A Look Back At: Romance

As of yet, I’ve taken up your time, (I hope) talking about characters and their emotions, but I think it is time we moved onto an aspect of this topic which is rarely done well.

So, unless I can think of another way to aid in your procrastination, this should be the last Character-based LBA (Look at me! Using acronyms and everything!), and I can get back to thinking about the addictions of Achievements and the quality control of franchises, along with a few other things I have in mind.

Romance is the topic of this little… whatever the hell this is. Specifically, the sheer fakery of most of the romances we are shown in games. Everyone who has ever picked up a game will, have no doubt, been subjected to at least one example of ‘love’, which seems like nothing more than something thrown together at the last minute, in order to provide some ‘drama’.

One of my best examples of how romance should not be done is actually in a game I quite enjoyed, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The writing for the entire game seemed a little, erm, strained, especially in a universe as rich as Lucas’ monster, but Starkiller’s romance with Juno Eclipse was painful to watch. Or, rather, it would have been had I realised there was any romantic tension between the two of them. Even when the chavviest Sith in the galaxy cut his way through an entire Star Destroyer just to rescue her, I still thought it was just a way of pissing off Daddy (well, his surrogate daddy anyway).

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It just seems to me that often the only reason a huge proportion of romance-based narratives are placed in games, is that writers feel as though they are necessary in making a protagonist relatable and, you know, I get that. I understand that it is a fairly simple way of making, what is in actuality little more than a collection of pixels, appear more human, but it can’t be that hard to do well?

I hate to keep using this title as an example of amazing writing, it makes it seem like I don’t have other games to use as points, but The Walking Dead’s early budding romance with Carley, which ends in simultaneously the best and worst possible outcome I could imagine for the game, is incredibly well shown, though it is done so in a subtle way. Though never going further than a quick kiss on the cheek, I liked Carley. She, besides Clementine, was the only character alive in that game, that I trusted and perhaps that is why I felt as though a romance with her was all but a certainty.

Maybe a good way then, to endear the player to a specific character, is by making all others seem cruel, cowardly or any other derogatory remark you can conjure. The problem this could create, however, is that the character you want the audience to like becomes nothing more than the ‘best of a bad bunch’, and their likeability will just be a standard. The Walking Dead offers you choices, which make you feel as though you are changing the game world with every decision you make, a trait, which is surprisingly rare in a generation of gaming where ‘you decide’ comes printed on the back cover of every second game you play.

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I felt that I liked Carley because she was sensible, because she was the closest person to saying what I was thinking, and that was a stroke of genius behind the title’s writers. And that should be the way our character’s love interests work. They should be genuinely likeable and attracting to the player, as much as the character.

I can honestly say, I’ve never cared for Princess Peach. A tragedy, I know, but there it is. I don’t understand why Mario keeps going after her, she is as bland as my first student accommodation, without the excitement of a bunch of light-weight ‘party-boys’ passing out in the kitchen every night.

Bastards.

I’d have hoped that Nintendo might have given her a personality at some point, but they seem to have completely forgotten that strong, female characters are on the rise. Though, in certain corners of the internet, this next comment will mark me as an enemy of the Glorious People’s Revolution of Hyrule, Zelda goes into the same folder as Peach. I’ve got to say, that whole ‘she is a princess so, clearly, you have to rescue her’ doesn’t really do much for me, narrative-wise. Even Princess Leia only needed rescuing the one time, but Peach and Zelda consistently get themselves into stupid situations and cry out for their Links and Marios, when someone like, say, Alyx Vance, Ashley Williams or even goddamned Clementine could sort it out themselves. I know that, in Ocarina Of Time, Zelda becomes Sheik whilst Link is sleeping in the Chamber Of Sages, and acts as the Seventh Sage, but compared to the amount of times Link has had to defend her, this one example of her growing a backbone pales.

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For all that the early examples of these games were bare of the, now typical, strong female character; I still feel that as these series’ have continued, they shouldn’t be so dependent on the same boring narrative. Mario still traipses around after Peach like a dog chasing a stick-thin, elf-looking, blonde bone; Link still struggles through elemental temples, with his little green hat strapped to his suspiciously blonde hair.

Most of the romances which I tend to enjoy, which are few and far between, are not the typical ‘a princess needs rescuing’ or the ‘boy meets girl’ narratives. One of the greatest romances I have had the privilege to watch develop over the years and, as far as I’m aware, come to an end, is that of Mister Generic and Ms Glowy Advisor themselves, Master Chief and Cortana. Though any real form of physical intimacy is impossible, she literally lives inside his head. He relies upon her for any real thought, and is nowhere near as effective without her.

That is one of the reasons it was so hard to watch her fade away, after everything the two of them have been through, all the wars, the dangers, the suicide missions that they somehow managed to escape, she dies by something that Master Chief could ‘possibly’ have helped her to survive, if he had been a little quicker, a little better. Personally, I don’t think he could have saved her, and she doesn’t seem to either. The possibility of her survival depended upon her return to Earth and so, it would be safe to assume, that this incentive was one of the last gifts she could give to Master Chief, a last reason to carry on after her mind sinks into Rampancy.

And, on that cheery note, I just realised I have other work to do, so this little LBA is getting split into two parts now! Wooooo, the anticipation must be killing you! Next time, I’ll be talking about those games where romance is more dependent on the player’s choices, games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age and The Witcher, rather than linear games like those I’ve already mentioned. So you know… yeah, see you next time!

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