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Using rivalry and respect to push video game romances forward

Using rivalry and respect to push video game romances forward

March 18, 2014 | By Mike Rose

March 18, 2014 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, GDC

For Chris Dahlen of Mad*Pow, romances in video games are great and all... but what if we explored relationships that didn't exist within a single integer?

On the Narrative track at GDC today, Dahlen noted that most romances within video games occur on a 1-to-maximum scale, where 1 is meeting the person, and maximum is the score necessary to have them fall in love with you. Take Persona 4, for example, or a BioWare game like Mass Effect.

"It gives you the idea that you just want to be really nice and tell people what they want to hear," noted the writer. "But life doesn't work that way... You're gaming the character instead of engaging with them."

Instead, he reasoned, what if we approach video game romances from a two-integer angle? He put forward the notion of ranking romances in games by both "rivalry" and "respect."

At the beginning of the game, the person may feel like a rival to you, but as you both go through specific scenarios, you slowly find respect for each other and the rivalry dissipates, allowing the potential for attraction.

"You can't just have a love interest who is always, 'Oh my god you are the greatest.'"
What this means is that, rather than just doing good things to your potential romance interest to make them fall in love with you, you might choose to go against their wishes at times in order to later gain their respect through your decisions.

This also provides the opportunity for insulting and taking cheap shots at your potential love interest as, rather than putting them off as in most games, you end up stoking the rivalry and it may pay off in the long run.

"You can't just have a love interest who is always, 'Oh my god you are the greatest,'" reasons Dahlen. "So one slider doesn't seem to do it."

Story elements that revolve around themes like teamwork, surprise and choice can help to push characters towards varying conclusions, he reasoned. And Dahlen also discussed character creation as a way to push video game romances forward. Usually we're able to create our own character, but rarely can be choose what the NPCs look like.

Dahlen argued that allowing players to choose what your romantic interests look like may well lead to better story arcs in game, if we find ourselves caring about them more. "Let people choose what the person looks like through character creation," he said. "Let them pick it out."

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