Romance Stigma in Video Games?

Romance is a huge draw for me, and it’s one of the many reasons I enjoy both CoG/HG and a bunch of other video games.

However, over the years, I’ve noticed that opinions regarding video game romances are… polarized to say the least. For every question I’ve seen hopefully asking, “Does this game have romance in it,” I’ve seen vehement responses ranging from, “God, I hope not” to “Development time/resources are better spent elsewhere” to actual pleading that a game not include it.

I used to theorize that players were just opposed to superficial relationships and that “BioWare style romances” soured the idea of optional romances for a lot of people.

But I’m starting to think that it goes beyond that because it still doesn’t explain the… sheer vitriol behind the opposition. I’d go as far as saying that it seems like some players are under the impression that a game is poorer for including optional romances, which doesn’t make sense to me since romance is a huge draw in other mediums like books, movies and television.

Is it just me, or does it seem like there’s an actual stigma when it comes to romance and video games?

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I’ll take a guess here.

I don’t think that its a specific hatred towards romance, though there are those types of people out there, I think its just people who don’t care about narrative in games.

There are a lot of people who go to a game strictly for the game play and don’t care about the characters or story. I know people personally who skip over lore and character dialogue, because they only care about fighting mobs.

I hesitate to correlate the stigma against romance because of the higher male player base, but maybe you could somehow link it to that.

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I think it’s partly just because that question is always asked. And I guess to some extent, it’s like asking “does this game have choices?”. So whenever a new game is announced and the first comment is “Does this have romance?”, people tend to do a collective eye-roll.

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I suppose when it comes to COG games specifically there’s something of an expectation with romance as it’s likely considered to be a straight forward means of player choice by allowing them to romance a character. The problem lies in how essential romance is to the nature of the game and whether it holds hostage the wider game experience or not. I have previously stated that in theory with COG and Hosted Games vs Hearts Choice the focus should ideally be ‘…and romance’ for the former and ‘romance and…’ for the latter. Ultimately the game designer should make the choice, though these days they likely worry that not including umpteen romances in their otherwise completely different game might affect sales… :thinking:🤷

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No there isn’t a stigma against romance in videos games. The fact is nine times out of ten romance doesn’t make sense, especially in AAA games. For example Skyrim one the most beloved games worldwide has the option for romance but its so lacking that if its removed the game doesn’t lose anything. The fact is outside of VNs and IFs not many games can do an interactive romance correctly, they mainly just stick someone there to raise the stakes in the story and you have little to no interaction with them (Witcher 3 I am looking at you). This tends to be worse when the MC is female as well, also you have to understand that if you’re making a game with romance everyone will want a character that appeals to them. Straight males will want good female ROs, vise versa for straight females and then you have non binary and homosexuals who might want a character they can romance as well. The fact is no company is going to pour that much resource into a side of the game that majority of their fanbase don’t care about. So its less about a stigma and more about how difficult it is to get right, that said I am sure there is some good games with an element of romance out there. Mass effect is one I think, but I suggest using VNs and IFs for romance intake when it comes to games and even then some of those miss the mark.

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I think this is a demographical issue
Historically,video games have been the purview of pre-pubescent to pubescent males and this group tends to view romance as icky.
Even now
with video games having reached much more varied audiences,this group is still dominant so the romace stigma stays.
But also I must add that romance in video games is usually not that important,in fact they don’t make any impact on the storyline or lines at all in most cases I’ve seen outside of IF so yeah

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The opposite situation is also an issue now though - studios who would like to include romance (for better or worse) in non romance games feel discouraged from doing so as it’s arguably seen as ‘titillating’ for straight males or ‘woke’ for everyone else.

I think Fallout 4 had a nice romance system - a good range of characters and options for all but not essential to the players enjoyment (unless they want a specific bonus). And there’s some video game universes I wouldn’t be against them doing a visual novel romance game for. Didn’t Fallen London have one? (Though I think it was specifically F/M)

I would argue that a lot of it has it’s roots in (un)conscious sexism.

There’s a deeply ingrained bias in society, where everything favored by girls/women is considered silly and frivolous, and not something boys could enjoy.
It is getting better, but it’s still quite prevalent many places.

Then there’s the fairly toxic part of gamer culture, where the only part of gaming you are allowed to like, is difficult gameplay. Preferring any other parts over that is looked down on, and if you can’t handle (or just don’t enjoy) difficult gameplay, that just means that you aren’t a real gamer. It usually comes with a heavy dose of ‘git gud’ mentality.
This segment also tend to be a very loud minority, in the fandoms they complain about.

And lastly, yes, romance is often badly implemented in media that isn’t specifically focused on it, probably because it isn’t taken serious. This then gives cheap fuel to the anti-romance crowds.

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In my experience, there isn’t really a stigma against romance in CoG/HG games. In fact, I think it’s the opposite, where people expect the game to have romance and are disappointed when it doesn’t. Most of the big WiPs on the forum are usually dominated by conversations about which RO is the best and why people love such and such RO (there are, of course, exceptions, such as Lords of Infinity, which is dominated by conversation about pretty much anything except romance).

If we’re talking about the broader gaming community, then I think it’s because romance often feels tacked on in most games. Like yeah, you could romance a character, and you’ll get some scenes with them that you wouldn’t otherwise, but beyond that your interactions with that character largely remain the same.

