’s are as flexible as possible so as to give as much room for different kind of roleplay as possible. Somebody like me prefer to explore the relationship part and not the build up part. Another really like a good slow burn. Some prefer genderlock, others hate it. Those all have to be written differently, and we are never going to agree.

As a matter of fact the only romance I felt worked in Study of Steampunk was Finch. The other two didn’t work for me at all. But some liked them.

Now I do feel like a lot of official COGS have both a character and a pacing problem which can bleed into the romances, but that is a much more complex issue which is beyond the scope of this thread.

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It’s not that games are an art for only if they address difficult topics; but rather that if games are an art form, they should be able to adress difficult topics.

I know that people is usually capable to discern real life from entertainment, and that the behaviour that takes place in a game doesn’t need to have tangible consequences in a person’s life. We don’t discuss about these subjects because we want to shame others for liking the things they like, although it can often feel that way, but because we understand that fiction is both an influence and a reflection of the world that creates it. What does it says about us? and How can we make it better?