Love in the age of the high score


In spite of the fact that we have the technology to heal eye problems with laser beams and frighteningly organized robot helicopters, the human race still hasn’t truly defined what the hell love is. The closest we’ve come is narrowing down the brain activity associated with love. Enter The Love Competition from Wholphin magazine, which I hope is an attempt to dethrone the agonizing game of Who has it worse? we all end up playing once a day with someone we know. Here are the rules:

Contestants will have 5 minutes in an fMRI machine to love someone as hard as they can.

Brain regions involved in producing the neurochemical experience of love will be measured.

The contestant who generates the greatest level of activity in those areas, wins.

A great man once said that a good way to define a nerd is when they take an interest and turn it into a math problem. Have these love nerds not only quantified, but gamified that warm feeling you get when your special someone buys you a tacos when you’re feeling down? Is that even possible? In the film we get to see a variety of people ranging from a ten-year-old boy, a girl who seems pretty devoted to the metaphysical, and a couple that has been happily married for 50 years express their feelings of love and have them ranked. The winner was completely unsurprising based on how he expressed his feelings before having them recorded by the machine, providing pretty convincing evidence that it might actually be possible to determine if someone is better at expressing love than others.

This fusion of science, competition, and emotion feels completely alien even in the age we live in now. What are games going to be like when we inevitably end up with gaming helmets that can accurately translate neural inputs replacing controllers? This could revolutionize the way romance works in games. When love is quantified, it’s not hard to imagine those numbers flying out of your head being compared among potential romance options in Mass Effect 12, allowing the game to decide better than you could which of them is the right guy or gal for you. No matter how many times you pick suggestive dialogue options with the sultry assassin with mega alien boobage, you might unconsciously express how much you care about that the clumsy girl down in the engineering bay and the game will take that into account. It will remember who you decide to revive first when someone goes down in combat, who you speak to first after each mission and who you’ve been giving the best equipment to.

It’s often said that one of the greatest strengths the narrative structure that games possess is the ability to help us learn about ourselves. They place us in scenarios we’ll never encounter and force us to make decisions that teach us what we would do in that situation. It’s safe to say most of us won’t have to decide whether kidnapping a child who holds the cure to an epidemic is the right thing to do, but Fallout 3 placed us in that situation and forced us to make that decision. Having our emotions read in real-time by the games we play could not only help us learn more about ourselves, but help us come to terms with our own inner conflicts. What if you were presented with a possible same-sex romance choice in a game, and your actual actions in-game conflicted with the neurochemical signals of your brain? Imagine a world where a video game could help you come out of the closet.

Given that you would be expected to fall for one of these characters, or at least express enough interest for your creepy mind-reading helmet to pick up on it, this would require the standards of writing to skyrocket. There can be no more one-dimensional characters who fall for you because you listened to them talk for a few minutes and picked the sympathetic dialogue option. Our own Aram Zucker-Scharff’s series of issues with Mass Effect 2 show that not everyone finds the series’ current standards of writing and characterization convincing. The Bioware method of wandering around your post-mission hub and seeing if each party member has anything new to say would be a thing of the past. Nothing could be pre-ordained. The game would have to craft situations based on who you’re interested in by implementing some kind of random encounter system. Maybe you run into your special someone in the empty mess hall in the middle of the night or he drops by your quarters with a loose excuse to be there and talk to you for a few minutes.

Of course this doesn’t mean we’d never see games that allow us to influence their narratives with simple choice structure. Some people play those types of games because they want to craft a story. Not everyone wants their avatar to be an exact replication of their real selves. This begs the question of whether strategy guides would have suggestions about how to strategically manipulate your thoughts to trick the game into reading the signals for the choices you want to make for the sake of the story you are creating. The more complex this gets, it becomes more clear that going down this road means taking control away from the player. Is there an audience for this? Many developers might rightfully argue that there isn’t. Any game with any amount of random chance for a desired item or other goodie has a guide online about how to most efficiently try over and over again to get the result you want. That said, all you need to do is type “cute cosplay couples” into google to learn that gamers are myth-busting lonely basement dweller stereotype everyday. They’re experiencing real romance and won’t be fooled by the goofy love stories we currently see in games forever. Many people are ready for a game that actually does make us fall in love and that number is only going to grow.

So, how high do you think your love score is?

Source: The Atlantic