Love In The Open World

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“We wanted the freedom to love. We wanted the freedom to choose. Now we have to fight for it”

Lauren Oliver, Requiem

Over the Christmas period, a seeming distant memory now I came across a topic of conversation around Love and the limitations and restrictions games quite often find themselves in when attempting to portray this most powerful of human emotions to any great degree of believability and conviction. And so with the traditional frivolities of Valentines upon us I’ve taken it upon myself to look at some basic actions and mechanics open world games, the most resplendent environments available to the discerning gamer in our current generation can undertake and integrate in their future pursuit and presentation of love. In framing this topic of conversation I’m not looking at the simple act of love itself but the small actions, the nuances a couple share beyond the infatuation that informs the world of your attraction without the need for words or declarations. There will be of course other actions or reflections I’ve overlooked or missed and I would love to read your impressions and thoughts on what games could add as a simple action to make you believe the attraction between your protagonist and paramour.

I Want To Hold Your Hand

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When I first came across the genesis for this article my first and still, strongest impression and suggestion I postulated was one of the simplest acts as a couple I undertake and in general I would suggest is most common and seemingly never replicated within video games, the act of holding your partner’s hand. There will of course be a contextual reason why on most occasions this isn’t included or required and by and large I will accept those for narrative purposes, but that aside, certainly with the growth of open world team based games or expanded NPC characters often your main character has the option for a romance quest and on more than one occasion your paramour will often fight at your side or accompany you on your adventure. Am I expecting love and romance to blossom on the field of battle? of course not. But open world games have granted us some of the most gorgeous and moving scenery and vista available on the current generation, with a loving partner at your side, would you not reach over and just hold their hand at that moment? Having stopped to marvel at the scenery on more than one occasion during Red Dead Redemption 2 with views that are breath-taking, having a partner to be close to and hold and comfort would have added a layer of depth to the game that otherwise feels somewhat lonely and forlorn. One of my most played and cherished games of this generation was the third in the Dragon Age series Inquisition, a title whose merits I’d champion and praise but equally adventuring with your companion at your side where there is no physical contact in any shape or form seems bizarre. I’d accept a contextual action, press ‘x’ to hold your partner’s hand, I’d even accept a mini cut scene where you are just enjoying the moment together on a vista or overhang, or even the animated scene of your character when you put the controller down and they are standing passively still. There are a number of occasions where in life your loved one would come over and share that smallest act of physical contact, but in video games we have to accept this strange dynamic where its an alien concept.

Couple’s Fight

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Outside of the moment of infatuation, couple’s will fight and argue, for an ocean of reasons and severity, for reasons both rational and otherwise. Whilst, to some degree with more nuanced delivery and skill the presentation of this act between those in love has progressed on the small and silver screen within games in general when a couple fight this act tends to be quite simplistic and as a result, unrealistic to those who have experienced the harsh side of love. Within the open world environment this can take the form of a conversation that flares up before quickly being resolve with the right combination of words or actions, sometimes cut away from with the sound of clashing pots and pans or often brushed aside as the protagonist proves his worth and ultimately validates his point of view over his partners by the might of his actions. A position to take but also highly unrealistic and here’s how games could actually show maturity and restraint when dealing with this volatile subject. Couples fight, whilst this isn’t a fun subject to experience if you are going to include love as a path to explore you should show both the positive and negatives aspects of this, because seemingly the end result of choosing the love path is a prudish sex scene. Whilst in the infatuation phase that is often the ‘end result’ if you want me to accept and feel the sensation of loss and happiness of exploring this path we need to move beyond the infatuation, when your main character despite saving the seven kingdoms, screws up then has to apologise to his partner, when he or she acts irrationally and causes a dispute over a minor triviality then needs make things better. Even show the maturity of a long-term relationship, where a fight causes your companion to purposefully stay behind or sit out your next mission or quest, show casing the cause and effect nature of disagreement. Let my actions have repercussions, show me the actual emotions and actions of being in love and fighting with the person you care most deeply for then perhaps I’ll feel some genuine emotion if they perish and I have to vanquish and honor their memory.

