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Can Romance Ever Really Be Done Effectively In Games?

I have always supported better writing, more complex storylines, and better developed characters in video games.

I support progression in those areas because I believe video games can aspire to more, can become truly artistic expressions in every sense of the word. However, when it comes to romance, I wonder if interactive entertainment is really the correct venue for that particular set of emotions.

Throughout the industry's history, we've seen some extraordinarily touching romantic scenes in games. In fact, one might argue that many of the most widely remembered and widely recognized have an element of romance to them, such as Cloud laying Aeris to rest in Final Fantasy VII. There are many other examples (the majority of which occurred in role-playing games, unsurprisingly) but all are mere glimpses; none quite manage to deliver a believable, effective human romance. I think the problem lies in the interaction; the inherent entertainment trait in gaming.

The problem is that even if developers and writers focus heavily on a romantic relationship, we will still spend most of our time playing. And there's little to no chance we're going to control the hug or the kiss or anything else; in addition to being limited due to obvious sexual content situations, it also wouldn't work. I really don't think we'll feel anything extra. Humans have enough trouble creating and cultivating intimacy...separation and detachment via electronics with only a controller in our hands probably won't be very effective.

And even if it is, our attention must return to the core gameplay. That interruption, which undoubtedly involves immersion in something completely different (perhaps even 100% opposite if it's all about action and death), really hinders romantic progress. It's why you really can't develop a beautiful romance in an action movie; it's why they're typically cliched and boring, or at the very least, stilted and bare. It just doesn't work. Furthermore, because the majority of our games involve some sort of action, developers will only be given a very rare opportunity to explore the depths of romance and love.

The project would have to be just right. Maybe only Quantic Dream's games would give us the best chance. After all, I think Heavy Rain was by far and away the most emotional title of the generation, because it really made us feel on a level all normal adults can appreciate. It made the love between a father and son a focal point and that really did work. But romantic love is different and if you didn't notice, the relationship between Ethan and Madison wasn't nearly as fleshed out. I think that's because Quantic Dream knew their limitations; they knew they couldn't have two very different love-based relationships work with the same intensity.

Anyway, at this point, I still say love outside the realm of reality is best depicted by the written word. Games can try, of course, but I can't envision much in the way of true success.

Tags: video games, gaming industry, gaming culture, romance in games

7/9/2012 8:54:27 PM Ben Dutka

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Comments (58 posts)

LimitedVertigo
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 9:47:52 PM
Reply

As I was playing SOTC and long after playing it I sensed the pain and love Wander must have felt for the girl; enabling him to continue the seemingly impossible task of conquering the colossus and resurrecting her.

I think it's up to the imagination of the player to see how much they get out of the characters and their connections between one another.

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Teddie9
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 12:41:37 PM

Precisely - if the gamer can be prompted to ask themselves why once in awhile (while still immersed in the game world ofcourse :p)

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Axe99
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 9:53:41 PM
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I think it should be more "Can romance ever really be done effectively in games outside of Japan?" They seem to be all over dating sims over there ;).

While I don't think romance will ever be core gameplay in a western game, it can still be peripheral, as there's a lot of social interaction that relates to romance well and beyond the physical stuff (well, for a good number of relationships at least ;)). The Bioware games don't do it terribly, and ME3's attempt seemed pretty solid, as far as these things go. Clearly, no-one's ever going to be as attached to a game romance than a real-life one (or at least I'd hope not), but similarly the gulf between my level of fear at dying in an online shooter quite substantially less than my level of fear at being involved in a real conflict with firearms (or any real conflict, for that matter!)

Give that videogames for many things are (at the emotional level) pale shadows of the real experience, I don't see why romance couldn't be as well? But I'm also dizzy with the flu, so that may have made no sense, in which case apologies to anyone that read it!

Last edited by Axe99 on 7/9/2012 9:54:10 PM

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Looking Glass
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 6:43:18 PM

Excellent point. A better title would probably be "Can romance ever really be done effectively in games outside of the dating sim genre" or something like that.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 10:12:32 PM
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It would certainly take a major leap in storytelling to properly express a romance, I too wonder if it can ever be done effectively while both characters are together. I can easily see how characters being separated and fighting for someone else brings on the intensity of emotion but games haven't gotten much further than that.

