You Know What's Gross? We Often Play Nice Guys™ In Games With Romance Options

A wise person once said, “Women aren’t vending machines you put kindness coins into until sex falls out.” When I talk about Nice Guys, I don’t mean boys who are also nice. I’m referring to that special brand of guy who endlessly chases women who have already rejected him. The men who talk about being “friend zoned,” as though friendship is more pox than gift. These are the ones who promote ideas like “ladder theory.”

They’re scum.

These people see all other women as potential love interests in the game of life. Well, not all other women. Just the ones that meet some arbitrary level of attractiveness by their undoubtedly sexist standards.

These men have an insidious strategy for pursuing the women they like. They become friends with them. They listen to their problems and do nice things for them, and they do it all on the selfish assumption that if they do that enough the woman they like will have no choice but to fall for them. They view relationships as a capitalist exchange, and see themselves as paying the deposit on a future romance.

You can see this mentality very clearly in video games. They’re a Nice Guy’s ideal world brought to life. Anyone who doubts this need simply look to Bioware games.

In any Bioware game, kindness is a currency. You make regular payments to earn affection points. You pay by listening to someone talk about their problems and giving them cheap gifts. Put in enough coins and sex falls out.

After that, the relationship is over. Sex was your end goal, the reason for everything you did. There was no reason to stick around after you got it. That was what you were paying for.

It doesn’t matter if you find Morrigan’s Ayn Rand inspired morality to be utterly repulsive. Just sit there, nod your head, and she’ll fall for you. It doesn’t matter that your Shepard is a paragon of virtue and integrity. If you play at being anything but when Jack’s paying attention, she’ll love you someday. In these games, telling women what they want to hear and listening to their problems is all it takes to get laid.

Of course, that’s not how the real world works. A Nice Guy will tell you this is unfair; that they paid for a service they did not receive. A human being knows better.

Sometimes people aren’t interested in others. Sometimes small differences make people incompatible. Sometimes people aren’t ready for a relationship.

Relationships, especially romantic ones, are weird and complicated. They should never be Kindness Capitalism made flesh. Someone who is kind simply out of self-interest isn’t kind at all. They’re just selfish.

If video games want to explore romance well, we need to completely dismantle how game developers see these relationships. Abolish the kindness tokens system. Replace it with something real.

To achieve that, games could use character customization that affect the relationships. “Sorry, there’s no way I could date you. You look too much like my dad.” Alternatively, in the case of Mass Effect, the protagonist has a basic history established both by games and character creation. “I heard about what happened on [Insert Planet Here]… I’m still not sure how I feel about it and- Well, maybe it’d be best if we took a break.”

Let players hit on a character, and be rejected because of how they did. Because they were too aggressive and didn’t respect another person’s boundaries. “You’re kind of being a creep. Back off.” Or more instances where a lady will go, “Sorry, I’m not into dudes.”

Let players be cheated on. “I’m sorry. I never wanted you to find out.” Have relationships end regardless of what the player does simply because not every relationship works out. “Things have been getting kind of stale, and I think it’s time we moved on.”

The reasons for a relationship to not work out are limitless. They could never start or they could end after a long period of intimacy. They’re interesting because they introduce conflict where it typically doesn’t exist in games, and they reflect elements of our own world. Being more interesting and being more human are both things worth striving for. That alone is cause enough for games to do this.

110 Comments

  1. xMattieBrice

    @patriciaxh oh god this is so true no dont ruin everything for me noooooo

  2. xMattieBrice

    @BooDooPerson @patriciaxh I do I self-flagellate over Persona and BioWare games.

  3. Pixel_Kaiser

    @patriciaxh YUP, this is the worst. ME2 was the apex of it, I think.

  4. FinalMacstorm

    @patriciaxh Great piece. It also reminds me of Persona 3/4 when you max a social link & become the best of friends, you’re done with them.

  5. thrallia

    Great piece. I have to say though, that while many people may do that in these games, I do not. Yes, those are the mechanics, but I’m not nice to people in these games simply because of an ‘end goal’ of intimacy. I’m nice because that’s how I feel you should treat other people when given a choice.

  6. “Have relationships end regardless of what the player does simply because not every relationship works out.” this this this yes

  7. xMattieBrice

    @Mike_Laidlaw @patriciaxh I KNOW I can’t believe she rejected me AND THEN VARRIC DA2 was so cruel

  8. patriciaxh

    @Mike_Laidlaw @xmattiebrice And what a character she was!

  9. patriciaxh

    @Mike_Laidlaw @xmattiebrice Whoops, that’s vague: she was a great character.

