15 votes

What are your thoughts on how romance is handled in gaming?

Romantic relationships in gaming are often heavily debated, with lots of criticism and lots of support for the myriad experiences out there. I don't have a single specific question related to the topic, only some guiding ones. Feel free to answer any/all of these, or simply give your thoughts on the topic:

  • What are some games that you feel have handled romance well?
  • What are some games that you feel have not handled romance well?
  • What particular advantages does gaming have with regard to portraying romantic relationships?
  • What particular disadvantages does gaming have with regard to portraying romantic relationships?
  • Are there any games that have depicted romantic relationships that were particularly resonant to you?
  • What would you define as some "best practices" for game writers/designers with regard to in-game romance?
  • What would you define as some "mistakes/errors" for game writers/designers to avoid with regard to in-game romance?

15 comments

  1. mozz
    Link
    I liked how the Stardew Valley / Harvest Moon games approached relationships. It isn't the main objective of the game, so the player has agency to devote as little or as much time into it as they...

    I liked how the Stardew Valley / Harvest Moon games approached relationships. It isn't the main objective of the game, so the player has agency to devote as little or as much time into it as they want. The result is that the payoff for developing a relationship feels more "earned" and personal, rather than a predetermined path to advance the plot of the game.

    18 votes
  2. [6]
    Cleb
    Link
    Most of my favorite handlings of romance in games are things that are pretty focused on it. Things like Katawa Shoujo, Highway Blossoms, eden* are three that pretty much instantly came out of the...

    Most of my favorite handlings of romance in games are things that are pretty focused on it. Things like Katawa Shoujo, Highway Blossoms, eden* are three that pretty much instantly came out of the back of my mind, though I guess these might be a bit contentious with some people as to whether visual novels are even qualified to fit the category of "video game" in general, but for a long time I've been in the camp that includes them.

    One thing that bothers me with romance systems in games is, well, "gameification" of the romance. I can't think of any specific examples at this time but there are definitely some games I've come across where the romance feels like a very hamfisted gift-giving simulator where you're giving gifts to up the romance bar, and that's alright enough as a secondary objective deal or whatever, but a lot of the time it just feels very... empty? Romance in a lot of games is just triggering interactions and hidden flags so you can see specific cutscenes and whatnot, but some of them do a lot better at hiding that feeling.

    Just my two cents after scrolling through my steam library briefly.

    8 votes
    1. [3]
      KapteinB
      Link Parent
      Well, they are games; they gamify everything. War games wouldn't be any fun if they didn't gamify war, management games would just feel like a second job if they didn't gamify management, etc. I...

      One thing that bothers me with romance systems in games is, well, "gameification" of the romance.

      Well, they are games; they gamify everything. War games wouldn't be any fun if they didn't gamify war, management games would just feel like a second job if they didn't gamify management, etc.

      I do understand what you mean though. It doesn't feel right to me that romance is a progress bar that gets filled by giving gifts and choosing the right dialogue options. Maybe romance (or human relations in general) is just harder to gamify than certain other concepts. Visual novels have the advantage that they can use hundreds or even thousands of words to describe what other games lets you do through other game mechanics. That way you can make anything believable, if you have a skilled writer on your team.

      Can you think of any non-visual-novel games that have good romance systems? I'm struggling to think of any myself that I've liked. Other than The Sims, I do like how romance works there, even if that too is highly simplistic. Maybe it works there because all human interactions in that game is kind of abstract, letting us fill in the blanks with our imagination.

      6 votes
      1. [2]
        Cleb
        Link Parent
        I spent a good portion of today wracking my brain to think of an answer, but The Sims is also the only thing I could come up with. One of the only other things I could come up with was Life Is...

        I spent a good portion of today wracking my brain to think of an answer, but The Sims is also the only thing I could come up with. One of the only other things I could come up with was Life Is Strange, and that feels like a wonky answer since it also largely falls into the "walking simulator" area of derision that gets similar flak about whether or not they're games. It also largely just relies on a couple of dialogue answers for whether the romance even occurs, and when it does it's not something that happens with a very blatant presence either. No blatant "hey we're dating now"-type of reaction. Guess my love for that also lies in the character dynamic and the way it's written.

        I did probably overspeak about disliking the gameification, you are absolutely right in the first part of your reply. I've definitely enjoyed gameified romance systems before, even if I'm having trouble calling them to mind now. It does feel a bit silly that I'm saying things like this when the core game experience of romance in many instances is essentially invisible bar filling and dialogue checks.

