I’m a huge fan of romance options in video games. The first game I remember picking up was solely because the back of the box said “start your own family,” and it was Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. Even though I was playing as a boy, I was concerned about having the girls like me enough to want to marry me. Once I honed in on my wife material I began the courting process. I picked her favorite flowers, gave her discounts at my shop, and gifted her food from my farm. I checked her diary obsessively to make sure I was racking up enough hearts before I asked her to marry me. I loved that my character was in love—and, by the extension, I was reaping all the benefits of being in a relationship even though it was synthetic. (I’d like to point out that I was 10.)
Then I discovered Bioware games when I was 17. I had watched my brothers play Mass Effect, but they weren’t interested in the romance. I was baffled. How could you not be interested in wooing a character for your own benefit? Needless to say I played Mass Effect mostly for the story and its characters … but my ultimate goal was to have one of the characters fall for me. This was my first experience with a game that had a radial-style dialogue wheel that allowed me to say whatever I wanted (within the options the game put out for me) and that made me feel in touch with my character in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. The romance I pursued felt personal—it felt real.
I picked up Dragon Age: Origins while I was waiting for the final Mass Effect game to come out. My friend was lending me her copy. “You’re going to like Alistair,” she told me with a smile. Yeah, right. I thought to myself. What kind of name is Alistair? I was wrong. I was so very wrong. The minute I heard his voice I knew I was in trouble. My fears were later confirmed when he gave me the rose he picked up in Lothering. My heart was physically weak—something I had yet to experience in video game romances. I would find myself grinning when I would interact with him in game, or take immediately to the internet to read everything about him in the Wiki. I felt like a 13-year-old girl that was crushing, head-over-heels, for a boy. My friend and I gushed over Alistair and Garrus as if they were real.
I wasn’t dating in real life while I was going through my video game romances. I had friendships that were incredibly fulfilling, but my love life outside of the console was nonexistent. For the record, I wouldn’t recommend being a 17-year-old girl to anyone. I had a lot of stress at that point in my life, and being able to turn on my Xbox and retreat to my romances gave me a lot of solace. It did leave me a little unprepared for real-world romance, though. When I met my boyfriend at 18 I was so nervous before our first date that I secretly wished for scripted dialogue options so I wouldn’t mess anything up. (Shout out to Felix for continuing to be my player 2!)
I wanted this to be a reflection. I don’t think it’s wrong to immerse yourself in synthetic relationships to get over hardship. Even if it’s just for the hell of it, I believe that there’s nothing wrong with treating an in-game romance with just as much passion as one you’d have offline. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you should marry your 3Ds, but video games are a wonderful place to escape during stressful situations. If having a space boyfriend helps you get through high school, then more power to you! Just don’t neglect any real-world opportunities to put yourself out there.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to Dragon Age Inquisition and decide who I’m going to woo next.