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[Unfortunately, it turns out that Nanashi is a bit of a prude, but he’s actually got some fairly solid, logical points in this blog tackling the topic of virtual “sexy time” in games. I’m not even going to lie here. I jump at every opportunity I get to do the digital dirty, so it’s interesting to read another perspective on the matter. Still, if I see that I can have sex in a game, you can bet your bottom dollar that’ll be the first thing on my agenda when I finally boot it up. There’s something strangely fascinating about it. It’s always goofy looking, and it’s never really done particularly well. – Kevin]
While perusing the plethora of anti-Bethesda, Fallout 4 criticisms to be found on YouTube (Seriously, there are so many…) a point came up in one of these videos entitled “Fallout 4 Review – No Todds, No Masters”: Companions in Bethesda RPGs usually suck.
The video in question
Now whether or not that point is proven in the video, or you or I believe it, is not the subject matter of this right here cblog. It just kind of set off a thought process in my head of how nowadays games like to make you romance your in-game NPC companions. I think BioWare started this trend, although I may be wrong on that. Point is, it’s weird guys. (Nah, who am I to judge? Especially after having just gotten done with Persona…)
Then the thought process peaked with this realization: In Fallout: New Vegas (The good one. *wink*) you can’t get your wasteland, post apocalyptic cupid fix. Although, you can hook up or buy a night of fiery, radiated passion. (Seriously guys, use protection if it’s glowing!) And I kind of liked it better that way. Sure the wastes were a little bit lonelier but maybe you can just go there without going there and that’s good enough if you catch my drift. (Oh, but on the side bang every man, woman, hunky Roman savage, cannibal, Elvis cosplayer, and robot in sight.) Maybe the relationships you develop with the characters throughout New Reno can be just as gratifying if not more than they would be had the player been given the option to go steady with ‘em. But we will return to that later.
Ever heard of the phrase “the chase is better than the catch”? It will be good to keep this in mind going forward since the concept itself demonstrates basically what I’m driving at here. I’ve played a bunch of games that either force you to or at least include a dating mechanic somewhere within the game. They can become quite awkward to the point of breaking the immersion of playing a game. Awkward kissing like watching two sock puppets go at it, researching the likes and dislikes of a fictional character to score likability points, and going on dates which, because this is a video game, generally amounts to chauffeuring a fake person through a virtual world for ten minutes before you can advance to the next stage.
Obviously, a video game can’t capture the depth of how long it takes to develop a relationship with another being. Especially, if they have to include several options for the player. In the same way, we don’t have to watch Niko Bellic sit down with a bank representative to set up an account so he can stash all of his dirty, dirty money. It would be silly to think Rockstar could (or would want to for that matter) make it so that you watch Niko’s relationships with women he meets online form organically. I’m not exactly complaining about this or wanting it to be in the game. I’m simply saying it feels like a strange element to put into a game because video games are used for escapism and a break from the day to day while dating and relationships are something you actually want to experience. I believe this blocks it from ever being correctly implemented into video games… until we are literally living inside of them. Try going on a date and see if, ten minutes in, the barrage of gift giving and telling them everything they want to hear makes them like you. More proof that playing video games can’t teach you jack shit about life!
“Oh, I’ve had a lot of experience with that game babe. I played every dating sim on Steam!”
Growing up, the touchy feely parts of the sims and staring at Lara Croft’s tits (Tomb Raider was before my time actually) made me feel nervous and giggly like it was wrong to entertain these feelings or something. My larger point is that these moments, over time, become far less memorable. They’re there, you feel funny, and then you move on. IF there isn’t much lastability to an element in a game, then why are we including it? Characters you meet, plot twists, dungeons you infiltrate, guns you equip, skills you learn, and experiences you gain should be memorable parts of the game (albeit, occasionally quite samey), and that’s why they’re there. So that you come away from this with some cherishable experience. I’m not trying to shake my fist in anger at dating sims or romancing NPCs in Mass Effect, but it bothers me that this is used a lot. It’s as if game devs feel it really adds anything meaningful to the game simply by letting you do it and without examining if it really has a purpose beyond offering a trendy video game option. In my opinion, romancing in games is self-defeating not just because of the immersion-breaking or the “forced-ness” of the implementation but also because you end up losing interest in those characters, well at least in my experience, after you move on from the game. That ageless, fluttery chest feeling is long gone after you’ve played the dating scenes, beat the game, and stopped playing it. In the long run, these parts of the game don’t really stick out in the mind anymore
Now if I haven’t lost you yet, good because I’m about to bring it all back on track right now. Fallout: New Vegas spoilers inbound: I like the character, Cass. She has a cool backstory and likes to be to the point. Though she plays “hard to get” at first, through the right series of dialogue choices, you can get her as your companion. Not girlfriend or lover but the partner that follows you around and actually contributes to the gameplay part of the game. YOU as the player have to work just to get that when so many other games would’ve let you gone so much further. In fact, you can’t actually date her because they never put that into the game, and, at least for me, that’s just perfect! If you thought this blog got weird, it gets even weirder, dear reader.