        1 vote
        1. KapteinB
          Link Parent
          I realised another thing I like about the romance system in The Sims: It's not entirely one-sided. Your potential romantic partners have some agency of their own, and they can be quite...

          I realised another thing I like about the romance system in The Sims: It's not entirely one-sided. Your potential romantic partners have some agency of their own, and they can be quite unpredictable until you really get to know them.

          1 vote
    2. [2]
      kfwyre
      Link Parent
      I'm in full favor of including them as well. In fact, if we excluded them, we'd be cutting out a huge (if not the biggest) portion of videogames focused on romance. What was it about those games...

      Things like Katawa Shoujo, Highway Blossoms, eden* are three that pretty much instantly came out of the back of my mind, though I guess these might be a bit contentious with some people as to whether visual novels are even qualified to fit the category of "video game" in general, but for a long time I've been in the camp that includes them.

      I'm in full favor of including them as well. In fact, if we excluded them, we'd be cutting out a huge (if not the biggest) portion of videogames focused on romance.

      What was it about those games that made them your favorites?

      4 votes
      1. Cleb
        Link Parent
        Both Kawata Shoujo and eden*'s strengths for me lie in their writing, although with how Katawa Shoujo has multiple writers for its different routes, it achieves varying results. KS to me contains...

        Both Kawata Shoujo and eden*'s strengths for me lie in their writing, although with how Katawa Shoujo has multiple writers for its different routes, it achieves varying results. KS to me contains a very successful "wish fulfillment" route, a route about struggling with self-expression and what it means to make art or be a successful artist, a route about pushing yourself even if you're at a disadvantage because you should do the things you love, and a couple of other routes that I'm not a very big fan of what they are as a whole. All of them are wrapped up in a romantic package, of course, and all routes have some good parts to me, even if I don't think they tie it together or they veer off in a direction that I can't support. eden* spends its time dwelling on limited time, the people you spend it with, and has dashes of questions like "can I still be a good person despite the terrible things I was indoctrinated/conscripted/essentially forced to do?". It's also got the highest production value of all of the three.

        Highway Blossoms is a little different in that I think it's not the highest quality or the most interesting western lesbian romantic game that I've come across, but it's..... maybe the most soulful and relatable? It lies somewhere in the range of being a higher production than single-creator itch.io visual novels (which are awesome by the way, not knocking them at all), but doesn't really get anywhere close to the value that big name novels get like Steins;Gate or Danganronpa. Deals with themes like cracking yourself out of your cynical isolationist shell.

        3 votes
  3. ThatFanficGuy
    Link
    There's been a bit of a conversation about dating sims recently. Long story short, I think RPGs these days make romance a side option that seems to only be there to justify a quota because they're...

    There's been a bit of a conversation about dating sims recently.

    Long story short, I think RPGs these days make romance a side option that seems to only be there to justify a quota because they're so poorly-made. Then again, most of the modern video-game RPG characters are written poorly: shallow and barely relatable. They're there to serve as a walking, talking novelty that adds nothing to the game, the story, or the main character. No wonder romance around them is underwhelming.

    Dating sims โ€“ the ones that I'd played, at least, which are very few โ€“ do equally poorly, for similar reasons.

    Oddly enough, some of the porn games I've seen do a better job at conveing a vast field of opportunities romance could present, except they do it for the sex part. You could argue that sex is more mechanical and therefore is easier to replicate with a deeper insight โ€“ which is fair.

    If dating sims were to do romance with as much depth as sex games do sex, the dating sim industry would be fuckin' booming right now.

    7 votes
  4. [7]
    cfabbro
    (edited )
    Link
    Meta/Offtopic: I think that might actually make this worse, since now it's going to be harder for people to ask you questions related to the giveaway on Tildes or discuss the event without getting...

    Meta/Offtopic:

    In case anyone was wondering, I wanted to attach this to a discussion post so that the announcement wasn't as noisy as the original recruitment thread.

    I think that might actually make this worse, since now it's going to be harder for people to ask you questions related to the giveaway on Tildes or discuss the event without getting it all jumbled in with your discussion topic. If you wanted to reduce the noise and make it less Activity sort spammy, just converting the group invite requests to PMs instead of comments probably would have sufficed, IMO. Just my 2ยข, anyways.