  10. ZenPsycho

    @grassisleena @patriciaxh reminds me pf harvest moon, and basically the whole genre of “dating sim” *ahem* “nice guy sim”

  11. ZenPsycho

    @grassisleena @patriciaxh the problem of course is that model of the world is easy to simulate- it’s simplistic (dictionary definition)

  12. xMattieBrice

    @Mike_Laidlaw @patriciaxh GOSH the ONE time I needed sexism

  13. ZenPsycho

    @grassisleena @patriciaxh simulating realistic relationships in a game mechanic is much harder i think. like an ai problem–but

  14. ZenPsycho

    @grassisleena @patriciaxh you can put that stuff in the story. many games- especially bioware games have very fixed story elements

  15. ZenPsycho

    @grassisleena @patriciaxh of course– another problem is games as wish fulfillment. this is clearly a fantasy many people are paying for

  16. patriciaxh

    @Fengxii ACTUALLY, we’re freshman year creative writing class zolani

    • Fengxii

      @patriciaxh YOUNG AND NOTHING TO LOSE (I think)

  17. m_kopas

    @MarxSensei it’s so good, Kim

    • MarxSensei

      @m_kopas Thank you so much :>

  18. Fengxii

    I really, really like the idea of a “Captialism” of kindness. Everything always seems to tie back to that, for some reason. Amazing.

    • JacobDangerGermain

      @Fengxii There’s also a similar concept of Karma in the west, where you do nice things because you expect you’ll be rewarded in unrelated nice ways later. It gets heinous when the inverse is applied, where bad things that happen to people are because they did some bad thing earlier.

  19. ScottMadin

    @MarxSensei looking forward to reading it! (but won’t get a chance until tomorrow.)

  20. JhoiraArtificer

    @m_kopas Wow that’s so good – I should really add Nightmare Mode to my regular rotation.

  21. trankillity

    I used to be one of these NiceGuys™ that you reference until I realised that it was wrong to expect something more than friendship for offering friendship, but the tone of this article almost makes it sound like guys shouldn’t be friendly with females they’re interested in. I find this implication reprehensible as someone who has moved on from being a NiceGuy™ to a nice guy.
     
    To be honest, all new women that are met (and conversely all new men who are met by women) *SHOULD* be considered potential love interests if the parties are single. I mean meeting people is how relationships start, so discounting someone as a romantic interest just because they’re new is counter-intuitive. Of course you can safely discount someone as being a potential love interest fairly quickly after meeting them. But as for befriending women with the view of romance – How is that a bad thing? I’m well aware that it rarely works because you will often end up being more of a friend/confidant than a romantic interest, but all of my successful relationships have been built on solid friendships. I’ve always been of the opinion that you must first be a friend with someone before you can fall in love with them, so I approach relationships in that order.
     
    I also despise the “first date” mechanic (not so much for the awkwardness, more for the label and connotations) so I would much rather learn about a person in a friendly, open, mutually comfortable environment with friends over the course of multiple meetings. If this means that I get less dates and less relationships, so be it. I’m happier to have a large circle of both male and female friends (and all my closest friends are females) who I can be comfortable around and have no expectations out of.
     
    As for your points about games and relationship systems within them, I completely agree and have no issues with your points. Relationships in games teach people bad habits and are always on a fairly shallow level however I can’t personally think of any way that a publisher would sign off on the kind of development time that would be required for a deep, almost real level of relationship in a game that wasn’t specifically about human interaction.

    • @trankillity no the tone of this article doesn’t say that at all. and it’s creepy to say that all new women should be considered potential love interests. what if they’re lesbians? that whole statement assumes heterosexuality in the first place.

      • trankillity

        @Porpentine  “Of course you can safely discount someone as being a potential love interest fairly quickly after meeting them.” Covers such scenarios, of which I’m not unfamiliar with.

        • Wardog_E

          @trankillity  @Porpentine Approaching women as potential love interests is exactly the wrong way to approach women.

  22. MarxSensei

    @drewmmichaels Thanks!!

  23. MarxSensei

    @vectorpoem Thank you!

  24. MarxSensei

    @pocheros Thank you uwu

  25. benspants

    @Lady_Serpentine Oh, so do I.

  26. Problemachina

    Well observed. All supposed ethical choices in games tend to be framed this way, in terms of a cost-benefit relationship instead of things being merely what they’re purported to be. We save the old man to befriend him to find his savings, or smother him in his sleep because his greedy sons paid us to do so. It extends itself into every part of the games we play, often, but it’s at its baldest and its most disgusting when it comes to the cruel parody of intimacy that it makes of romantic relationships.

  27. benspants

    @Lady_Serpentine I’d love to hear what you have to say about them sometime, though. I’ve given it some thought, but my exp. is limited.

