BioWare: Romance in Games is Natural, But It's a "Pandora's Box"

BioWare says romance is important in their games, but it can be tricky...

Romance in gaming is always a hot topic.

BioWare has often been at the center of such controversy, as their romantic sub-plots have received plenty of attention. Their Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises included romantic sequences for their characters, and some sequences haven't gone over well.

However, the studio is proud of their accomplishments, even if they're aware of the minefield that is romance. A fan asked Dragon Age lead writer David Gaider if BioWare had thought about discarding romantic sub-plots in future projects. Gaider responded on Tumblr:

"To me, the thing that BioWare does best is not story but characters. I think our characters are done to a level that few other games even attempt, with an element of agency that strikes a chord in our players ... and romances have been a natural outgrowth of that. Sure we could stop, but that would be turning our backs on something we do which almost no-one else does."

Gaider added that if the developer opts to create a new IP, romance may or may not be in the cards. While fans of their games do appreciate that aspect, others always seem to have a problem with it. He likened these virtual romantic escapades to "opening Pandora's Box," which is an apt description.

It's not such a big deal, is it?

Evidently, it is. There's always so much debate and controversy surrounding certain romantic situations in video games, and I've often wondered why. Maybe it's because this is an interactive entertainment medium, so players feel more in touch with what's happening on-screen. I can accept that. At the same time, it is fiction and remember, the writers have penned a certain script for a reason.

Now, if the romance feels unnecessary and tacked on, then I consider it poor writing. I'll conclude that content is only there to titillate, and that it doesn't serve any real purpose. In other words, it's not a redeeming quality. On the other hand, if it enhances the overall experience, I have no problem with it.

Featured Columnist

A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.

Published Jan. 27th 2014
  • Illutian
    #1 reason people make fuss over it.

    Two men.

    That's it...that's the only reason. Two women? Nope. Man and woman? Nope.

    And no. It's not the actual sexual act in the scene that touches off that firestorm. They could do like SR4 does and just fade to black, and people would still bitch that "omg, it's immoral. And it'll cause lil Johnny to be gay".
    --Because clearly, it's not something you're born with.


    This is one of the few times Bioware needs to stick to it's 'Artistic Integrity' and tell those who refuse to open their mind to pike off.
  • Portnoy_7537
    I was telling my wife about some of the interesting aspects of the story told in Halo 4, which I have not played (I just watched a video of the cutscenes on YT). When I told her "I don't play shooters", she laughed and pointed out that in the games I do play - the Dragons Age and Mass Effect series - I'm shooting things all the time. What is so different?

    I started to go into the things I like about RPGs

    * actions have consequences, so I sometimes have to think about whether or not someone gets shot instead of just shooting them
    * those consequences can change my character, NPCs, and/or the whole game world (and even future games that import characters from savegames)
    * huge replayability, exploring the consequences of other actions

    ... but I realized that it is very simple: the games I play are, fundamentally, about relationships. Making me care about NPCs, forcing me to make hard decisions about who lives and who dies, earning trust or distrust, being honorable or dishonorable. Romance is usually not *necessary*, but if it is done right it is a logical extension of the relationships you've developed with the other characters.

    Done well, romance can heighten emotional investment in a game... as it does in real life. Done poorly, it can be comical or insulting or a huge distraction... also similar to real life.

    The important thing is: the story comes first. The narrative that ties together all of the shooting and romance and everything in between. If the romance grows naturally as part of the story then it's part of the game and, as with other decisions in the game, if people don't like it they can just avoid making those decisions, skip that part of the (possible) narrative and walk a path - their path, made by their decisions - that doesn't include it. But someone who likes the romance bits can't conjure them up in a game that doesn't have them, so I think they should treat romance like they do so many other aspects of a consequence-heavy narrative: put everything that serves the narrative in the game, and let each player decide which path they take.
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    I feel like the romance things included in the Mass Effect series felt a little forced and tacked on, but done way better than any other game I've played. I don't understand why it's a problem though, if it's a problem in video games why isn't it a problem in books, music, tv, commercials, movies.. ummm, comics... ancient stories, hmmmm... Text books, the list goes on and on.
  • Brian S
    Featured Correspondent
    It was forced in the first one, but in the following BioWare games such as Dragon Age: Origins and ME2, they were far better written. The main reasons it's difficult to write romances in video games are because: video games require the audience to actively participate (meaning there's an actual wrong way to experience that story arc), game writers as a whole simply aren't at writing as writers in other mediums, and games require so much more time, effort, and money than similar media, except maybe some movies.

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