See, holding hands is to full-on sex what a handshake is to being slapped in the face with a fish, which is the greatest analogy ever on the Internet. There are layers. But the important part is that it's subtler -- Understated even. However, it still conveys an emotional connection, an intimacy between the participants beyond an indulgence in carnal whim (hang on, forming a band with that name).
What I'm talking about doesn't necessarily have to be holding hands. It could be anything from lingering eye contact to a kiss on the cheek to a third thing I can't be bothered to think of. Whatever, so long as it's an intermediary between total indifference and the barefoot sock hop (if you know what I mean and don't stop to think if that made sense) that conveys affection between those involved.
Like this, but without socks, see?
I think this is important. Therefore, so should you. If you're looking for some further justification, this is in part because it is, to me, more believable if the relationship is meant to be something with emotional weight. If it's the result of player choice, like the romance in Jade Empire or one of any other "mature" RPGs, the growth to some almost trivial acknowledgment of closeness illustrates the building of a relationship rather than some binary "we just met/okay, now we're totally doing it" switch.
Now, I'll admit two things: the first is a deadly fear of leeches. They are godless abominations and should be smote from the earth. The second is that RPGs haven't done a terrible job of this. There have been instances of a shared smile or a knowing glance and they've felt profoundly right. Developers are working towards more balanced depictions of relationships. That said, romances still tend to feel more like a race to the bed than anything deeper (can I complain about a race to the bed and still call myself a man?). The little moments aren't often treated as anything more than steps towards the crescendo (read: boning) and there isn't a good reason they couldn't be the ultimate state of a relationship.
While it's understandable for the progression of some plots to demand a little naked wrestling before surnames are exchanged, usually in the case of a "we're tumbling towards our imminent doom and there's nothing better to do before we get there" scenario, that doesn't make it feel especially natural.
But let's take the intercoursal part of the interaction as a given. The gaming gods demand a non-virgin sacrifice and whatnot. Even with that in mind, the intermediate step is important. If it helps, think of it as a bridge. On the one side in unfamiliarity. On the other is rumpled sheets, discarded clothing and, if you're anything like me, uncontrollable sobbing. But this gulf requires something to connect the two sides, something to guide across the breach. The little acts of intimacy do this by providing manageable steps to the final destination. No, wait -- don't think of it as a bridge, but as a lubricant that greases...
And we're dropping the analogy.
Intercoursal. It's a word.
Beyond realism, I feel that holding hands can be a more honest manifestation of affection. That's not to say the sex can't be an expression of intimacy - it's hard to imagine anything being further from the truth. It's more that such a casual, and ideally natural, display speaks plainly of that intimacy. If two characters (or more, in hand holding orgies) are shown with fingers interlocked than it's immediately obvious that they share something. It demonstrates that there is a romantic interest without resorting to having characters shout, "DERP, I LUV U" or stripping them down and hurling them at each other, and so the relationship isn't sequestered to the inevitably infamous bedroom scene. If it's something a player has pursued in earnest, they're rewarded with an open acknowledgment of intimacy with whomever they've attached themselves to.
"Beyamor. Bewbs. Seriously."
Okay, no, I'm done. Holding hands is a natural, honest evolution of a relationship, but none of that matters because it's not wrapped in a bra.
The perfect chance to use "Mass Effect 2: Alien Vagoo" and I got nothing.
This promoted blog was written for our March Monthly Musing assignment, "Write something about sex." You too could get promoted if you write something about sex in videogames over on the Community Blogs.