It probably doesn't help that no game has ever had a kiss that didn't look like two robots making out. Even Heavy Rain had some trouble in that department.

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MrAnonymity
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 10:28:19 PM
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I always thought the romantic angle played in FFVIII was done fairly well. Of course... I am probably this place's only FFVIII fanboy so that may make me a little biased.

As far as romance having a place in video games: Sure. Though not necessary, some form of romance tends to add that little extra fluff to round out a gaming experience. Personally, I think romance is best tackled in RPGs, but I suppose just about any game can incorporate it somehow.

Perhaps my wife should speak on this one. I can't even count how many romance books she's read just in the year that we've been married...

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 10:30:12 PM

You are not this place's only FFVIII fanboy :)

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 11:02:38 PM

grr

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Clamedeus
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 12:51:41 AM

Definitely not the only one for sure.

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Neo_Aeon666
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 7:39:01 AM

FFVIII is my favorite because of the romance in it. The way they approached it and all. I really wanted to be with Rinoa lol I hope they make more Rpgs like that.

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FM23
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 10:30:09 PM
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Am I the only one who thinks Heavy Rain's father/son relationship was quite forgettable. I personally found the children in this game to be quite irritating. That created kind of a detachment for me, but I thought all the other relationships and personal problems were well done.

But to stay on topic, Mass Effect 2 and Uncharted have done a great job. I don't really recall many games focusing on romance. GTA tried, but yea. Actually, most games need to focus on creating good stories before they focus on love tales. Just saying.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 10:32:41 PM

I totally understand what you are saying about the kids in HR but you have to remember that all of the hell Ethan goes through is for his son, and that makes it pretty powerful. Unless of course you took the chicken-out routes in the game.

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FM23
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 10:52:39 PM

Naw..Ethan was great and his personal test was genius, but the kids themselves were just...so annoying. Like I wanted Ethan to get his son back, but since it wasn't a real life problem (so not trying to be cruel) I didn't really care if the son survived. On top of that, when the first child dies the brother acts like it's Ethan fault...WTF. Acting all cold towards Ethan for that boys foolish self initiated death. Just saywin....great game though! Haha Few plot holes and some over dramatic sections, but yea..rewrite those kids and we cool.

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SmokeyPSD
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 3:28:13 AM

I didn't get that the brother blamed Ethan at all but to each their own. Both Ethan and Shaun aren't recovered when the game picks back up purely from the loss and upheaval in changes in life that has happened. Not surprising distance and even aggression from both sides. That's what makes it so heart-wrenching to Ethan when he is taken.

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Warrior Poet
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 10:38:55 PM
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Interaction is also the major component of romance, but it's an interaction between two people - not one and a computer. No gameplay mechanic or leap in technology will change that.

The problem is, as the player, there is no other person for you to explore. One character can get to know another but there's no way for the NPC to get to know YOU. You can feel for two different characters and relate to them. It's all in the writing and artistic presentation. Fact is, the weights and measures that make dating sims work will never be enough. Dialogue trees can open romance routes but will never constitute a friendship. The amount and complexity of the writing increases with every permutation too, placing a huge burden on the scenario team.

All we can hope for is games with few permutations and good writing.

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firesoul453
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 10:50:03 PM
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yes but not as good as a long running tv show can

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ZenChichiri
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 10:54:01 PM
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The emotional aspect can be done if it's proper. Your picture of FFX here says it all. Yuna's transformation is entirely because she fell in love with Tidus and wanted to be closer to him even after his supposed death. If that isn't love, I don't know what is.

Games sure can't be as wordy as the written word, but it's up to us as gamers to creatively think about the situation and fill in the missing pieces. Does FFX directly tell you that Yuna's transformation is because of Tidus? No it doesn't, but we can gather it's the reason.

I think games are all about the whole package. In life we don't spend all of our waking hours dealing with romance, so why would we in a game? I think it's perfectly acceptable to have romance as simply a part of the game and not break the immersion. Yes, we spend the majority of games killing/fighting, but there is room for love. It might even give us a reason for all that killing every now and then!

"Do you think that love can bloom, even on a battlefield? I was wondering if even soldiers fall in love..."

