Falling in love is considered the most beautiful feeling in the world. In addition, love is a popular trick among authorship, filmmakers and other creative people to bring their own narrative and its characters closer to the audience. But why is that? One main reason is clear that almost everyone can identify with such emotions. The very first moment when you meet a very special person who can quickly turn your world upside down – even if only for a short moment. The well-known lump in the throat, sweaty hands and the missing words during the first conversation. Or also the gnawing feeling in the chest when the most important thing in life leaves you. Films and books have almost perfected the representation of complex interpersonal relationships in their works over the long period of their existence, whereas video games have often been strikingly difficult.
This is, of course, partly due to the much shorter life of the medium. Another and hugely important reason is the interactive nature of video games. In its beginnings, love in video games was mostly used only as a narrative side note or as a playful incentive to tickle a little more meaning from the work in addition to high scores and leaderboards. But of course also to humanize the characters in the game. A perfect example and probably the first representative of this kind is the legendary Donkey Kong from 1981. Before we dive into the topic, we would like to note that in this article we do not cover every game with romantic options and every popular pair of lovers of the medium treat, much more we want to deal with the different aspects and stylistic devices of romantic games.
The plumber, then known as Jumpman, had his very first appearance in the arcade title Donkey Kong, which was the first work by the legendary Japanese developer Shigeru Miyamoto (our portrait) applies. The plot could hardly be simpler: Mario loves Pauline. Gorilla kidnaps Pauline. Mario saves Pauline. The End.
The romance of Mario and Pauline did not need intensive dialogues or a detailed background story. The principle was continued by Nintendo for many years. Of course, this does not carry much, but gave the game experience more emotional fullness. In the countless successors, this was roughly continued by Nintendo, the only difference was that Mario became more interested in Princess Peach from 1986 – how erratic, this Mario! The premise remains the same even in current offshoots: Mario loves Peach. Bowser kidnaps Peach. Mario saves Peach. The End. With a few exceptions, Mario remains the shining hero who keeps releasing his lover from the clutches of evil. Admittedly, this is extremely old-fashioned and worn out, but still works quite well today due to the iconic status of the series.
Source: PC games
The higher the realistic and graphic representation of the romance, the easier we can empathize with the characters concerned and identify with their experiences. Primary in this category is the Santa Monica-based developer studio Naughty Dog. The American team started in 2005 under the direction of Amy Hennig (read here our special on the developer icon) working on an action adventure series called Uncharted. This should change video games and the representation of their figureheads forever.
Naughty stolen from film and TV
With Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, one of the first games was created, which can almost be described as a hybrid of film and interactive history and thus as a transmedia narrative. At the time of its release in 2007, the action adventure had extremely impressive graphics. The cinematic elements can hardly be denied. In addition to the very dynamic and active camera and the impressive soundtrack, this was due to the fact that extremely realistic characters and relationships were conjured up on the screen. The story, reminiscent of Indiana Jones, is about grave robber Nathan Drake, his mentor Sully, and archeology journalist Elena Fisher. What starts with a "Polish exit" on the part of Nate and a punch from Elena ends in one of the most beautiful and honest love relationships in the AAA game cosmos – according to the motto "what loves each other, teases".
The principle was further perfected with the three successors. Of course, the graphic jumps were an enormously important factor, but also the team's ever increasing sensitivity to intimate moments, human conversations and dynamic relationships. The last and probably most important aspect is the sketching of Elena's personality. The journalist set to music by Emily Rose is not just a "love interest" for Nate or the virgin in need. Elena is an independent and strong personality who, like so often in video games, has not been unnecessarily sexualized.
It is hardly surprising that Naughty Dog are also focusing on their strengths in their second major game series. The brutal one Blockbuster series The Last of Us draws an overwhelming vision of the future and tells the celebrated story of Joel and Ellie. But even in the dark post-apocalypse there are moments of intimacy and romance. In the story DLC "Left behind"we are witnessing how Ellie, in a well-known coming-of-age manner, first falls in love and gets on with 15-year-old Riley Successors released in 2020 The Last of Us Part 2 (buy now for € 58.00) puts the topic even more into focus and takes a lot of time for the relationship between the two anti-heroines Ellie and Dina.
Source: Sony Computer Entertainment
There are of course countless other examples, such as the many lovers in the Final Fantasy universe who follow a similar approach. Especially the sugar-sweet romance between Tidus and Yuna from Final Fantasy X is well known among game fans. All these relationships do not focus on ourselves. Rather, it is as if we are watching our best friends fall in love – just like in the movie on the big screen. But what about the interactivity of the medium? Doesn't it matter?