  28. accountable

  29. patriciaxh

    @ozmills @redkun True, though the phrase isn’t ‘nice girls’

  30. sydneywhite

    This is very similar to an article that got picked up on kotaku awhile back. Had a similar first line too

    • sydneywhite

      @sydneywhite http://www.gamecritics.com/alex-raymond/women-arent-vending-machines-how-video-games-perpetuate-the-commodity-model-of-sex

  31. Arcysparky

    This article makes me think about a game called Dungeoneer: Beautiful Escape. http://rpgmaker.net/games/2068/ (NSFW) The game subverts the ‘Kindness Capitalism’ by having you play a sociopath who approaches strangers and convinces them to come home with you. You do this by reading the person’s file and choosing answers you think will make them like you the most. It’s interesting in the way it reveals the creepiness of treating romance and friendship in this way in videogames.
     
    The game is definitely not for the faint of heart, and at times is in extremely bad taste, but I think is worth it for what it has to say about the way relationships are presented in video games as well as being a very creepy and unsettling horror game.

    • razikain

      @Arcysparky I’m gonna check this out later, since I’m at work now. But judging from what you say, it looks like a less graphically explicit, yet creepier version of Rapelay.

  32. I don’t see what is the problem with that. Everybody tries to woes who they are interested in with some quality they possess. If kindness is the only coin you have kindness is the coin you are going to use. Women are not immune to using the kindness coin, the sexual tease coin (because of their “undoubtedly sexist” idea that all men want sex all the time) and so on. The difference that I see is that while men complain it is “unfair”, woman accuse men (or rather, I was already accused) of being gay for refusing them. But that’s the game we play. 
     
    Speaking of Bioware, where do you fit Samara? EDI? Traynor? Dr. Chawkas (oh, how I love Dr. Chawkas!)? Mass Effect is filled with characters that friend zone you. You just don’t notice because there are other characters that like you. And who’s to say that was because you acted nice towards them rather than acting nice allowed them to see the qualities in you? I like this world view better. It has less anger.

    • Arcysparky

      @frpcordeiro  I think the point is that relationships aren’t vending machines… It doesn’t matter what “coin” you use. Kindness, the way you dress, humour… you can’t ‘purchase’ a person’s affections. They like you or they don’t like you. Of course no one is saying don’t be nice, just don’t expect sex and love in return. It’s just not how things work.

    • JacobDangerGermain

      @frpcordeiro All women don’t think that all men want sex all the time and all women do not accuse men of being gay for rejecting them. Write for you about you, not “the way things are” when it’s obvious that you’re really talking about “the way I think things are.”

      • @JacobDangerGermain Don’t be so dense. I was being sarcastic about the men part (hence the commas (duh!)) and talking about personal experience regarding the women (which I though I made it clear).

  33. razikain

    My two cents (and a bit of a rant, I confess): What if said Nice Guy simply doesn’t know better? What if he was raised up in a sheltered environment which made him believe for the most of his life that if he was nice and kind, someday, somewhere, a girl would love him for him being a really good person to her? I don’t think you need to do the math to conclude that I’m talking about myself.
    I’m 22 now, and I spent a good 18~19 years of my life being told that, and believing in that. Believing in that, and also in that “just be yourself” load of rotten crap. After some rejections and crushed expectations, I felt the weight of reality and noticed that things don’t work as I expected. But now, and pardon me the comparison since I found no better one, I feel like a devote Christian in a world that was scientifically proven that God isn’t real. If what I believed in nearly my whole life is a lie, what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to behave or act around a girl that I like so she would feel the same way I do? I’m well aware of the possibility of her simply not liking me or us being incompatible, but then I also see all kinds of guys (handsome, ugly, fat, thin, bulky, poor, rich, you name it) being able to get a girlfriend, so what the fuck am I doing wrong? After I’ve “awakened” to reality, I just stopped approaching any girls with the intent of getting a girlfriend because every time I think about what to do, all I see in my mind is a big empty space where all my beliefs once were.

    • Wardog_E

      @razikain The reality is that people meet and become friends and sometimes their circumstances fit each other in a way that makes them emotionally healthier and more productive when they are together; that’s what I think love is. It’s not something you can plan for and there aren’t tricks and it may never happen to you. If you think you have problems that would be fixed if you had someone to love, you are almost definitely wrong. Love brings happiness in the same way war brings progress. If you find yourself longing for love, there are probably a lot of personal issues you have to deal with before you should attempt a proper romantic relationship. Love is about giving as much as it is about receiving and if you are emotionally distraught, you wil inevitably hurt the person you are with which is kind of a selfish thing to do. You don’t have to do any of this if you don’t want. Being in love is completely optional. If you feel a social pressure to seek a romantic relationship, you should know nobody has a right to expect anything like that from you.
       
