Have you ever been playing a game and come across an element of it, be it contained within the gameplay or narrative, that felt forced? I have. A great many times, in fact. As often as not, this contrivance comes in the form of a unnecessary and poorly executed romantic subplot, one of the most recent perpetrators of which is Binary Domain. While it can be excused in order to give gravity to the emotional climax of the tale, the relationship feels completely artificial. It is cold, calculated and ultimately emotionless, adding nothing that couldn’t be expressed through the same plot points being applied to a different friendship within the game.
Perhaps the most hurtful part of the idea is that the relationship is there for the sole purpose of giving the character a reason to continue onwards when all hope seems lost, rather than being presented as a genuine love interest. Grand Theft Auto IV, Brutal Legend, inFamous, Valkyria Chronicles and, in a slightly more creative way, Uncharted all rely on this same cliché, or some variation thereof at some point within the narrative and it the dreariness of it truly is starting to grate on my nerves. Why, for once, can we not have a convincing representation of a genuine romance that doesn’t come with these banal conventions?
The reason why this thought has struck me now, with Binary Domain, isn’t that it is particularly atrocious in its execution, but that I have been reading the works of Jane Austen of late and I can’t help but draw comparisons between the magnificence of her writing and the poor simulacrums that abound in gaming. In saying that, it is hardly fair to compare the two. There has not yet been the game that can match a classic novel like Pride and Prejudice in its focus on characterisation, plot and the advancement of these two facets. This is because gaming, in general, remains entrenched in the promotion of action and adrenaline over excellent writing and storytelling methods. There needs to be conflict of some description, and the kind found in a relationship is not sufficient for the testosterone-fuelled destruction fantasies of the mass that forms the general audience of our hobby.
That isn’t to say that we should be completely without hope. Developers, it would seem, are focussing on creating an experience for players ever more frequently. We are moving away from the boundaries set by genres and coming up with recent examples being Asura’s Wrath and Dear Esther, which challenge what we know as games by merging gameplay with the way that the narrative unfolds, unifying them in ways that have never really been trialled before. Before these, was Heavy Rain, a game that, by and large, did away with the conflict, instead surrounding a set of characters as they raced against time and the odds to save a young boy from a horrible fate. I don’t bring these up to parade them as the paragons of characterisation and relationships in games, but because they each tackle subject matters that are far from the norm through the use of irregular elements.
It is this very same method, a perfect marriage of gameplay and story along with no small amount of cinematic influence, that a game built around human interaction would have to employ. Control needn’t be torn from the player, but choice would be a marked theme, relying on visible consequences. It could be so much more than even such amazing novels as Sense and Sensibility, Anna Karenina and Love in the Time of Cholera, if only because of the authority that players would be granted in growing a deep, abiding affection.
You may think that I’m insane and the concept is fundamentally boring, but it’s clear to see that the interactions between people has suffered due to our technological age. This has given rise to superfluity and poorly chosen relationships, and while a game like I’m suggesting would not turn this trend around, it could go a way towards showing gamers that partying up on weekends and basing their interpersonal associations almost exclusively on sexual attraction is not the best way. But there is so much more than this. It could spark a revolution among today’s youth: a renewed interest in, and love for, classic novels and the carefully constructed romances that they portray. It could give more mature gamers an experience entirely unlike anything that is currently available. Most of all, it would be an elevation of gaming. A serious undertaking such as this would put the hobby firmly on the map in terms of literary potential.
Of course, it is never wise to allow one’s hopes to run away with oneself. I know that this is all an idle fantasy, impossible right now, and until such time as the ‘game’ tag is done away in favour of something more indicative of the potential heights of the medium. Still, it’s nice to dream.