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Within the video game space, something that has been really become a focus lately has been the relationship between the player and characters. While I think that it's not a new phenomenon, there are people who do think that "I can actually relate to a character now, and feel for them!". So, with that, a question arises-because characters are being more developed, and more developers seem to be focusing on this interaction between the player and the character, how should we view this sort of idea when it comes to the other meaning of relationship.
There have been many relationships between characters in the gaming world, from Link and Malon, to Drake and Elena, to Junpei and Akane, and others. Sometimes, they're the basis of a game's plot; sometimes, they're meant to be pursued as side content, with things like Shepard and one of his party members. Also, there have been instances where games have allowed the player to choose how relationships progress, as well as where we don't decide anything about them. Both of these can lead to wonderful storytelling in video games, and that's what this blog is going to be about, if you haven't guessed it. I'll first look
Probably the earliest and most basic example of relationships in gaming is the original Donkey Kong: the guy gets the damsel in distress. We still see this mechanic today, but it has been overplayed quite a bit. These sort of developments aren't really multi-tiered, and don't have any sort of, er, complications, usually, but they're neat nonetheless, if they're done right. Some neat ideas have been giving the girls a go, like with the title Super Princess Peach (I need to play that someday...). I know this doesn't really deal with relationships that much, but it's the most basic form I could think of, and it does sort of have that sort of desire to be with someone special.
As time moves on in the industry, relationships become more complex, and stories start to come out that have better, more written characters, such as Crono and Marle, and the whole Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, Zack debacle that's still confusing to me. Whatever. The point is, the interactions between characters grew to be more complex, as storytelling grew to more important to developers. However, while these relationships are wonderfully built, it's really only been in this dying generation from which I think we've started to see games that have taken the player more into account.
I chose Liara, but whatever.
While I'm not a huge fan of the Mass Effect series, I do recognize how it has brought romance to higher levels. The multiple roadmaps and decisions the player can make as Shepard can make possible love interests revolt him or her, as well as love him or her as a partner. In any case, the shipping's (shipping means to "ship" two character together, or basically say which characters should be together) have created fan art, fights, forums, and entire FAQ's about which romance roadmap to follow. It's remarkable that people care about the characters this much, and it shows how the future can also go farther.
I found my pursuit of Liara T'Soni to be an interesting experience, but something deeper than that was the title To The Moon. A title from Freebird Games, the game has the player go through the character Johnny Wyles' memories, through which his relationship with his deceased wife, River, is shown. Their story is one of the best I'd ever seen in a video game, and the unique way the game progresses (the two scientists go through Johnny's memories in reverse chronological order) made it feel fresh and new. I'm mentioning this title because it does show how deep video games can show a relationship between two people, and, again, because the storytelling was unique.
Now, let's move into the nitty gritty of what I want to look at. Namely-should video games progress farther on this road? Should we actually try to get real relationships between the player character and an NPC? And should we make relationships more believable, and pursue them in more intricate ways?
LOOK INTO MY EYES.
I know, I know, graphics don't make a game. I don't believe they do-I enjoyed the original Half-Life more than Skyrim, after all. However, it's entirely possible that was games become more realistic, like what Quantic Dream's 90,000 polygons, that we might see relationships between two characters become more believable. Those eyes are actually believable. If you had a character looking directly at the player with eyes that realistic, it is entirely possible that a player may feel more emotion than if they were looking a model with less detail. I'm not saying they'd be attracted to the character, but that they could at least feel more of an emotional investment, or something. When we see things that act in a certain way compared to other things we believe that that thing is the other thing. Like a GAULEM once said, (paraphrased), if it acts like a person, looks like a person, and talks like a person, than it's a person (speaking about a robot).
Recently, games have also seemed to have more of a focus on writing. Many games are already acclaimed before they come out because we know of the writer's pedigree, and GameInformer has been having "The Writer's Room" features. 10 years ago, I don't feel like there was as much of a focus as there is now: indeed, Beyond: Two Souls has an absurdly long script compared to other pieces of entertainment. As we progress further, I think that writing may be more important for some developers, and that may lead to better writing of relationships. This is a given, considering how the industry has evolved, but I still thought to mention it.
Another possible, more controversial venture, is moving more towards there being equal opportunities in terms of choosing a female versus male partner. If anyone is offended religion wise by this topic, I'm sorry, but I personally feel that genuine love between people should be allowed. Anyway, my hope is that in games, people will be able to choose their same sex, if they prefer that. If it's someone who is canonically straight, than that is fine, but if it's a game like Skyrim, or Mass Effect, where you make the character truly your own, than people of all orientations should be allowed. As games tackle more controversial and broad subjects, I hope this is more taken as a norm.
They had to stand next to each other to get to this point in their relationship.
Lastly, this does tie a bit into what I said about writing becoming more important, but it also stands off a bit. I think, and hope, that relationships in gaming become more...organic. In Mass Effect, you need to go just speak to a crew member often and stay on their side, but you can miss the opportunity of being with them. In Fire Emblem: Awakening, support conversations are unlocked and progress by...your units being paired together and fighting alongside one another. Sure, that's probably helpful, but this makes everything so...controllable, which can be good, and bad. It means the player does get to take the route they want. But, what if I want to try out a different experience? As AI becomes more and more complex in technology, and gaming, I hope that we can get AI that responds more to our own actions, and reacts based off them. And I don't just mean a la "Kenny will remember you lied to him" in The Walking Dead, but I mean even deeper. That ma be far off, but if this becomes something in a game, I'd love to see it happen. Just for small nuances to change how someone in a game world felt about my player character.
Well, that's where I'm going to end this look. This 31/31 is almost over...dang, it went by fast. Anyway, if you have any thoughts, drop them off below. See you guys tomorrow in the second to last day of the 31/31...also, see me kick some butt in Tim's Smash Bros. blog as well. ;)
Also, give me a game where it's just me and Phi. Please? Please?