Relationships in Games

Games have a unique advantage compared to other entertainment mediums that they can have players experience aspects of life. In Pokemon uses the aspect of coming of age, leaving home and learning about the world through your own experience. Some games like Heavy Rain use the aspects of parenthood slightly, where the player is introduced to the aspect of fearing for your child when they loose sight of them.  Then some games dabble with relationships, either with other players or in game characters. My analysis is on what aspects of relationships have not been explored and the impact it have on a player from using in game characters.

                                             Heavy Rain

The impact games have from using aspects of real life…

Some issues with how games implement relationships right now is that they make it very one sided, only have explored 1 or 2 aspects of relationships, sometimes treat getting the characters affection  like a trophy or only an achievement. In most games, the stages of a relationship are obtaining someone’s affection, intimate relations or sex, and dating (I include marriage in this because in some games it is something you can jump straight to). Not that there is no value in a player working to obtain someone’s attention, but it turns getting a relationship into a quest or something that you achieve. That is a poor representation of this aspect of life. How many games have you go out to find a lost item to gain a characters attention, or awkwardly drag them in hand to a location and call it a date. How powerful of a moment could it be for your two characters to find things they have in common and for a stronger bond from it. Or only after trying to get the person’s attention you realize they are not what they seemed. Then the players choice is to shut them down now before it gets to deep or stick with it and hope that its not as bad as it seems.

Why is it always the player doing all the leg work in the game? What if an NPC makes the 1st move and the player has a lot or not investment into the relationship? Can players be put into a position to ask ” Do I give this a chance”, “How can I let them down easy”, or ” I have completely no idea what to do?” Also say the player does reject them, how does that NPC react later in the game, if they are a crucial part of the experience, does this moment make them full of malice, still friends but always wanting more, or do they eventually move on and find someone who shares their same feelings.

I remember the surprise and shock I felt when playing Mass Effect 3 and I walked in one two of my party members being intimate in the ship. I wondered when did this happen, how long has it been going on, how did I miss the signs. All questions we ask when we find out a friend of ours has been secretly or not publicizing their relationship. This aspect of life shows that life is unexpected, and relationships form without your influence or knowledge all of the time.

While some series, like Fable or Skyrim, are known for having a marriage system, the marriage is similar to “a working husband” situation. One stays home to take care of the house and waits for other to come from working, were the player is the one venturing out into the world “working.” Most times the player can venture out into the world as long as they’d like and their spouse would welcome them as if they only left yesterday. Fable III worked in a happiness system that if you neglect your spouse too long you may come home to them cheating on you, some cases getting a divorce, taking half of your home. If your characters had children, they will be taken away by Child Services and removed from the game. What a loss the player could feel at that moment, that their neglect to their spouse or family led to its destruction. Though this does not affect the larger game, its an attempt to hit on aspects of life that the player could understand. Maybe on some level show they player that a marriage and a family require time just like saving the world hero.

Like being in a relationship, rejecting or being rejected, and the heart wrenching break up in the game.

Moments like these makes games not only memorable, but more valuable of an experience . The player can walk away can feel the game delivered more than entertainment to them but a glimpse of what living in the real world entails. Fantasy without reality is nothing but a dream. To marry a character in Fable only to burn down their home village the next day will surely have its consequences and push your spouse away from. Many games are fixated on uplifting the player, and turns gaining someone’s love a mission to accomplish.

As developers of games, I hope to see the medium pushed at what it does best, have the player do things, and not just being a power fantasy, but bring in aspects of real life. Imagine if there was a game you could find out you have a child that you didn’t  know off, raise them as a new single parent who now has to protect a town but also their son or daughter. Or Have to teach them about right and wrong, while your character may have to commit evil acts just to survive. How would it the child grow up, would they become rebellious if you reject them or misguided if you aren’t around enough.  What about a game where your character works to get someones affection, only to be rejected by them at the final moment? Each of these aspects of life and more can create moments for the player adding that extra slice of life towards immersion.

Extra Credits

Fable III

Mass Effect


3 thoughts on “Relationships in Games

  1. I can definitely get behind what you’re saying here; I really think there’s a lot of room for games to try and explore in terms of the real life interactions that we as humans go through. When I think of the way that most romancing storylines in large scale games go, I wonder if some of it comes down to it being a common structure game designers know how and are comfortable designing. We know how to design quests, straightforward interest curves for a task that a player must complete, so I think we keep designing romantic relationships the same way. But this isn’t how humans actually interact with each other; it wouldn’t be out of place to label someone who treated establishing relationships with others as video game quests a sociopath. It would be really nice if we as designers spend the time to figure out how we can best design to foster emotional bonds closer to the way they happen in real life: organically, and often spontaneously.


  2. Its interesting that you noticed the difference between a relationship as a game mechanic and a relationship as a story mechanic. As far as the games I have played, relationships have only been used to push the story forward, like a revenge case or playing to win affection – in RPGs I’ve found it seldom used as a game mechanic – until the awkwardness of Dragon Age came around…but i digress. I think it will be really interesting to see how a relationship can be used as a game mechanic. Because as of now, they are pretty much only used to attract female customers. There are also those purely female (likely japanese) games that are completely based on getting the girl you are playing a boyfriend. Interesting take!


  3. Games that use character/player relationship to steer game play is a really interesting idea. It could add a lot to the immersion of a game, but it is also really complicated. Creating characters that respond on a deeper level than just carrying on a conversation or helping you in a battle means that designers would need to understand a lot about human behavior and how people react to certain situations. This varies so widely among individuals that really understanding other people completely is almost impossible. But as information in this area is becoming better there are many scenarios that designers can start to draw from in order to create experiences with more realistic character relationships.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s