Romantic Retreat: Courtship & Stress Relief in Games

Garrus, Mass Effect

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.

Alistair, Dragon Age: Origins

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.

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3 Comments on “Romantic Retreat: Courtship & Stress Relief in Games

  1. Yes! Totally in agreement here. I’m very invested in game romances, and it’s safe to say I play a lot of games for the romance arcs and human dynamics. Unfortunately I struggle to find games that meet my standards besides Bioware and the occasional visual novel – and even then Bioware romances often feel too secondary and VN romances too primary – but that just makes it all the sweeter when I do.

    (It also seems like we have similar tastes – Garrus is easily my Mass Effect partner of choice, and I also got embarrassingly blushy over Alistair. Who are you thinking to romance in Inquisition?)

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    • It’s got to be Garrus!

      For all that the romances are a bit of a mixed bag in Mass Effect (I found Jack’s strangely uncharacteristic and Jacob’s, well…you know), Garrus’ romance arc hit a lot of high notes for me. I think one of the reasons it’s so good is that the writers couldn’t fall back on conventional sexy trappings with a dragon beetle alien man, ha ha.

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  2. Hey! First time commenting here! I saw Alistair and I just had to say something…

    He was the first character to actually make me smile, blush and giggle in the most silly ways while playing. I was ridiculous and he was so sweetly written that it was absurd.

    I didn’t like anyone on the Mass Effect series, except for James Vega. But when I tried something my character seemed like she was harassing him. And then they were drunk and he felt like he didn’t even want to talk about it… it was just so uncomfortable. I felt guilty and disgusted at my own character, so I just reloaded a previous save… thankfully, it’s a video game.

    I made Hawke romance Anders in DA2, but I was so disappointed… he was not the character I had the pleasure to met in Awakening. He kept saying he was obsessed and going to hurt Hawke, and his insistance was a bit creepy to me. I simply didn’t romance anyone in all my other DA2 gameplays.

    As for Inquisition, I thought I’d try Solas for a change… but I can’t make my characters romance anyone except Iron Bull. He’s just too awesome.

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