Thursday, October 28, 2021
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Give Me More Romance Options in Video Games

Show me DLC and I will pay good money to spend, uh, quality time with characters.

There are many, many, many reasons people play video games. Sometimes it’s for the challenge; other times it’s for the story. It can be for comfort, for nostalgia, for new experiences, for entertainment, for distraction, even to learn a thing or two. Me? I play for the friends I make along the way.

That might be a meme, but it’s not a joke. Well, not really. Sure, gaming provides all those other benefits, but sometimes, oftentimes, it’s falling for the characters that keeps me booting up for more. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Mass Effect trilogy. By having a main character (play FemShep, always) that walked around and interacted with the crew between missions, the game encouraged players to form relationships with them. There’s a reason Garrus Vakarian still reigns as the internet’s bird-dinosaur boyfriend (tell me more about those calibrations, Garrus), and it has everything to do with writers at BioWare understanding the connections players made with their characters—and with the Citadel DLC.

The Citadel DLC emerged from a fraught time. Following outcry over the ending of Mass Effect 3 (it was bad), BioWare not only rewrote the conclusion, it also released extra downloadable content to appease fans. Not all of this DLC was ideal (looking at you, From Ashes), but Citadel was a thing of beauty. It’s basically hours and hours of character-driven gameplay that’s just you hanging out with your friends. It’s so chock-full of in-jokes and squishy earnestness it might as well be a whole mission devoted to the characters braiding each other’s hair. (I am now sad that there are no hair-braiding scenes.)

mass effect citadel
Courtesy of EA

Citadel was also an outlier. I didn’t appreciate it at the time (I was still healing the Massive hole the trilogy left in my heart), but the DLC was truly unique. It was a breather between highly intense missions, and it also provided something very few AAA titles give gamers: socializing. Understandably, game developers—already clocking long hours to churn out games—may not want to spend additional time creating a bunch of touchy-feely moments, but it’s time they realize that’s what a lot of players do want. They want more friendships, more romance options, more personal content within a game. Or at least I do. Video games, unlike other forms of storytelling like TV or film, are a place where fans can interact with characters they’ve formed parasocial relationships with. The fact that more games don’t have content to capitalize on that is a little ludicrous.

Frankly, it’s surprising that at this point in the evolution of gaming, friendship- and romance-option DLC hasn’t become a thing. Exploiting intense fandom has been big business since the beginning of media, and this feels like a massive untapped market. Granted, the Citadel DLC was a free download from BioWare, but honestly I’d pay money for this kind of content. Surely, a lot of other people would too. I know I’ve said that I was done with DLC, but that was different. That was about gameplay. This is about giving me—and others like me—something different: a new kind of game to play.

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