Monday, 30 May 2011

One is the loneliest number (Part 1)

The cold sting of loneliness is a feeling not completely unfamiliar to most gamers. Many games are designed with the lone-wolf in mind. In fact, I bet you're alone reading this right now. Crying.

However, an interesting phenomena has arisen in many current generation games. The protagonist must always, for some reason, require a significant other. Do we not feel our character whole unless they can wrap their virtual arms around a group of pixels and polygons whom they adore? Do we not respect our gritty action hero as much if he doesn't occasionally throw down his chainsaw-photon-lazer cannon in a mad fit of passion? Or is this just the staple of the medium's progression and maturation - and we  have come to expect the same themes present in the best literature or film in Video Games?

Thus I will take you on a journey, a journey of emotional connection and feelings (but not bitterness) as I examine the way relationships are explored in modern games- and also the way in which the single protagonist is put across (but not because I'm bitter).

(Spoilers may follow)

Mass Effect

Long gone are the days where the potential romance of a blue temptress causes controversy. In fact, most gamers now demand it, which has led to some very questionable decisions on the part of the development team behind the upcoming Smurf tie-in movie game.

Mass Effect has been this generation's flagship title in regards to giving the player a variety of options when it comes to seducing. Do you like anthropomorphic bird people? Or perhaps blue tendril-headed women are more you thing? Even Humans (you sicko) are catered for in Bioware's epic sci-fi series.

Relationships are handled in Mass Effect much in the same way they are in real life. You start a conversation with someone you're interested in, say something stupid, re-load your save file and try again. Your companion will eventually show signs of interest; they may wink at you suggestively, awkwardly fidget whenever you come near or even, sweetest of all, implant their alien spawn ready for it to burst forth from your stomach in an explosion of gore. Whomever you choose to court you're guaranteed by the end of the game to have them reveal their feelings for you, you may then proceed to the bedroom. To discuss battle-tactics and particle acceleration. 

However, do the players who choose to have their Shepard remain single gain the full package? Or is a single Shepard a hollow shell of a being?

In the first instalment of the series not a lot will change if your Shepard chooses to stay focused on his or her mission. The choice is there for you to remain single and you're not penalised for choosing it. This is where Mass Effect excels, choice. It appears that in the modern world of gaming a lot of storylines will thrust romance upon you. (what a terrible choice of words) A lone Commander, in this case, appears to be just as well-rounded as the hero who takes to the stars in search of love. I mean, apart from that cut-scene that plays where he or she curls up in the foetal position and gently cries themselves to sleep in their cabin. Other then that it's fine. Okay, maybe that doesn't happen.

In the second Mass Effect there is also acknowledgement given to those who choose to remain loyal to their love interests from the first game, because if there's one thing gamers long for it's fidelity.(For the sake of not spoiling the game I will replace key words in the next few sentences with code words).

Before the final mission where Shepard ventures off to finally confront the DANDELIONS a cutscene will play - if you have chosen to romance one of your crew they will appear in your cabin - ready for the intimate discussion of battle-tactics. If you remain loyal to a previous love-interest instead of gallivanting about your ship like a interstellar Romeo however, your Shepard will be portrayed longingly gazing at a framed picture of said previous interest. Before gearing up to stop the inevitable DANDELION threat of course. So whilst there may be no reward given to the gamer who wants to remain completely single throughout the entirety of the Mass Effect series at least there is an equal sense of emotional attachment given to those who stay single in the series' second instalment.

Well, in most cases this will happen - for some reason my game portrayed my male Shepard who had romanced Liara as staring intently at a picture of his former lieutenant Kaidan. My Shepard was a deeply conflicted fellow.

Therefore, Mass Effect treats the player who chooses to remain alone just as well as the player who wants to sow his wild space-oats across the galaxy. Ultimately no relationship is forced onto the player and you lose nothing significant for choosing this path. Your hero can still be a hero regardless of whether they do it alone or whether they bring a +1 into the picture.  

Next Heavy Rain...


  1. "Well, in most cases this will happen - for some reason my game portrayed my male Shepard who had romanced Liara as staring intently at a picture of his former lieutenant Kaidan. My Shepard was a deeply conflicted fellow."

    This made me LOL. Nice post! I agree, Mass Effect does an excellent job of letting the player choose their Shepard's path.

  2. I feel the same when I'm playing Mass Effect - loneliness and happiness at the same time. Both feelings are awesome.

  3. im not kidding mass effect 2,make me feel depressed and so overwhelmed.

  4. "To discuss battle-tactics and particle acceleration."
    You are funny. I enjoyed reading your article :)

  5. That was pretty funny. And poignant.

    Well done on getting the Mass Effect facebook profile to suggest your text by the way. Well deserved.

  6. My first play through of ME2, my canon playthrough, I stayed loyal Liara. I didn't have the Shadow Broker DLC, so I was so happy, and sad, when I got to see that look of longing on Shepard's(Fem) face. It made me feel that I hadn't wasted my time staying loyal.