It's impossible to ignore modern dating etiquette. Look at today's newspapers, websites and magazines and you'll find article after article codifying dating with specific rules and rituals. These may refer to who should be the first to initiate contact, how you should behave on a date, or what you should wear. Most of these guidelines have been repeated frequently enough that they've become conventional wisdom, ingrained into our culture in film, music, and television.
Yet there's still one medium that remains unaffected by these laws: video games. They fail to recognise these customs, instead favouring design over logic. As a result of this, games continue to provide us with a simpler collection of instructions, usually entirely unrepresentative of the complexities of real-world interactions.
In these virtual worlds, you can often date whoever you like, even a different species if you so desire. Nurturing a budding romance is also significantly easier, being initiated by button presses and skill levels rather than your appearance or personality. This incredible freedom from the very real world of dating, and everything that follows, is one of the medium's biggest strengths; but it has also given gaming a peculiar reputation when it comes to representing relationships.
Released internationally in 2014, Hatoful Boyfriend is a title that clearly dismisses real world logic for its own specific set of rules. Putting you in control of the only human attending a prestigious school for birds, it humorously proposes a fictional reality where romantic love is actively encouraged across different species.
Hatoful Boyfriend's strange premise was one of its unique selling points, and played a huge part in its marketing and promotion. Through its absurd story and witty dialogue, it supplies players with a welcome respite from their own hectic love lives, revelling in the freedom afforded to it by the gaming format.
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It's not the only video game to do this either. The dating sim Jurassic Heart grants players the rare opportunity to become involved with a T-Rex, while Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect let you flirt (and more) with aliens aplenty. All of these titles clearly take artistic licence to entertain and amuse their audience, and contribute to the idea that video games are anomalous when depicting relationships.
Interspecies relationships aren't the only cause for the medium's odd reputation in the field of love. Courting is also a more streamlined process in video games, providing ridiculous consequences. By memorising the correct replies to conversational topics, you'll be able to fast track your romance to reach key milestones quicker than what's possible in real life. While it's commonplace for partners to wait several years before moving in together, marrying, or having children, it's possible to achieve all of this in the space of a few hours on The Sims 4. Simply spamming the right combination of buttons and pestering the same person repeatedly is the key to accomplishing this. Put simply, the more you harass a stranger the more endeared to you they become. While this is a choice that was made to benefit the overall design of the game, it's included at the expense of any kind of dating accuracy.
Courting is also simplified in other games, such as Fallout 4. Here the idea of repeating an action to attract a love interest reoccurs. Playing as the sole survivor, it's possible to cultivate relationships with a whole host of companions, including a ghoul, a synth and a tough-as-nails pit-fighter. Each character has their own particular set of likes and dislikes that influence how they react to your actions in game, depending on their individual personalities. By engaging these interests, you can strengthen your relationships and form more meaningful connections with these characters. This essentially means that, if the character you're interested in enjoys violence and crime, you can appear more attractive to them by decapitating enemies and looting. The chem-addicted brawler, Cait, can be romanced in this manner. For every raider you dispatch, your relationship with her will only blossom further. Equally, it's possible to impress her by breaking into locked properties, walking around naked, and swigging excessive amounts of alcohol.
It's worth acknowledging that repetition isn't the only key to successful video game relationships. Another popular method of guaranteeing a non-playable character's (NPC) affections, employed throughout a range of titles, is using quest items. These enforce the belief that love can be bought simply by having the correct materials in your inventory. Story of Seasons, an unassuming farming sim for the 3DS, adheres to this gameplay principle. Players can woo a potential love interest by randomly presenting them with an egg everyday, a gesture that would likely arouse confusion if you tried it for real with your latest crush. And that's not all. Later on, you're tasked with acquiring a rare blue feather that's necessary for a marriage proposal. This acts as an engagement ring of sorts, albeit filtered through the fantasy setting.
Other games that include similar mechanics are the Rune Factory series and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In the latter, the Amulet of Mara functions the same as Story of Seasons' blue feather, as it's used to instigate a relationship between an NPC and the protagonist. Simply by activating the Amulet of Mara, you will unlock new dialogue choices that will lead to an engagement and eventually marriage. Again, this streamlines the experience of being in a relationship and reinforces the belief that love is attainable through material means. If you were to try something like this outside of the game, you'd likely be met with a blank stare, as opposed to any sense of adoration.
By now you should've realised that video games present us with fictional worlds where dating etiquette is simplified to benefit design. On account of this, they readily supply us with bizarre situations and scenarios that ignore logic in order to give us an accessible and pleasurable escape. Whether it's having a diverse range of suitors, starting a family overnight, or flirting through the use of violence, video games continually provide us with an amusing alternative to the romance we may or may not experience in our everyday lives. Or, in other words, please don't murder someone to impress that guy or girl you fancy, who comes into the shop most Friday afternoons. Blood on the hands isn't a hot look.
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