Romances are one of the most popular elements to role playing games. They are so popular, in fact, that when BioWare announced that Anthem would not initially feature any romance storylines, the fan backlash was ferocious. Romances are now expected in games and although incredibly popular, the quality of writing still has some way to go.
While support for romances is undeniable, the content for romances hasn’t really hit its peak yet. Players usually get the choice of will-they-won’t-they, but that’s about as far as the choices actually go. The best selling point to RPGs is that they are interactive stories. They offer a unique story-telling experience which books, film and TV cannot. You can make your own story (to an extent) so it seems rather limiting that players don’t really get to define their own fictional romance stories.
Romances in games do not need an overhaul, but they should enter an era where they finally offer more depth. There have been strides made. Same gender romance options are no longer unheard of for the protagonist and more games are featuring queer characters. However, the presence of queerness alone is not enough because if the quality is there, queer audiences aren’t being served. We also need good, detailed and in-depth experiences.
There is still huge scope for exploration when it comes to relationships in games. Mass Effect Andromeda made gains by featuring polya relationships – to an extent. Either Ryder twin can experience multiple sexual relationships – and they can overlap – but as soon as Ryder finds love then the romantic relationship is locked in and all other sexual relationships are called off. It was a step forward for better nuance with relationship writing but it also risked pandering to stereotypes that polyamory isn’t serious, and to the false idea that as soon as people find ‘the one’ they will settle down. It should have been more open and the types of relationships should have been for the player to decide.
A great step would also be to introduce a sliding scale system where players get to decide the type of relationship they want to pursue; whether it will be platonic, alterous, romantic or incorporate different element, including whether it will be sexual or non-sexual. This could be done through conversations with the characters, reinforcing the value of constantly seeking consent (an important message that media must get better at showing) and/or by setting the main character’s preferences for romantic and sexual relationships in the opening creator screen.
This would give players far greater control, and also give a much more rewarding narrative experience. YouTube is full of videos of romantic and sexual gaming content (especially if aliens are involved) and so it’s unlikely that fans wouldn’t welcome even more options to explore and a more personalised experience.
We don’t always need more romantic character options, sometimes we just need greater depth to the potential that is already there. Romances are a huge draw for fans of role-playing video games. It would be incredible if developers explored new ways to engage with these stories.