"Yeah... I do. I think at any time, any place, people can fall in love with each other. But... if you love someone, you have to be able to protect them."

Last edited by ZenChichiri on 7/9/2012 10:55:16 PM

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Vivi_Gamer
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 2:21:57 AM

Great quote, I don't see why MGS1 can't be put forward to this Otacon always has tragic love story. through out MGS1 you can tell Meryl falls for Snake and if you get the right ending it plays out well.

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Drake_RB3
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 9:56:24 AM

"David. My name's David."

"Okay, so where to, Dave?"

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Lanre611
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 10:55:39 PM
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FFVII with squall and rinoa's romance! i won't give up hope with this as an example of a good love story.

and FFX too....

Last edited by Lanre611 on 7/9/2012 10:56:42 PM

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 11:03:26 PM

You forgot an I :) but I know what you mean. As much as I don't care for 8 I will agree the love story going on wasn't too bad.

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duomaxwell007
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 11:02:57 PM
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i say they do it well, for example the scene thats in the screenshot on this artcile... the sceen itself plus the music fit well, it actually made me sad... everytime i hear that sond (i have it on my mp3 player) i think of that scene... thus i would say thats proof that games do it just fine already

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LimitedVertigo
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 11:04:19 PM

Had I been a younger boy I would have certainly jerked it too Yuna. By FAR the hottest chick in FF history IMO.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 11:21:00 PM

LV, demure and mostly clothed FFX Yuna or super slut in training FFX-2 Yuna?

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LimitedVertigo
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 12:02:44 AM

Definitely naive, plain Jane, Yuna from X.

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Ben Dutka PSXE [Administrator]
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 12:23:41 AM

Sandwich. Lulu and Yuna. Win.

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Underdog15
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 8:46:00 AM

I always thought the pale skin and dark eyes on Lulu made her look like she was almost elderly. I can't unsee her as a retiree now.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 10:03:20 AM

Lulu, the last best hope for big boobs in FF games.

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wackazoa
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 12:26:02 PM

No Rikku ?

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Briar
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 11:08:50 PM
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I think romance can definitely be done effectively when it comes to gaming, a good example being the very image this article has on the feed. The romance between Tidus and Yuna in both Final Fantasy X & X-2 is probably one of the best displayed in the RPG world. While many would say that FF X-2 was a waste of a Final Fantasy game, I think the staff at Square created it purely to stop gamers from drowning in tears after the ending of FFX (no spoilers here though).

I mean, the continuation in X-2 shows the distance someone would go for someone else as does the romance between Snow and Serah from XIII (and frankly Fang and Vanille).

Outside the RPG world inFamous did a great job in regards to love interests in the first game when it came to the life of one over that of others. Mario & Peach will always be the poster couple for the 'damsel-in-distress' scenarios and rightly so. Others I can think of off the top of my head include Sora and Kairi, Drake and Elena, Gordan Freeman and Alyx Vance. In FF, from VII - XIII-2 (excluding XI only because I've never played it) have all had romance deeply implemented into the story.

Though I think a point that needs to be noted is that you don't necessarily need sexual or non-sexual contact for it to be a romance, even if it is or is not implied. I can't remember there being such a scene in the Half-Life franchise, maybe a hug or a kiss on the check but clear intimacy between the two was shown through acts of either sacrifice or care (Gordon helping Alyx when she is wounded, Alyx worrying about Gordon after the events at the end of Half-Life 2).

It's a hard line to draw because everyone has a different idea of romance themselves but I do believe it has been done well time and time again in terms of gaming. I mean, go replay FFX and try not to sob as you get closer to the end of the game, or maybe I'm just a softy, ahahaha

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WorldEndsWithMe
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 11:21:18 PM

What's your avatar from?

I never bought Snow and Serah together, I was actually hoping Noel would weasel his way in there.

Last edited by WorldEndsWithMe on 7/9/2012 11:22:45 PM

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Briar
Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 11:24:44 PM

Resident Evil Zero, it's Rebecca Chambers, ahaha

Also, that's terrible!! :P Noel has Yeul... though that was one romance that wasn't really expanded upon too much outside of the story xD

Last edited by Briar on 7/9/2012 11:26:22 PM

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 12:03:25 AM

Yeah I never actually got that he liked Yeul as anything more than a little sister type. Poor storytelling there.