Happily Married

In contrast to the above point, and a narrative sin both traditional media and gaming are guilty of to some degree is the need to portray your central protagonist as either single or having suffered from a tragedy in the preceding chapters allowing you the freedom to establish a new relationship with an undiscovered person along your way. Very rarely that I recall have you started and played through a campaign with a character who is already married and in a committed relationship. With the wealth of resources available today you could of course design your said partner who is seldom seen as you explore the kingdoms and vanquish your foes but appears in a series of flashbacks or cut scenes as you return to your keep and find solace and comfort in the arms of the person you have made your committed bond to. What always stands out to me as one of the stranger qualities of open world games where romance is an option is the speed you fall in love and open up to a character you have barely had time to form any meaningful connection to. As Sandra and Keanu realised in Speed, relationships formed under extreme circumstances barely work out. Why should I have any faith or confidence the random person I have just met and romanced will keep my secrets, build trust with, stay through the thick and thin, the good times and bad. Why, often is the pursuit of romance concluded with sex or a token end marriage scene and more often than not forgotten or dispelled in any subsequent sequel or chapter? in terms of narrative, having a loved one at home in your castle or space ship you are required to defend could be an impactful motivation, your romantic cut scenes and moments not scripted to show the awkwardness of falling in love with a person whilst trying to save the world but instead just cherishing the peace and tranquility of coming home to a person that loves you and finding peace in their arms.

Let’s Talk About Sex

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I don’t need to see it, I don’t need an interactive mini game experience to infantilise it or create a cheap, thrill and distraction in contrast to the more serious tone of the open world adventure you find yourself upon. But sex within games has often shown a remarkably restrained, prudish presentation certainly in comparison to that on the small screen and perhaps even more so given its intrinsic nature. Quite simply, video games are still seen as a somewhat juvenile experience with parents more willing to let their children play these games than they would let them watch or view a similarly rated movie. Grand Theft Auto and Scarface for example are both 18 rated releases in the UK market featuring sex, drugs and violence. I would position one is more, passably permitted than the other and it’s because of this passive acceptance and also the prevalent power of the American authorities that sex within games is often far more constrained and poorly written or shown. Quite simply, for me you can’t show the grown up nature and repercussions of sex if the act itself remains some form of prize to be won or a way to titilate your user base. As a physical act between two people in a committed relationship it can be therapeutic for example, imagine your champion and hero returning home, tired and forlorn from their brave act of heroism, you take them in your arms and provide comfort and closeness that is as much about satisfaction as it is rekindling that connection between you. Or a regrettable action, between a team member you are pursuing that results in them leaving your squad unable to resolve the emotional consequences of the action itself because you haven’t built up the trust or certainty between you. You don’t need to show the action, or write and show some heavily censored scene between characters but seemingly in the open world we exist in sex is still seen as the ultimate prize to obtain towards the end of the game or a comical distraction. After a certain point, when in love it’s neither of those things.

Shared Responsibilities

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Outside the realms of the Sims, parental responsibility and actions is often overlooked if the subject matter arises at all. Children and offspring are very rarely introduced due to the inherent restrictions they place upon a main character or hero but lets theorise how that mechanic could be introduced and developed to show how two people in love perform certain action to forge that bond. This could take on many forms, for instance who cooks the meals in a home? is it on the primary worker, the one that stays at home and raises the children. The act of cooking and preparing a meal can be an extremely cathartic experience and sharing your produce with a loved family, be it a partner or children can be rewarding, and perishing when they reject it. Would this detract from a game when you are trying to save the world? perhaps but lets look at an alternative. You come home having temporarily vanquished a foe early on, you are hurt and broken and want to find some normality in the situation to remind you of whats important and refocus your attention. You stand beside your companion in a kitchen area and prepare a meal together enjoying the solace and quiet, you wash up, cuddle up and fall asleep, simple acts, simple shared responsibilities that ground you in the moment and just bring perspective to the bigger picture. Equally, returning from a quest to enjoy that moment when your child is waiting your return, sitting down and playing a side quest when you are teaching them to read or reading their favourite story which in some way could have narrative resonance with what ever quest or mission you have completed or about to undertake. In short, in most open world games your hero is generally elevated above the concerns and affairs of an ordinary citizen, they are elevated to God like status and as such there is often a complete lack of connectivity between the user and character. Having small touches such as those listed where you return to your keep or ship and just undertake routine, trivial routines and responsibilities which in turn allow your paramour to admire your actions and reaffirms that bond, that love would be a mature and more connective mechanism.

Enjoy your Valentines Weekend together.

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