As we come up to Valentines Day, we need to discuss why videogames have such as bad rap for the portrayal of relationships. With some notable exceptions such as the Witcher 3, relationships in games have either come across as token, awkward or completely sexist. This even goes as far with Ride to Hell: Retribution where it can only can be compared to the sex scenes in the Team America film, and with as much chemistry.
As mentioned before, it is unfair to say that games can never represent realistic relationships. The Witcher 3’s relationship between Geralt and either Triss or Yenefer has been much lauded in the gaming press, as the characters do actually seem to like each other. Triss and Yenefer being friends before Geralt comes onto the scene makes it more stark, as it clear that Geralt’s mere existence is ruining their friendship. It shows that games can provide realistic and fair relationships, even if they don’t do it often.
Relationships, even in the best of games, often are seen as a reward – and that reward is always sex. This strange version of relationships is unnatural at best and creepy at worst, the player is encouraged to go towards getting “sex” like that is the be all and end of all of relationships. The worst example I can think of comes from the original “The Witcher” (showing how far companies can improve), where after having getting Geralt to have sex with a character the player gains a “pinup card” of that character naked. Sex is how a fourteen year old boy sees it – it’s all about seeing boobs.
“It shows that games can provide realistic and fair relationships, even if they don’t do it often”
The reward of sex is a relatively innocuous one compared to some other relationships in games. A common trope is that the player decides who they want to chase, and they can get anyone they want. Fable II’s system of giving gifts and flirting repeatedly to get your lovers could be seen as silly, but in Fallout 4 just clicking the “flirt” button to get in relationships gives a strange view. Not many people in real life have got into relationships through repeated and forceful flirts, and it is obvious that no videogame character has ever been rejected in a game. Games may provide escapism, but I think that telling players that being forceful is necessary brings a very warped view of romance.
Have anyone ever been rejected in a game? Or had to reject anyone else? It is a legitimate worry that because games can be power fantasies that developers don’t give the option to try relationships with who would reject them. I think everyone who has attempted a relationship has been rejected, and if developers are going to try and make relationships “realistic” it should be entirely possible for the player to not be accepted, or have to reject other companions. I’m look forward to an open-world game where the second half of the game is entirely awkward, because the player made a pass at a character who was entirely not interested.
“Games may provide escapism, but I think that telling players that being forceful is necessary brings a very warped view of romance”
This has focused on the more general issues that games have with romance. There are other topics, such as female representation or diverse sexualities that are equally if not more important than the normal issues of romance. Regardless, if gaming is going to have a strong look at how games represent relationships in games, it will have to dramatically improve its own worldview.
Image: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, developed by CD Projekt RED