Looking For Love In All The Wrong Stages

on June 21, 2012 1:00 PM

“What is Love, Baby Don’t Hurt Me, No More!”

What is love? Love is defined as a tender and passionate affection toward another person. Affection is usually developed over time by spending time together with another person and developing a familiarity and connection with that person. Love appears to take time to develop properly. How can a video game attempt to create such a long term connection in a matter of hours?

Today’s games are finding more and more ways to connect with players. Many of the games released today feature features such as branching choices and customizable characters that promote immersive experiences. One emotional aspect that games are trying to emulate today is love. Game designers try to create relationships between gamers and game characters in various ways. But, are the relationships in games able to actually simulate the feeling of being in love or in a relationship?

What is love inside of a video game? Designing relationships with game characters is a challenge that many game designers find themselves faced with. How do you create a relationship that feels like the real world counterpart? What happens when the love between real people enters a digital world? There are many games that take on these challenges and prove to be successful in different ways but are they still able to convey the feeling of love.

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Stages

“Can Anybody Find Me Somebody to Love?”

First question to tackle is “how do games handle love and relationships?” All versions of Persona 3 and Persona 4 are the perfect example of games where the player must work on cultivating relationships with several characters. Players form Social Links that show the effort that has been put into the relationship. The games make it so the choices of the player have an effect on characters’ lives and attempts to build deeper relationships with them.

Gamers can form relationships with characters of opposite gender to the main characters in each of these games. The game takes the time to actually have the player craft a relationship with many possible love interests. It imitates the way you talk to know more about each other, in a scripted fashion, and has the player dedicating time to hanging out with that person. Also choices made, including not hanging out with a character, can cause characters to drift away or not connect easily with the player. In many ways this actually is a very good simulation of courting someone you are interested but lacks the emotion of actually being interested in someone.

Another set of games that attempt love is the Mass Effect series. Mass Effect series, being a trilogy of games, had to take into consideration how relationships between characters would develop and grow over the span of three games. Throughout the series, gamers are given the choice on many occasions to be loyal or move on to another love interest. Mass Effect finds a way to recreate many of the aspects of maintaining a relationship and how your choices can ease or burden it. While the series is able to convey aspects of a relationship it does have difficulty portraying the day to day moments and activities of a relationship.

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Stages

“I Kinda Always Knew I’d End Up Your Ex-girlfriend.”

Is it cheating if it is a video game? People can get jealous, but can game characters become jealous? People make choices and sometimes these choices end up hurting someone or put a person in a situation where a choice between two people must be made. Games also try to emulate this aspect of love and relationships. Catherine is designed with the purpose of challenging players to act in a situation that a choice must be made between two possible love interests. It puts the player in a position where everything they do has a consequence on whether you are leaning toward one love interest over another.

Catherine puts a player in a relationship and actually has them dealing with the stress of cheating and responding to the person they are with. This game asks gamers questions about self, relationships, and consequences of choices. In the end it does a good job of trying to emulate the guilt of being in love and doing something wrong but it struggles to completely connect players. The main character in this game has a personality and past in which the players are going along for the ride while making choices. Games like Mass Effect, Persona 3 & 4, and Dragon Age work better in forming relationships with characters because the player is projecting their personality onto a character who is not already defined for them.

Jealousy is a part of love that games try to portray through multiple love interests. Harvest Moon franchise has a system where jealousy points can be built up amongst the various love interests. Persona 3 uses a system where if you hang out with female characters then the relationship you are working on with other female characters may turn sour. Mass Effect lets you attempt to court multiple partners who confront each other at a certain point of each game. These are just a few of the examples of how games are trying to copy the idea of jealousy and dealing with multiple love interests. But, this way of quantifying jealousy or love between multiple people sometimes feels shallow because game characters are not real.

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Stages

“I’m a New Soul, I Came to This Strange World.”

What happens when real people find love in a digital world? Can two people who have never met be considered to be truly in love? Is romance or cheating legitimate if it occurs virtually?

People today are finding new ways to meet and fall in love with others in the digital age. Gamers have always been a unique bunch and were actually into online dating before it became an actual thing. MMOs became the hotspot for meeting people, hanging out with friends, and a social hub for many people. In MMORPGs, like Ragnarok Online, gamers would take on a new persona when they made their characters and live as that character in the game world. Gamers’ characters would develop relationships with each other and become connected. This eventually led to player characters getting married when games, like Ragnarok Online, allowed it.

