Do I have your attention now?
That title is 100% serious. Story driven games featuring relationships need to have more sex in them. More importantly, they need to have sex earlier. It should even be easier to get.
Because, if we want sex and sexuality to be a more prominent, more important part of gaming? We need to quit treating it like a prize; Sex needs to not be the end of the road when it comes to developing relationships. Is it important? Yeah. Sex represents a change in the dynamic of a relationship and getting to know each other in a brand new way. There should definitely be something climactic (har, har) about it! But it is, in many cases, merely the first arc of a relationship.
Which is what I actually want to talk about! Relationships!
Wait! Don’t run! This isn’t bad! I mean it!
Relationships, for the most part, are handled really, really, really goddamn poorly in games. There are exceptions, of course, but, for the most part, relationships in games kind of fall into these categories:
1. Fall in love by the end.
2. Already together with minimal interaction.
3. Loved one is dead and more or less forgotten.
4. Fall in love and have sex.
And that, more or less, is the extent of relationship in games.
Kinda sad, isn’t it? There really isn’t any sort of exploration of what it means to be in a relationship. Of how things change because of sex. Of how things change because of commitment to each other. There is the vague knowledge that these things exist but, even in story driven/romance driven games, the goal is always sort of hovering around scoring or post-story scoring.
Honestly, off-hand, the only game that I can really think of that actually explores the dynamic of relationships is the Atlus Puzzle/Horror/RPG/VN/etc Catherine. Unfortunately, as much as I like the game, it too is ultimately flawed in its exploration of the issue.
Catherine does one thing very well. It dives directly into the issue of fear of commitment, insecurity, and boredom. The state of Vincent and Katherine’s relationship, going into the game, is well executed and the problems get a lot of knocking around. Where it really fails in execution, however, is in exploring… well. Their relationship. Katherine ends up being something of a set-piece, and you never really get a sense of why she and Vincent were in a relationship in the first place.
And I will still praise that game to high heaven for taking on almost unheard of territory in gaming.
Fundamentally, I really think there is a notable fear of the concept of intimacy in gaming. While I was mulling over this subject today, I realized something.
The two characters rarely, if ever, actually say those three magic words. “I love you.” Seriously, I’ve been having trouble thinking of any where both characters actually say it. Sure, there are games where it is implied or seems obvious, but actual commitment to it? The actual saying of the words? I wracked my brain and could only come up with one real example. Which is sort of the crux of my theory.
Mass Effect 3. The Tali romance, as long as my brain is working properly, results in both Tali and Shepard admitting love to each other. And you know why we get this? Because we went through the sex drama already in Mass Effect 2! Tali and Shep have already had sex! Bioware no longer needs to dangle it in front of the players allowing it to focus more on the dynamic of Tali and Shep.
Not that it did this well or anything, but it was quite shocking to me to hear the I love you.
So, I think the real problem is that we’re all hung up on sex being the awesome thing. The need for boobies causes them to treat said boobies as the carrot on the stick (yes, breasts being equate to two phallic symbols, go me), meaning that, unless we start getting to characters with sexual hang-ups (not very likely at this point, given we can barely manage to have sex itself in games without it becoming a shit fit), then the need to have sex be the climax (har, har, again) of the relationship is going to severely impair the ability to explore broader issues of intimacy and romance.
So yeah. If we could get sex to stop being such an issue in games, it could actually be used as a tool for storytelling instead of a somewhat silly prize.