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LimitedVertigo
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 12:04:07 AM

I really enjoyed RE0. I didn't really mind the way you were forced to manage items by dropping them and coming back for them later. In fact I really want to play it again...thanks!

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xenris
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 10:33:09 AM

I didn't buy Snow and Serah either. I think that Snow just wanted to boing bang Serah thats all. Notice how he started on the lower half of her body when trying to dig her out ;)

I know exactly what was going on in his head there.

Noel clearly shoWed more love for Serah than Snow ever did. Not that I really care but Noel should just steal Serah hop into another dimension and live happily ever after.

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Amnesiac
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 12:11:45 AM
Reply

Any good hero needs an equally good villain, the same goes for a heroine and a hero. Yuna in FFX came the closest in achieving an emotional connection with the player.
I don't feel in the wake of dominant FPS shooters we've had another love story to compare it too.
Have there been any centralized love stories in any other game since?

Last edited by Amnesiac on 7/10/2012 12:12:34 AM

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Beamboom
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 1:15:01 AM
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Hot coffee, anyone? ;)

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LimitedVertigo
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 1:18:21 AM

Ha! I still don't understand why everyone got all pissy about it. It wasn't exactly an easy minigame to find and play.

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Axe99
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 3:19:18 AM

Aye, but I'd argue that was more sex than romance ;).

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Ludicrous_Liam
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 3:44:44 AM

Haha! I think that's most gamers respose to the question "Can Romance Ever Be Done Effectively In Games?"... xD

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Vivi_Gamer
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 2:03:28 AM
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I thought the romance between Elaine & Drake in Uncharted was nice, very subtle but you could tell it was there at points. But like most people have already said, the main contender seems to be Final Fantasy - Especially IV, VIII & X. I think all games handled them well. VIII clearly being the most dominant, as Squall's growing love was his main motive. It was a great transformation.

But of course, the screenshot for this article captures possibly the most romantic moment within a game.

Oh jesus, I just remembered, what about Akiba & Meryl in MGS4- Act 5, you know the scene I mean - makes me cringe every time I see it.

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Drake_RB3
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 9:59:04 AM

Yea, Rosa's love for Cecil let him forgive himself and become a Paladin.

Gotta love the Theme of Love in FFIV.

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homura
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 2:51:51 AM
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ICO captures romance in game in a subtle way. Enslaved has typical cheesy moments, I hated that game.

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SmokeyPSD
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 3:31:59 AM
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It's simplistic to think that romance is just limited by hugs and kisses and is therefore outside the scope of a interactive component in a game for me. I think social interactions are very much able to be explored of all sorts. I loved the interrogation moments in Deus Ex and I'm excited to hear Kojima is interested in exploring that idea himself.

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Ludicrous_Liam
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 3:35:26 AM
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Are we forgetting a little game called Uncharted? (Everyone: Arghhh here we go again. xD)

The relationship between Chloe and Drake was something very well done I thought. And romantic humour is something that is often cheesy and convulted in games (and movies) - but here it wasn't..."Is that an ancient tibetan object in your pocket?" "Maybe I'm just happy to see you?".

And when you add Elena into the mix - someone Drake has been through quite a lot with already - and the fact that Chloe is a criminal through and through, things get real complicated with all the love triangles going on.

Sure, these relationships weren't really the focal point (atleast not the romantic side of them), but I still thought this game did these relationships very very well. It makes Drake think questons like 'Am I really doing the right thing?'. Because, while he's involved with Chloe, he manages to get 'the good guys' like Jeff & Schafer killed. You can see he thinks this when he's saying stuff like "No Elena - I'm through with this. Everything I touch turns to $hit".

I like when Naughty Dog called Elena and Chloe 'Emotional satellites', because that's exactly what they are - transmitting different signals to Drake. These relationships ARE the focal point - hence the 'Among Thieves' in the title. Like when Jeff is wounded, Elena wants to help, whereas Chloe wants to make a run for it.

I sometimes feel as though the quality of writing in Uncharted 2 wasn't appreciated enough. I think this is because you COULD say the plot was fairly unoriginal - travel the world, kill bad guys, find an ancient place, fight the boss save the girl and get outa there (with explosions in the backround). I obviously don't agree with any of that, but because some - or perhaps a lot - think otherwise, they dismiss the writing as ordinary and unoriginal too.