This is probably because it’d just take too much time and money to make a proper triple A game where there’s variations in dialogue and animations in every conversation based on whether or not a character has been romanced. You have to budget for animations, voice acting, and probably a slew of other things. That probably leads to romances in these kinds of games being treated as more of a second thought than anything. I’m assuming that players aren’t really fans of how romance in games is handled because of that.

As for why this leads to people saying “I hope this game doesn’t have romance in it”, well I’m assuming it’s because a lot of people have the mentality of “if I don’t like this specific thing (romance in video games), then no one should like it and it shouldn’t exist in media that I do like (video games)”.

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I wish it was featured a lot less in general media. But in games, as long as it’s optional and friendships are possible instead, I don’t mind.

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This. I’ve made it quite known how much I enjoy romance in games, especially these ones, but one thing I feel is always overlooked is friendships.

A lot of games, I’d say most, actually, feel like you simply have your partner, in-game, who you have the most choices and interactions with, and then just the rest of the cast. Who you have little to no options to spend meaningful time with. If you have friends in-game, you have to either headcanon literally all of that, or you can only have limited banter with them. You don’t get anywhere near the same amount of options. Or choices to actually define those other relationships openly, at least.

So, in conclusion, I’m of the opinion that we have plenty of romance, which hopefully continues, but never enough friendships.

And this might be where part of that stigma that I’ve seen, too, comes from. People feel like, if it’s not included right, they could be locked into a relationship on a scale they didn’t intend, which I still see happen in games to this day.

We need more nuanced romance.

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I wouldnt hesitate to say that there is a stigma as romance is a thing that is considered ‘girly’ and cis straight males are the loudest demograph when it comes to AA “mainstream” games. And even if the game does contain romance, god forbid one of the female romance options has short hair and don’t all look like Miranda Lawson, the things I read before Andromeda releasing.

Baldurs Gate 3 seems to be getting it right at least.

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Yes, oh, yes. The game above all anywhere that I’m looking forward to most, and that is one reason. You should see me on Twitter. I’m gayer for Gale than anyone in the fandom, it seems. That man is what I look for in men personified.

Intelligence, class, looks, and above all, not a dash of toxic masculinity.

A real man.

Shadowheart has also stolen my heart.

Man, that game is gonna be fun. Especially for bisexual characters. Here’s to hoping we can have a little poly. Astarion is dreamy, as well.

Sorry, off-topic. :joy:

To tie it in, that is one type of stigma I have seen most. Romance is “gay” or for sexually deprived people.

And I also agree that straight males are the loudest, both for obvious reasons and for believing that straight in-game relationships deserve the most attention.

Larian seems to have completely sidestepped that so far, fortunately. I firmly believe in that team. Also because Sven is so wholesome.

Praise Sven The Pure.

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This is almost certainly why Garrus has always been regarded so highly within Mass Effect, because he’s as engaging a friend and companion as he is as an eventful romance option for a female Shepherd, and likely because we get the time to know him as just a friend in the first game. Same goes for Tali. Friendships are something that interactive games should work on far more in my opinion.

Also I think straight males like myself can enjoy romance in regular games, it’s perhaps more the stigma that we tie the term traditionally more to a female audience unless we make it blatantly porn… and whist I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with consensual sexual fantasy for any gender, I think romance can work for anyone. I have found some very well done M/F stuff on COG over the years, even if it’s not really in ‘romance’ games.

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This is very off-topic and I understand what you meant, but toxic masculinity is built on men trying to be society’s idea of “real men”. All men are real men, just like all women are real women.

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A lot of the vitriol seems to come from a particular demographic in gaming, everyone knows which one. But more or less regurgitating what others have said, I think a lot of the hate is often directed towards exactly who you can romance? Games that are LGBTQ+ friendly often get a lot of flak for some imagined “agenda” while games with romances where the character is male and the characters the player can romance are all female often get a pass. Don’t even think about including a Trans character in your game! Even as a background character, lest you have cries of “Propaganda!” :roll_eyes:
The entitled mindset of some “gamers” that the games they play belong to them, nobody else is allowed into this group is maddening. Anytime they see something they dislike they scream bloody murder online about how their games have been ruined.

There are some legitimate concerns obviously, where a romance can be poorly done or feel like an afterthought, there aren’t too many games out there that have an incredibly apparent amount of love and care devoted to romance in games. But with a good amount of titles the effort is there, and that counts for something right? Hopefully companies get better with practice. At least that’s what I hope, I love to see character driven narratives in games and the hate they can get astonishes me.

Sorry, probably went off topic with this post. Didn’t mean to rant. :pensive:

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9/10 of all my posts should be read in a dry, mostly sarcastic tone. It’s hard to convey on the internet, because I hate overusing emojis. But that was a humorous, exaggerated statement. I appreciate your positive message, though. We do not disagree. I apologize if anyone misread my intent with that.

Anywho, back on topic.

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No, both of those are completely relevant issues.

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we all know that lesbian ROs and romances in games are also only there mostly for the cis straight men who like to play with female avatars and thats while they get to be major characters with quests that are part of the main plot while ROs for MLM romances get hidden and have hardly any content ( cough Cyberpunk cough)

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Ahh, love interests in video games. Every time I come across an interesting character I always wish that developers somehow heard my prayers and granted me a romance.

RIP to Valentine. My boy was unfairly shunned because he was a synth 🥲

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