Emily Short’s The Romance Problem

>Another great article from Emily Short’s column at GameSetWatch, Homer in Silicon. This one is about the romance problem.

In it, she points out that all too often romance is described in game mechanics as a stat-management exercise that, when they exist as one component of a game (such as Fable 2) often bears no relation to the world or to gameplay outside the romance. One grad student expressed the natural emotional response to this set-up to me in telling me a story about how her avatar, in Fable 2, had been gone for years (part of the narrative of the game) and yet when she returned to her husband and child they behaved as if she had simply trotted down to the grocery store for a pint of milk. We want our romantic investment to *mean* something to the other characters in the game, we want them to matter in the world. Similarly, she told me of another incident in the same game during which her spouse died in a random bandit attack. The game treated it as just another random villager death. But the player had an emotional connection with this particular villager — this one was special, and it seems the game ought to have somehow recognized and respected that.

There’s much more to think about in Emily’s essay (as usual) and but I’ll leave other ruminations for a later post! Suffice it to say her essay really made me want to play Plundered Hearts!

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