Sex sells is the motto, although attitudes in the gaming world are starting to change. Whilst various game developers have made strides in changing people’s preconceptions towards how relationships should be portrayed in videogames, it wasn’t until the likes of The Last of Us that audiences realised things had to change.
Bioware are one of the most pioneering studios when it comes to relationships. Both the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series have had complex relationships that gamers have often found themselves lost in. Bioware never shied away from emotions, choices, sex and sexual orientation. This stance lead to a divide. On the one hand relationships and sex had finally been addressed. Something most developers avoided.
Mass Effect and Dragon Age may have had a naive and cavalier attitude towards sex, but its underbelly was two fold. On one hand there was a maturity to the pursuit of a relationship but that maturity was left purely in the hands of the gamer. The player could choose to engross themselves in a deep and meaningful relationship or they could choose to engage in more than one affair at a time and say “to hell with the consequences, I’m having fun.”
Bioware had a get out of jail free card when players chose the seedier side of their sexual pursuits, after all no one told them to play the game that way, the choice was solely the players. However, Bioware have effectively admitted that sex was largely the goal. Being able to entice characters to fall for you by completing quests or handing them gifts, like in Dragon Age, undermined the aspects of a personal relationship. This wasn’t helped by the fact that there are Xbox Achievements or Playstation Trophies available to unlock by ensnaring one of these characters, and the completion of this achievement/trophy was often unlocked once the relationship was ‘cemented.’
However, to an extent Bioware can be forgiven for these choices. Only a handful of games such as Fable had dealt with such choices, but despite the crass nature, this inspired other titles such as Heavy Rain, Beyond, Darkness and, obviously, The Last of Us to pursue more ‘real’ or ‘adult’ relationships. Bioware’s crude or sordid nature, although I still felt at the time it was eloquently executed, opened the door for the gaming experiences we are currently enjoying.
The team behind Dragon Age Inquisition have acknowledged that gamers are starting to move on and want more of these ‘real’ relationships and Bioware are prepared to move with the audiences demand. In a recent interview with IGN, Mike Laidlaw, explained how both ‘Darkness’ and ‘The Last of Us’ helped changed the face of Dragon Age Inquisition.
“The most romantic moment in a video game that I’ve ever seen is when Jackie visits his girlfriend’s apartment in The Darkness. She baked me a cake, she’s moving in, and you watch possibly the entirety of To Kill a Mockingbird as she passes out on your lap because she’s tired and snuggly. That is amazing.
“That scene is as close as video games came to that first ten minutes of Up. Both scenes share the same purpose of making the audience think, ‘I really care about this character – aw, f**k,’ and their motivations change.”
Laidlaw acknowledges the importance of relationships not only being about sex or heroic loyalty, but something platonic could be just as captivating as is the case with The Last of Us
“It [The Last of Us] says these are real people and it’s okay to care about them. I think to some degree there’s a joy to escapism when it’s okay to care. That is something that I think is kind of a single-player phenomenon.”
This forced the team to create more organic connections between characters and change the mind set that sex was not the real focus.
“Let’s not have gifts that buy affection. Let’s not have sex be the end goal. Let’s instead try and reach for something that’s like genuine affections and let you go up and say, ‘Hey you, we’re going to kiss now.’ And let players enjoy that, and feel like, yeah, that’s a real thing.”
Dragon Age Inquisition is available from Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on November the 18th in North America and November the 21st in Europe.
In between looking after Mike’s soul, Phil makes music under the guise of Sonatine and writes for TwinStickGaming. His favourite games are Uncharted, Manic Miner, Neverwinter Nights and Half Life 2. Currently working on counselling Mike and his cat, Phil is a compulsive liar.