So there I was, playing what quickly became one of my favorite RPGs of all time. A game that would influence me to load oldies onto my phone and disgustingly hoard bottle caps from beer and glass-bottled sodas for about a year or so. Then I earned Cass’s role as my second banana. I’m not ashamed to admit I was willing to explore the game options and reload saves if necessary to see if we could make something happen here. Again, you can’t. Cass does, however, have a part of her dialogue options that reference the thought of being in a relationship with the protagonist and then, no, you just can’t pursue that further. Hey, wanna go shoot stuff now? It was like a video game character turning you down, although it really didn’t come across as rejection. And you know what? I fucking laughed. It was funny and we went about our business kicking ass in the wastes as companions.
The best part of the whole affair is that I remember this scene so well simply for the fact that this is how it played out. It was unexpected and humorous as if the devs were inserting their hands into the game in a T-shape saying “No, this isn’t another romancing game,” and, in the long run, this made Cass and this subplot all the more alluring and memorable. Best of all, it was so much more gratifying as a result. As if the build up by itself was enough, and all I needed as the player. (As opposed to letting her become my protagonist’s woman while ruining the edge of subtlety and heading to bland town.) When it comes to this issue, we have to ask ourselves what does the option to let you romance a character in a video game really add to it? Again, I believe the way the New Vegas dev team handled romancing in their game works better because the video game isn’t trying to tread territory that surpasses escapism. It isn’t trying to fake a part of life you would be better off experiencing for yourself out in the real world. (Again, that is until the great inevitable VR and sex robot takeover.)
Like I said before, sometimes not getting what you want can leave you feeling better than actually getting it. If you get it, it ruins the whole fun. At least, that’s how I see it, and it would at least explain why, to me, why all the romanced virtual game characters come and go. I always think back to Cass and how much more interesting that went because we never got to see “what could’ve been.”
I really believe wholeheartedly that Obsidian (specifically, the people who crafted the game design of and writing for New Vegas) have a knack for doing good work. These guys like to keep their ears to the ground and know what development choices will result in a better experience for players of their games. The case with Cass was probably them looking at stuff like Mass Effect or Dragon Age and seeing it for the kind of cheap trick that adds nothing (except maybe a cheap, masturbatory aid at best) and ultimately decided not to include it. I think the proof is in the pudding. Had Cass been another case of developers turning a smaller aspect of their game into a girlfriend-em-up, I probably would’ve come away from this part pretty underwhelmed. The ease of getting to that point would’ve been empty in the long run and squandered the true appreciation I could’ve had for how they built that character and what kind of relationship could develop with the protagonist.
In the long run at least… And that’s probably what it all boils down to: How do you want your virtual babe gratification: deeper and with lasting appeal or fast and loose? Because if fast and loose is what you’re looking for, I hear there’s a great “service” robot in old New Vegas that’ll take your caps without asking too many questions.
As an “afterthought,” I think this blog might rub a bunch of people the wrong way. Just know a couple of things about the making of this: It’s just my opinion, and I’m really not trying to hate on this aspect of video games if that’s your thing. I have enjoyed these parts of games in the past, I even hear, since I’ve been paying attention, there is a really neat dating sim revolving around dating tanks. This all came about as a bunch of thoughts I had that I wanted to put together even if exploring them doesn’t really lead anywhere substantial necessarily. And at the end of the day, that is blogging in a nutshell: exploring ideas. Thank you for listening to my mad, ranting thoughts and if you’re still mad after this post disclaimer, go away.