Why Video Games Don't Tell Love Stories

Games can tell stories about aliens, time travel, dimensional tears, physics, biology, dreams, hell, balls made of random stuff turning into stars... so why can't even one of them tell a good love story?

Why there are no good love stories in video games?As one of the guys from Lessons in Lore, I mainly focus on Warcraft related humor bits, and Warcraft romances have about as much of a chance of succeeding as a Disney Princess has coming from a family with two living parents. But even I can't help but notice a glaring lack of real love stories in gaming. Love stories aren't about love until they’re about having to put up with day to day garbage that really starts wearing down a couple. Like trying to convey that using my toothbrush isn’t something you can just do without asking. (I’m never calling that Waffle house waitress back.)Video games only show the first two or three days of a relationship.*Shhhh - there's plenty of time to ruin our unrealistic expectations later*That's back before either partner is comfortable enough to ask for the really freaky stuff in bed. It’s also before they stop having a goal to pursue and they actually have to talk to each other. The first time that Nathan Drake meets soulless blonde girl, they’re working together and have a common goal of finding a treasure. They never once stop to ask what kinds of movies the other is into or whether or not it’s ok to leave the toilet seat up. That relationship hasn’t started yet. By the end, just before she has time to ask him if he’s allergic to her half dozen cats, the story ends and we’re left to assume it all worked out.But if you continue playing the games, you realize it doesn’t.We should stop assuming that things will 'work out' because game writers clearly don't know how to write that part yet.*Because (Spoilers!) they don't.*There was a development meeting where they tried to come up with realistic ways a couple would act, and they just decide they can’t do it, so they split them up in the off seasonGames have developed some sophisticated coping mechanisms to avoid telling sustained love stories, which is good, I guess because that seems to be eluding them. Every Uncharted game starts with the couple broken up... again. I feel like there was a development meeting where they tried to come up with realistic ways a couple would act, and they just decide they can’t do it, so they split them up in the off season. It’s a cheap shortcut around actually having to write your characters differently than we last saw them.I get it; it’s a challenge. New romance is a catalyst for drama. But we’re being trained like a Pavlovian Black Labrador to expect that in order to be dramatic, you can’t start off romantically attached.And maybe they’re right.Does real love make for boring games?*Don't do it Indy! We love you too much.*When I think about the romantic entanglements I currently have, I shudder to think about letting them actually do anything dangerous, even if the world will be conquered by Nazis if we don’t.  And I think that’s where games are missing the boat.A character who loves you wouldn’t let you go find the missing artifact. They wouldn’t let you take the risk to blow up that ship full of Brits (or when the next Assassins Creed comes out… Pirates).Instead you’d be dealing with them; trying to convince them of the importance of your mission with the neglected party actually aware of what they’d be losing by the protagonist not returning. With most games a romantic interest only argues for a moment before realizing the bigger picture, but include a relationship that’s been going on awhile and there becomes a sense that this character returning (or not) will have a direct impact on normal life.That in and of itself could make these little moments more impactful and give us the player a bit of inner conflict: are we’re willing to take away this character's partner, or will we instead try to look for a less risky way to accomplish our goals?Could we even write good love stories into games and still make them good games?*Behold: the key to fixing love stories*The question remains how to implement a system of storytelling that allows for these kinds of relationships to be genuinely effective. That is… How can we show a couple who have been together long enough to know about how she likes pillows arranged on the furniture?I think the most obvious answer is to make the relationship into Tyler Durden. If you watch the movie “Fight Club” the most interesting character is not the main one. We see Brad Pitt from the generic soulless eyes of Edward Norton. We see Willy Wonka through Charlie’s eyes. We see the Joker through the eyes of Batman. And we see Andrew Ryan through the eyes of a vagrant whose plane crashes in the middle of the ocean.So why not the same with relationships? Can’t we show the relationship in our partners?The “Mass Effect” series had several options for this, by combining and maintaining relationships with several of the characters. However, to avoid eliminating them as sex scene options for main characters, no serious relationships develop between the characters.  Why not “Resident Evil”? Make two characters long term serious, and you’re not allowed to use them to just kill them off. You have to let them stay together for a few years… Then you can kill them off.One game got right; Final Fantasy Tactics. (Bear with me for a second.)*Feel the love.*They tell a love story that isn’t new love. It’s caring. It’s not overdone, nor is it unrealistic that they have a lot in common. The romance is between Ramsa (the protagonist) and Alma (the sister of the protagonist). You might think that this is an odd choice to identify as correctly romantic, but hear me out.Alma cares for Ramsa but also lets him do his own thing. She tries not to worry him with her day to day boring things, and after every mission, he comes home to see her. She worries about his safety when he gets into trouble, and joins him on the run despite the danger simply because she can’t bear to be without him for that long. It’s pretty sweet, and if you ignore the fact that they’re siblings, it’s actually quite romantic.He would kill to save her… I’d kill for my wife too. He would give up all of his goals to stay with her, to protect her… Nothing I care about in the world matters as much, to me, as making sure that I keep my wife happy and protect her, because I couldn’t stand to think about what life would be like without her. He gives up everything for her; and I’d give up everything for my wife.Though I will say this much. Ramsa probably thinks about putting his penis into Alma a lot less than I think about putting mine into my wife.

Featured Contributor

Chad Tindale is one of the writers for Lessonsinlore.com. He's half comedian, half observational commentator. A frequent host for MMO related events at Dragon*Con, his excessive personality is almost as much a feature as his information about games.

Published Nov. 12th 2013
  • Proto Foe
    Senior Intern
    Nice article :)

    Final Fantasy does loves really well. FFVIII anyone? What a story, 20 years in the making!

New Cache - article_comments_article_9182