Can it be considered cheating if you are in a relationship in real life and in a game? There is no clear cut answer for this. It falls upon the relationship to decide what the boundaries are and are not. Since many people become a different person in a game can you say that the “real” personality is cheating when you are someone different in a different world? I personally believe if you are role playing then it is pure innocent fun and part of the experience. It is when a person acts like themselves and is putting themselves in a game the line starts to gray.

But sometimes a good thing doesn’t sit still in just one place. There are many occasions where dating and a relationship in a game will actually leak out of the digital world into the real. During my MMO escapades, I have met several people who actually played together and were part of the same guild. These people went on to be in relationships and some got married. Games can be a catalyst for finding love even if they have some difficulties in emulating it.

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Stages

“Shot Through the Heart and You’re to Blame, You Give Love a Bad Name”

Many of these games mentioned are not perfected at emulating love but they each take steps in the right direction. But there are some games that do no justice towards those games that are making strides forward. A perfect example is Fable 3, which has players serenading a random character with gifts and after enough points are built up you can enter a relationship and bring them home to become intimate. This makes love in games seem like a flimsy feature tacked onto a game. There is no sense of building a relationship with a character and no emotional bond formed.

How can such missteps be avoided? Game designers need to start considering how the time players use in games can be invested into building relationships with game characters. Mass Effect series has players spending time with many of the same characters across three games and has players developing bonds with these characters. If games plan on trying to emulate love more and more then game designers need to actually plan on how love is displayed in their games instead of treating it as a tacked on feature.

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Stages

“La la la la la la la la la Means I Love You!”

How do you play games with romantic elements? Do you act in a game how you would act in real life? What role do you play in a game? Is emulated love an important aspect of games for you? These are some of the questions many gamers may be thinking about when playing a character in a game.

Gamers enjoy role playing as various personalities that can be the same as they would really act or become someone completely different from their everyday selves. Love is just another part included in the roles that gamers play. My preference is to play a romantic loyalist in games, which is not far from how I behave in real life. In Mass Effect, my Shepard was in a relationship with Liara until the end of the Mass Effect trilogy. While in Persona 4, on both of my playthroughs of the game I was in a relationship with Chie and only Chie. I would never cheat on my virtual girlfriends because the character I play as in games is loyal to those he loves. It is the role that I personally chose to play even if it is very similar to how I would act in real life. Games provide options for a gamer to allow for different ways to play a game.

Many other gamers use games as an opportunity to become someone different from their everyday selves. Gamers may just want to save the world and not become romantically involved while others may desire to be a playboy. Games are a way for gamers to live out their romantic fantasies and make choices they may not have the chance to make in real life. Games give players the ability to enjoy exotic loves that could not be experienced in everyday life. In a game like Catherine, gamers may make the choice to pursue a quick fling instead of focusing on a long term established relationship even though they may be married or with someone for a long time. When it comes to love, gamers are provided chances to experience different kinds of love than what they experience in their everyday lives.

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Stages

“All You Need Is Love.”

Hopefully this has given everyone some insight on love and the different ways that each aspect of love is covered in games. Games are still a young medium that have a difficulty making emotional connections with gamers at times. As time goes on and more games will be made with consideration of the different emotional connections that can be made. Love is one of the most difficult emotions for games to create but real love can be found through the confines of a game.

Many games are making strides forward in creating better emotional bonds, despite the few that set progress back in some ways. If games can provide bonds with characters that gamers could never meet in their everyday lives then a new kind of bond between the player and game characters will be formed. Designers have to be able to take advantage of these unique worlds and provide bonds that cannot be found in everyday life. By leveraging such an advantage they should be able to make a bond such as love possible in games or create something different but just as potent as love in real life.

 /  Staff Writer
Paul is what you would call a Jack of All Trades. He has an interest in programming and video games. He is also a capable artist, photographer, writer, reader, and an Ancient Karaoke Performer. He has been gaming since the late 80s starting with games such as Tetris and Arkanoid. His favorite genres in games include Role Playing, Action-Adventure, Rhythm, and Old School 2D Platformers. Books are another interest of his as his collection of books slowly overruns his living quarters.