Romance Stigma in Video Games?

Generally, mainstream media containing romantic content is centered on straight, cis men. Games and markets that focus on romance specifically are centered on straight, cis women. LGBTQ+ people hunt for whatever scraps are available.

This means that although many people do disparage romantic novels as “girly” (and “girly” = bad), romance in AAA video games works quite differently. For one thing, most romantic novels have straight female protagonists, so Gamers™ seem to just avoid that content entirely. But in video games, sexualized, straight-male-centered romance is often well-received. I haven’t heard many complaints about games containing romance for straight women, so long as they also include the aforementioned straight male content. LGBTQ+ romance? Well. :expressionless:

Basically, I don’t think there’s a stigma against romance in general; I think there’s just a stigma against romance that isn’t sexualized and for straight men. Which isn’t surprising, given the demographic makeup of Gamers™.

Something else that fascinates me about Gamers™ is that being a “sweaty virgin who can only receive romantic/sexual affection through video games and treats women like unobtainable sex trophies” seems to be…a badge of honor. This mainly manifests itself as “a gamer having a girlfriend??? impossible! kicked out of the club!!” and “har har har we are men of culture for objectifying women.”

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Speaking as a straight male I can really say for the majority that it isn’t. In fact I am pretty sure that straight males find the stereotype gamer image of podgy sweaty virgin almost as insulting. Gamers are a pretty variable bunch, even among straight males.

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Oh, I’m definitely not talking about straight men or “men who play video games.” By Gamers™, I mean that niche of people who consider non-white, non-cishet, or non-male protagonists automatically political and tend to scream the loudest when it comes to video game discussions. Luckily, in real life, they’re pretty rare (as you said). But on the internet, where (in my opinion) the majority of video game discussion occurs? They pollute a lot of gaming spaces.

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So you’re more talking about the types that still consider Gamergate to be a thing? Yes those can be annoying, though thankfully if you’re smart about where you talk about games you can avoid the worst of them. :grin:

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I think that having romance is perfectly fine. It’s just a nice option to have in a game that is all about your choices, and you can choose to either partake in it or not. Its mentioned further up the thread, but I find the friendships and friends I make are more interesting than the romances.

For example in Baldurs gate 2, the romance arc with Jaheira is so naturally entwined with the story that it flows so naturally. I never even realized I was in a “romance arc” until checking up for some hints and tips online

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Now I’m thinking perhaps I shouldn’t bother getting it at all. Not that I ever had high hopes from the developers who made the “collect hot chicks to bang” game in their Witcher series. :unamused:

Yikes this really sounds like the bad old days of Bioware with Jade Empire where you have to turn down the girls multiple times in order to get the very clearly female preferring bi guy to settle for the male mc. Except that at least that was back in 2005 in the Bush presidency’s DOMA days.
I was rather hoping for a slightly more progressive take on things in 2021. :disappointed:

Unless I am mistaken Fallout 4 did too, though there is very little romance content but what there is isn’t exactly restricted by sex or orientation, which is at least positive.

Oh, dear the world is always too small if one of those super straight boys gets “hit on” by a virtual male character seems their masculinity is too fragile to survive that. :unamused:

Anyway just say no, once, maybe twice with really persistent characters but the way you have to constantly turn down the women in some games makes them look like deranged stalkers who can take neither a hint nor a blunt dismissal.

My expectations after Andromeda are below the freezing point when it comes to m/m stuff. Really like did the Andromeda writers just lazily compile all the bad gay stereotypes from cringe-worthy 1990’s era sitcoms, take the worst of that and lazily put it into some of the most badly implemented scenes and worst designed characters in the game and then expect a pat on the back for being “hip and edgy” or something?

As far as the stigma goes I think it is also largely a management and communication / corporate culture issue that is maybe not highlighted enough. As recently as Mass Effect 3 I used to think that things would mostly get better but apparently it was just the combination of lenient supportive management and an experienced team that seems to have included one or two gay people.

All the highly paid video game journalists and vloggers, if they focus on this issue at all, only seem to look at the macro scale and just blame “culture” or “toxic masculinity” or other easy generalisations while being neglectful of how much corporate culture may well be the single biggest impact right now. I mean Bioware itself used to be an example of a corporation that was at least willing to give people like Gaider a chance and (limited) support and how that really improved romance in general and gay content in particular.