    2 votes
    1. [6]
      kfwyre
      Link Parent
      Good call. I edited that. I actually want this thread to be purely about the discussion of the titular question, with the announcement simply tagging along. My thought was that, in the absence of...

      just converting the group invite requests to PMs instead of comments

      Good call. I edited that. I actually want this thread to be purely about the discussion of the titular question, with the announcement simply tagging along. My thought was that, in the absence of any discussion component, a pure announcement thread would receive no/few comments since it doesn't really foster discourse. This would cause it to pretty quickly shuffle off the front page, which reduces its efficacy as an announcement. Furthermore, I figured questions/comments about the giveaway would mostly happen over in the Steam group, since those details are only relevant to the people in the group and not the wider Tildes audience.

      Attaching the announcement to an actual discussion post was my hacky way of helping the announcement remain visible without promoting noise. It does highlight that maybe there's a need for pinned topics or announcement topics, or some that don't follow the normal activity-based lifespan of regular threads.

      This comment also makes it look like I'm only posting this discussion thread simply to backdoor in an announcement, but it's actually a thread I've been wanting to make for a while, and it lined up nicely with my giveaway idea. So, it wasn't "come up with a relevant discussion to justify an announcement" but more "this discussion I've been wanting to post goes nicely with this announcement I'm wanting to make."

      4 votes
      1. [5]
        cfabbro
        Link Parent
        Fair enough, but another concern of mine in doing it this way is that there won't be enough interest generated in the event due to it not being the primary focus. Hopefully I'm proven wrong though.

        Fair enough, but another concern of mine in doing it this way is that there won't be enough interest generated in the event due to it not being the primary focus. Hopefully I'm proven wrong though.

        1 vote
        1. [4]
          kfwyre
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          Totally fair and also true. I realize now that I have no way of gauging interest for anyone but gifters, as giftees have no visibility. I also realized that my concerns were largely unnecessary...

          Totally fair and also true. I realize now that I have no way of gauging interest for anyone but gifters, as giftees have no visibility. I also realized that my concerns were largely unnecessary now that Tildes has an ignore topic feature, so if anyone is bothered by a noisy announcement topic they can simply remove it from their feed.

          Let's excise the event from this thread, and I can post one specific to the event in a bit, where people can sign up as gifters/giftees. I can take care of editing the body of this post, but could you remove the "(with bonus giveaway event!)" from the title?

          EDIT: It's also worth considering whether we want to keep the Steam group or consider moving giveaways back in house now that the ignore feature is functional. My primary reasons for the group were avoiding noise and using the Steamgifts platform, but the latter is really only needed if we're operating at a much larger scale (e.g. hundreds or thousands of people).

          1 vote
          1. [3]
            cfabbro
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            Done. And as to migrating the events back to Tildes, that's a tough call! Having the group on Steam restricts the amount of people participating, but that is not necessarily a bad thing in all...

            could you remove the "(with bonus giveaway event!)" from the title?

            Done. And as to migrating the events back to Tildes, that's a tough call!

            Having the group on Steam restricts the amount of people participating, but that is not necessarily a bad thing in all cases. For Secret Santa you probably want to try to maximize participation, but for events like this valentine's day giveaway, restricting who can participate is likely a good thing since there is no requirement to give a game in order to receive one. And as a result of that, I imagine that quite a few new, inactive and lurker accounts might show up to claim a free game, which means a lot users who actually are active on the site, and/or have previously participated in events, will probably end up being disappointed at getting nothing.

            So yeah... I dunno. :/

            1 vote
            1. [2]
              kfwyre
              Link Parent
              I'll do a bit of a revamp on the event idea, adjust the timeline, and post an official sign up thread tomorrow so we can anticipate demand. We can proceed with this event on the group, and then...

              I'll do a bit of a revamp on the event idea, adjust the timeline, and post an official sign up thread tomorrow so we can anticipate demand. We can proceed with this event on the group, and then later I can have a meta thread about whether we should reincorporate the Gifting Group onto Tildes or not. I can think of pros and cons to both, but at this point I think it might make more sense to do it in-house. Thanks for being a good and thoughtful collaborator with this!

              1 vote
              1. cfabbro
                (edited )
                Link Parent
                Sounds good. Heh... with all the effort you consistently put in all across the site, it's the least I can do. ;)

                Sounds good.

                Thanks for being a good and thoughtful collaborator with this!

                Heh... with all the effort you consistently put in all across the site, it's the least I can do. ;)

                1 vote