Fortunately with K (n) potty
Source: CD Projekt RED
The element of interactivity is the great strength of video games in contrast to other media such as films and books. We are part of a story that we not only experience but also influence. Of course, this is also reflected in the romantic options. Romanticism is sometimes very minimalistic, elsewhere a playful element. In the former category, developer studios also use narrative tools, but give the players more freedom. So we can decide which person we want to mingle with and who we want to shoot down. One of the most prominent representatives here is the great role-playing game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. History only changes with our decisions
marginal, the most significant difference is which lady we give our heart to. With the sorceresses Yennefer from Vengerberg and Triss Merigold there are two possible primary partners, both of whom have completely different romantic subplots for Witcher Geralt. Furthermore, there are many other characters in the game world who engage in romantic and sexual adventures with our character. One could almost think that this principle is a good thing in role-playing games. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Elder Scrolls … If we don't act like the biggest whorehouse and try a little bit, we get little techies and flirts from time to time. They are often not particularly romantic and rather pursue the agenda of showing a lot of skin and playing with charms.
Source: Microsoft I Lionhead Studios
Some game series have made it their mission to give the matter of the heart a big stage. A special case in the RPG sector is, for example, the Fable series (Looking back at the Xbox RPG Pearl), which besides the life of an adventurer in the fantasy world Albion also gives us the advantages of love: flirting, falling in love, getting married, sex and even having children. You only have to carry out the right actions and deliver gifts to the right person, but that's a nice gimmick anyway. Where Fable takes inspiration from should be clear. A game series whose throbbing heart lives for such gameplay elements the Sims series – one of the best-selling game franchises ever. Another genre in the game area wants to go one step further and relies on virtual dates: the popular, mostly text-heavy dating simulators.
Virtual romances and dates
Source: Game Grumps
Imagine being the only person accepted at a school full of seductive birds. Not your thing? As is well known, love can lurk around every corner and cast a spell on you from nowhere, so prejudice is not the best key to happiness. Hatoful boyfriend is just one of the many representatives of the dating sim genre. Dating simulators started in the early 90s and were particularly popular in Japan. Game Grumps released in 2017 Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator is a game in which we can create our very own dad. The goal is to work through a large pool on Dad Jokes and potential male love partners and to find the great love. It is fitting that in the sleepy coastal town of Maple Bay every neighbor is also a single dad, with a great romantic interest in other single dads. In addition to the often abstruse concepts of dating simulators, the many texts, mini-games, as well as countless ways and ends are considered characteristics of the genre. Finally, we would like to go into an extreme negative example and a highlight in the land of video games, which both focus on love and passion.
From the basement to the seventh heaven
Source: RLR Training Inc.
One accusation that games have to listen to more often is that they are filled with outdated role models and an enormously sexist representation of the female sex. This generalization is of course absolute nonsense, despite all this there have been many games in the past that were difficult to avoid. Such representatives have become rarer in recent years, but there are still some examples. One of the biggest negative examples of the medium is the controversial live action game Super Seducer: How to Talk to Girls. Richard La Ruina's title, calling himself Europe's top dating guru, not only lives from an extremely sexist portrayal of women, it also reduces it to a hunting object for men. Flirting, relationships and sexual attraction are reduced to the simplest of actions. The game experience outlined by La Ruina consists of scripted live action sequences that want to explain how as a man you can date young and attractive women. The worldview presented here has more to do with cheap pornography than real life. For the 2018 release, the console manufacturers refused to to include the title in the Playstation 4 portfolio, it is only available for the PC. Reducing games to single examples like Super Seducer is of course unfair, because the medium has a lot more to offer.
Source: Mountains I Annapurna Interactive
Video games have an incredibly powerful impact and, thanks to their interactivity, can pick us up in a completely different way than is possible for films and other media. If we now take the many examples mentioned, the following picture emerges: Elements such as soulful musical sounds, an appealing staging and realistic relationship pictures count as important factors in order to capture love well in a game. However, the interactivity of the medium should not be left out. A prime example of a great display of love is the indie game Florence (read our test of the hit) from 2018. The great interactive graphic novel combines charming mini-games with a passionate plot about the lovers Florence and Krish. One day Florence listens to the wonderful sounds of street musician Krish playing the cello. Then we experience the first date of the two. In the conversation, for example, we put together small fragments that are intended to illustrate the course of the conversation. At the beginning there are still a lot of small particles, but over time they get bigger and lighter
Source: Mountains I Annapurna Interactive
to combine. Although this is minimalistic, it is an enormously exciting idea to implement getting to know and fall in love in a game with simple gameplay elements. Florence's character is musically emphasized by the piano, Krish's nature suitably by the cello. If the two move away from each other, we only listen to the lonely and melancholy melodies of the piano. Melbourne-based Studio Mountains tells a bittersweet short story that is lovingly staged and makes impressive use of the medium's possibilities. Here love, passion and heartache are captured wonderfully.
Which lovers are among the best in the video game cosmos for you? And which titles and game moments did you particularly like? Share the many other examples with us in the comments and discuss.
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