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This has persisted through both Dragon Age: Origins and two of the Mass Effect games. In Dragon Age: Origins, there’s one character who will absolutely not leave you alone about sex (he doesn’t get serious about it unless you actively engage, though), and near the game’s climax, Morrigan outright demands that you have sex with her, even if you kicked her out of the party way back at the start of the game, and if you refuse enough times, she basically calls you a dumbass and storms off. Her default outfit also looks to be perpetually falling off, so that’s pretty telling, Bioware. Meanwhile, in Mass Effect, you can accidentally lock yourself into a romance by simply talking to your crrwmate because of how shaky the coding in the first game was, and in ME3, at any given time, I was having to shut down a new romantic advance by characters X, Y and Z.

You notice how I specifically brought up sex, there? That’s my big gripe about romance in games, is that it’s almost always strictly sex. There’s a bit of flirting, maybe some sugary sweet dialogue, and now it’s time to ruin some bedsheets!

Fun fact, I write as a personal hobby - “really, Zyri? You’re telling people you write for fun? On this website? You marauder, you!” - and one of my longest-running OCs is in a happy relationship with not one, but two girlfriends, but is mildly touch-averse due to frequently getting into fights and therefore is actively turned off by the idea of sex. Meanwhile, one of the two girlfriends is a very straight-lace, prim and proper kind of girl who feels uncomfortable with the idea of sex because she was raised to view it as an inappropriate thing, and the second girlfriend is incredibly shy about showing skin at all (not to mention she’s mute, and people have tried to take advantage of that in the past to force her into things that she couldn’t stand up and speak out against), and so the most touchy-feely the three of them get is kissing and hugging and sleeping in the same bed. And that’s fine with them, because they recognize that their relationship is a bit awkward with there being three of them in the first place, so they want to take it slow and cross as few boundaries as possible in order to make it work.

It’s one of my favorite relationship dynamics that I’ve ever tried to tackle, and not having to worry about the sex part of it means that I can put greater focus on the emotions - the part where the romance really should be. Sex is fine, whatever, you like what you like, but it always annoys the hell out of me when romance is treated as just flirting and sex. That’s what leads to so many guys (and gals!) online who think that demonstrating the absolute baseline of human decency should get them free sex, and cannot wrap their heads around why it doesn’t.

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I have not read every detail in this thread, so excuse me if this is hidden in plain sight to my eyes.

One thing I feel is not expressed nor acknowledged in this discussion is that expectations are different for romance, depending on the classification.

The “AAA” game has vastly different expectations than either the Independent or the Casual game. This is important to recognize, because the path forward is different for all three game types.

The most forward and responsive game-type is the Independent. Most of my gaming goes into these games now, especially after being burned out to the core by the AAA games of the past.

The least responsive and forward game is the casual game. Tropes and stereotypes fuel these games, and as such, they are the most resistant to change. They also have the gift/curse of being made for the masses in both the Western game world and the Eastern game world, and as such usually adhere to the standards and expectations as dictated by autocrats, such as Winnie the Pooh (Jinping) or Trump.

AAA games, in the west, have the most criticism floated their way, because they are the west’s gaming flagships and as such, are representing the societies that they are a part of. Unfortunately, like politics in America currently, the AAA gaming companies are full of back-room cliques, entrenched elites and anarchistic throwbacks, all of which means they move the slowest and sometimes only when responding to scandal, such as Ubisoft.

These three types of games should not be discussed together, as an aggregate, because the way forward for each is different and unique; so much so, that to try to apply a one-size-fits-all solution to all of them will hurt more than help achieve your goals.

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Mmm. I don’t think the difference between indies and AAA is as significant as you think, as most of the best practices are the same for both - it’s just that the failure modes are different.

You’re right that indie studios are willing to take more risks than AAA games, though - so most of the innovations in romance (including Bioware’s pioneering advances in romance sidequests in the West) come from the indies - but by the same token, 90% of indie output is shovelware, and much of their “romance” is either gimmicky or just a route to the adult content that they’re putting in in place of plot.

By contrast, you can count on an AAA game to be managed and designed according to a standard, which means that it won’t be slapped together with a month of effort, but the developers are at best not free to take as many risks, and at worst engineering decisions (in this case, game design) will be driven by marketing or corporate concerns. In the case of romances, this means some marketer’s idea of mass appeal, as well as a combination of women-for-fanservice and less actual sex (I admit to being disappointed by how Mass Effect’s sex scenes get less explicit with each game, though even the first one was hardly raunchy!).