Last edited by Ludicrous_Liam on 7/10/2012 3:40:50 AM

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SmokeyPSD
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 3:59:52 AM

Yeah Uncharted really handled that beautifully. The actors really brought that out the different effects Elena and Chloe have on Drake. It was fantastic when all 3 had moments together, even within gameplay.

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Ludicrous_Liam
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 8:53:51 AM

Heh...someone disagrees! xD

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___________
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 6:28:40 AM
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i dont see why not.
it could of worked really well if the story in heavy rain was more believeable, and they worked on ethan and madisons devotion.
i dunno, it just felt like madison was helping ethan not because she really wanted to and she loved him, but more so for a news story!
one part i really hope beyond 2 souls works on!
the character development, and the relationships between the characters.
they never felt part of one story, it really was a case of every man for himself!

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Comic Shaman
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 8:19:01 AM
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If you're talking about using romance as the central axis of the game, there was "Catherine." There was a game which made complex relationship dynamics the main plot driver and did it very well. I'd put that under the territory of romance.

In some ways, I think games have the edge over movies in terms of creating romantic sub-plots. Games can take a more leisurely pace in telling a story (in fact, it's an advantage to do so... a game's reputation often suffers if it's perceived as too short). That gives good writers more time to develop a romantic subplot.

One of my favorites is Xenogears. Fei and Elly had plenty of time to go through the phases of getting to know each other and let their love grow. There's one scene that stands out to me, for instance, when they were both stuck on a piece of wreckage out at sea, and that enforced break from the action gave them a chance to bond. Their journey together still ranks as one of my favorite love stories from a game.

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Teddie9
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 12:55:00 PM

good on you for mentioning catherine - but I'd argue it had more to do with a moral choices than trying to be romantic with either woman.

Last edited by Teddie9 on 7/10/2012 12:55:32 PM

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Geobaldi
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 8:23:07 AM
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Eventually it may be done well enough, but I put all the blame on the writers. Sure some come up with great stories, but when it comes to the romantic aspects, seems that most video game writers have no experience, or writing ability, with that subject. Heck, even emotion in general seems to be a tough object to handle for game writers. TellTale's Walking Dead game series has made really great strides in the emotion category and, in my opinion, is the landmark writers of future games need to strive for when dealing with emotional story writing. Metal Gear is probably the only other series I can think of offhand that comes even close. As far as romance goes though, no game really comes to mind that has handled that topic well, though Final Fantasy probably comes the closest as it's usually a plot element at some point.

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Looking Glass
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 9:14:27 AM
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Yes. And it's been done before.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 10:08:04 AM
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I think a lot of the examples given are from games that touch on and "check in" on romance as part of the plot but there isn't much of a focus. Even what happens between Drake and Elena is mostly unsaid, happens between the events of the games, and is defined mostly by tension happening during an adventure.

I think a lot of games that try to incorporate the theme do something similar, and I think so far that's a very good way to do it because it works.

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wackazoa
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 12:38:04 PM
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Skyrim anyone ?


But honestly I dont see how gaming is too far from books and movies so I think romance can be done and done well. So many examples above show it has but I think a vast amount of companies are looking for a quick buck and shootem ups get it done.


David Cage and co. seem the only ones interested in having that fleshed out story (so to speak) that would be capable of showing memorable romance. But again the idea seems to be to cater to males and give them something to blow up and that doesnt do well for in depth romance

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Teddie9
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 1:00:27 PM

Definitely, most developers may be more capable than what we give them credit for. It's just that they've been taking their target audience (most gamers) into consideration.

Unfortunately I think that the norm (which isn't this site) is completely fine without romance.

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wackazoa
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 2:25:01 PM

Also if there were to be a game with a story like A Game of Fire and Ice then there would be a cry of outrage Im sure because of the stigma that video games are for kids.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 3:38:25 PM

There's romance in Skyrim? I thought you just asked strangers to get married.

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Axe99
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 @ 5:55:40 PM

lol - aye, fetch an artifact for them, put on an amulet and married happily ever after :). If only it were that simple IRL!

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