The Bittersweetest Thing

Lead Writer of BioWare's Dragon Age game series, lover of fan tears. This is where I blog about game development, fandom, and narrative design. Anything I say here is my opinion alone.

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On Romances in Games

A friend of mine and I had a discussion regarding romances in Dragon Age. He said he had a problem with the fact that not all of the companions were romanceable, stating that there should be some way to, not necessarily on the same playthrough, convince every member of your party to have some manner of relations. I stated that it wasn’t feasible because of the effort required, and the sacrifices to other gameplay aspects it would cause. In a perfect world, though, would you even condone this? — mrbob0822

Actually, I would not.

Surprising? Perhaps. If we had more resources, I suppose I wouldn’t mind allowing the player to try romancing every follower, but to allow them to successfully do so? No, I can’t say that appeals to me very much for two main reasons:

1) Romances are a side show, not the main game. Yes, some people like them a lot, and I have absolutely no beef with them doing so. In fact, it’s very gratifying. While I suppose a game could be made where the romantic plot takes a level of importance equal to that of the critical path, that has never been the case with the games BioWare makes. These plots are tertiary, optional content… something to add to your enjoyment, and add to your level of emotional investment in the characters… and that seems to get forgotten when people discuss it at length.

Such is the case whenever any piece of content gets discussed online. Under a microscope, whatever you’re discussing seems like all there is… and thus is clearly the most important thing ever. I cannot do that. I always have to keep my eye on the bigger picture, and there is an entire rest of the game that needs to be contended with… which includes a lot of elements that have much more pertinence to the game than who someone does or doesn’t get to have sex with. Romances are a nice extra, and naturally we’re always going to struggle with how to do them right, but they’re well down the list on things I need to concern myself with. I could, in fact, happily have a game without any romances at all… or spend an equal amount of time developing relationships with followers that are non-romantic.

Occasionally the focus on romances reaches such a fever pitch that idea seems rather attractive, actually. But only occasionally.

2) I dislike the idea of every character being sexually available to the player. Not that it cheapens them, necessarily, but it would lend itself towards their objectification. Take the first Witcher game, for instance— I enjoyed many things about that game, but the collectible sex card mechanic? Ultimately it rendered every female character in the game into a puzzle to be solved. What do I do to sleep with them? How do I get their card? Yes, you can ignore the mechanic (I certainly tried, even though I ended up sleeping with several characters purely by accident) but having the mechanic in the first place necessitates a difference in how they are approached, both from a writing and implementation standpoint. As soon as the player is aware it’s possible, you are in fact encouraging them towards a certain type of behavior. Even ignoring the awkwardness of doing that solely to female characters, doing it to all characters equally would still make them be viewed as potential romances and thus change how the player related to them.

————

I don’t put a lot of stock in the fans who get upset at the amount of discourse regarding the romances, and who are very vocal about how it should be eliminated completely. Yes, some of the discussion can indeed be juvenile… but much of the complaining seems to be centered on the idea this is something only female gamers do. Fangirls. And whatever the fangirls are squeeing excitedly about is obviously diluting the “serious” nature of RPG’s… ignoring just how juvenile other gamers can be about the myriad of obsessions they have in these games as well as the fact that the fixation on romances is hardly exclusive to females at all (as the angst over the Morrigan romance back in the day would clearly attest).

I would, however, resist making the romance elements of our games more prominent without also changing the nature of that content. Adding an element of failure, for instance, or by having not all characters be available to all player characters (they’re attracted only to certain types, for instance). Adding different types of romance: tragic romances, romances where your partner cheats on you, romances where the character is already involved in another relationship, characters that don’t know how to relate to someone else on a romantic level or aren’t interested in such. It needn’t all be unhappy, of course, but were I to cross the threshold of making all followers possible to romance I’d at least want to change the approach into something more plausible. To me, the idea that a player should get their followers and then simply select one or more companions to be their romance, and that romance is their cuddly bunny for the entirety of the game and plays out exactly as they wish, would be the worst of both worlds. It would be wish fulfillment on a level that reduced the characters into romantic playthings— sex dolls, really. And I have no interest in creating that, even if there are people who think it’d be grand.

Would doing romances in that way actually be popular? Probably not. Take the resolution of the Thane romance arc in ME3, for instance. There are people who did (and still do) think that, having selected Thane as their romance, they should have been able to cure him of his illness and make everything better. Why? Because he’s their romance, and they’re entitled to have it be a happy one. Regardless of whether you think they are justified in feeling so, they do. I don’t think plausibility is really what they’re looking for.

So that would leave us at an impasse… some might appreciate such an approach, and some might even enjoy the stories, but I suspect many who are looking for romance in their story are hoping for something more fulfilling… and would likely be put out if their choice ended up getting the short end of the stick (from their point of view) compared to some of the other romances. The discussion would change from “oh! I get to romance this character?” to comparisons with other romances and assurances that, because their character didn’t work out as they envisioned it, that must be because they’re not “legitimate” choices.

Just thinking about that makes my brain ache a little, actually.

So, no, I’m quite fine with selecting a few characters and having them be romantic options and letting the rest be simply what they are. My preference is that the romances cover a range of styles and sexualities as evenly as we can, and that they have comparable levels of content, and leave it at that. If someone doesn’t find something to their liking in that particular game, chances are we’ll have a whole different batch in the next game (I do find it rather amusing how people always assume we’ll write exactly the same characters in the next game as the current one— even though we never have, the assumption is the same after every game). In the meantime, there are hopefully friendships and rivalries among the followers that you can develop, and reasons to appreciate each of them beyond whether they can be sexed to your liking, as well as that whole other thing we wrote.

You know. The plot. :)

Notes

  1. shellacker reblogged this from dgaider
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  7. parmesanfair reblogged this from dgaider and added:
    I agree with everything in this post. David Gaider answered precisely about every aspect of the issue and gave a...
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  13. heartlined reblogged this from dgaider and added:
    Problem is Thane’s romance doesn’t exist in ME3 (same with Jacob). The ME3 writers decided Thane wasn’t a legitimate...
  14. avatarofentropy reblogged this from dgaider and added:
    Yes, good.
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