And one element is not usually related to AAA/indie issues: the scarcity of M/M romance. That, from what I understand, is actually driven by internal studio factors; namely, most of the people working in the gaming industry outside of IF and visual novels come from STEM backgrounds, leading to straight white men dominating video game development. The brogrammer culture has left its mark on video game romance even in places like Bioware (where a certain degree of progressivism has always been part of their brand).

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First a caveat: I am basing my original post and this response on my personal experiences in working with various studios on games of all levels, except the casual market games, which I only know through second-hand and public sources (such as Apple reps for their marketplace).

Now to quibble a few details before I withdraw from the discussion.

Yes, there is no disagreement or quibbles here.

The quibble is in the details here. A lot of us have heard how female lesbian romances were changed at the last moment by those in authority over the developers when the remasters were being done for Mass Effect.

I can verify (without going into details) that this type of change happens more often than not, not only for romance, but all aspects of design and creation. A change of the Executives can lead to “vision” changes, and I personally have seen such change from AAA development happen in two weeks or less. Your experiences may be different from mine.

Design decisions that are “firm” and “set-in-stone” per lead developers have been changed by “higher-ups” and are forced down the chain of development much more than you seem to think based on your post above.

I do not think this is the case at all (if by studios you mean the developers), just that the developers of Indie projects listen and engage with their intended audience a lot more and act on it sooner. Many times, after talking with an indie developer once, something I said would be implemented right away.

With the AAA developers, I would say something and talk to them, and six years later, see the change being made. The AAA developer in one case in particular of a yearly release AAA game, themselves was willing and ready to code the changes that first year, but as with most AAA companies, there are additional layers to convince, and hence the six-year delay.

This may be what you were meaning to say – if so, I misunderstood your original post, and I am sorry.

It is just that I know AAA developers that eventually left AAA companies to make new studios to do what they wanted to do in the first place, and to say they are more risk averse when working for an AAA studio and less risk averse when on their one as independents, diminishes the developers themselves.

We will have to agree to disagree here. Actual practices do not align with stated practices too often at the AAA level, and that is all I will say here.

Also, just to clarify – romance and its stigma in a discussion like this, should be focused on the games with such a theme on the Casual and Independent levels, rather than the AAA titles (again with exceptions like the FPS live service titles) because romance is an expectation that is treated differently in AAA titles than the other two classifications.

I have used all my free time for now, so I am withdrawing from the discussion until I have more free time to visit the forum.

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I don’t think it makes sense to arbitrarily limit the discussion in this manner. A stigma might be the reason why romance in AAA games is treated differently than in indie titles, no?

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Well, this bi is hungrily awaiting BG3’s release…

My OCs smirk at me from the couch.

Shut. Up. Not a WORD from you three. :unamused:

Remy cackles as Riese giggles and Rayvn smiles.

Goddammit… :roll_eyes:

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I have to admit that I am surprised that BioWare didn’t take the opportunity in the Legendary Edition of the Mass Effect trilogy to reimplement the option for Kaidan and Ashley to be romanced by a same sex Shepard in the first game, since that apparently was originally planned back in 2007 and the dialogue does I gather exist? :thinking:

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I don’t see that this is really a ‘video game’ problem. I used to hate all romance sub-plots in movies and television. Then I realized that I don’t hate romance, I hate (as others here have expressed) lazy, stereotypical, tacked-on romance. It turns out you find a lot of that in any medium, probably because everyone wants love and writers/producers/execs try to cater to that feeling regardless of whether they know what they’re doing.

And I’m still not a huge fan of romance, but I can at least appreciate it sometimes.

EDIT: I may have misunderstood the gist of this conversation lol, but I’ll leave this here anyway.

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Dialogue for Kaidan was recorded but never implemented. Supposedly, they would give scripts to the voice actors and get them to record all the lines, and then decide what they would actually use. The develeopers have, even to this day, been pretty adamant it had never been planned for mshep to romance him. Not sure I believe it since it sounds very backward though and a waste of resources.

Anyway, most of the time romance in games without a huge focus on character driven narratives is simply tacked on in a poor attempt at getting a slightly wider audience. You could remove romance completely and the game would be no different. Even RPGs like Fallout and Skyrim barely do anything mechanically with it besides a temporary bonus to experience gains when you sleep with your partner.

So what it generally comes down to is that if a game is going to include romance at all it needs to be a core focus. Not a shallow stereotype fueled lazy afterthought. Otherwise it just ruins the experience.

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You remind me of Anomen’s romantic plot in BG2 that left female characters without any thoughts. :sweat_smile:

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