      If what you want isn’t love, then look for people who want the same thing you do. They are bound to be out there somewhere.

      • JacobDangerGermain

        @Wardog_E  @razikain “Love brings happiness in the same way war brings progress”Man, that’s some quotable shit there. Yeah, falling in love has lead to some of the more dramatic and important changes in my life, but it also totally wrecked me as an individual for a while.

    • @razikain Check Out Dr. Nerdlove if you haven’t: http://www.doctornerdlove.com/ Lots of reasonable advice for guys in your situation.

  34. This makes me think of Dragon Age, where my character was dating (aka sleeping with) Zevran. Then I decided I wanted to make my character marry Alistair (who was going to be king, thus making my character queen). It was at that point that Zevran decided he needed to break up with my character. But why? He was such a “ladies man”; he regularly told me how he just wanted casual sex and didn’t want a relationship. So why not be okay with my character pursuing another guy, yet still be open for an occasional booty call? Did he actually draw the line there, or was it just a case of the game only letting me be in one relationship at a time? Pfft.

    • psientist

      @heykelley i think that issue to focus on is not that we have to make choices (Zevran does not owe you dick no matter what you pay played) but that there is a process to decision making.

  35. psientist

    While I agree with the author’s premise that love gaming story telling should run on a long game rather than an end game engine, I completely disagree with what I understand her position on the role of ‘self physics’ (selfless/selfishness).
     
    The vending machine you describe is designed to homogenize the many expressions of selves into easily reproducible, recognizable costumes. The vending machine monetizes the furiously seething commodity of love into a reproducible, recognizable currency. Consider the vending machine called the palace at Verssaille. Hundreds of rooms filled with quaffed and cod-pieced actors and not one bathroom, everyone dancing to the tune of ‘that wasn’t/isn’t/can’t be me’ as they piss and shit in the corners, and there was likely some fucking as well.
     
    The only beacon we have is ourselves and if you really want to attract that better half moth you must burn with clarity.
     
    I am a 39 year old male hetero mmo gamer. I have found lovers playing games. I have a unique odor and i prefer my companions smell like themselves as well.

  36. MattBodega

    While I do genuinely think that you make a salient comment on the arbitrary nature of in-game relationships–and,in particular, call out BioWare for perpetuating this standard–I think you actually namedrop a game AND a character who is more than just a vehicle toward a softcore sex scene…and, ironically, it’s a character from a BioWare game: it’s Morrigan from Dragon Age:Origins. 
     
    True to the main thrust of this editorial, Morrigan is programmed in the same way that all BioWare “sutible love interests” are designed; you listen to Morrigan, help her deal with her Mom (who happens to be a dragon witch) give her gifts (magical spell books and the like) and are, eventually, rewarded with a sex scene. She is exactly the kind of cookie cutter romantic interest that you decry in this article….until you reach the very end of the game, just before the final battle against the dragon.
    ( I’m guessing it was a dragon that you were trying to kill in Dragon Age. I can’t exactly remember…it’s been awhile since I’ve played, so I don’t remember the specifics….except for what Morrigan does as the end.
    The “big reveal in Dragon Age: Origins is that Wardens (BioWare’s new name for Jedi/spectres/whatevers) are the only ones that can kill the Dragon. Furthermore, it comes at the expense of their lives: Warden kills the Dragon and dies themselves. But on the eve of the final battle, Morrigan visits you in your room and offers you a new deal; the player will have sex with and impregnate Morrigan and through some dark magic(it always is), the spirit of the dragon will inhabit the body of the unborn child. The player can kill the dragon without fear of death, and Morrigan/unborn child will be fine as well…because of reasons. But Morrigan will leave the party–no matter what. No matter if she was just an enemy, a friend or the love interest in your party, she will leave the game after that mission. The whole reason she was with you, it is revealed, it to use ensure that the dragon dies for this very reasons: so Morrigan and her child can steal the power of the dragon for themselves. She used you. 
     
    Coming to this moment after having perused Morrigan in my first playthrough was shocking heartbreaking. I felt betrayed and used. Not because I felt like Morrigan was violating some kind of relationship-to-sex transaction, but because Morrigan was putting her own desires-her need to obtain power–over the needs of the party and the group (and, I guess, the fate of the world too). Morrigan was acting out of self-interest…and, in doing so, comes across as being a remarkably human NPC. 
     
    It wasn’t a “positive” experience, but it felt honest. It’s still, for me, the most memorable moment in one of the best RPGs of the last decade.

    • psientist

      @MattBodega lol your selfish desires to explain your self just revealed the ending of a game I was looking to play

      • MattBodega

        @psientist  @MattBodega I’m sorry I spoiled a game for you. In my defense, Dragon Age: Origins is three years old and has been on sale for less than $8 for all the content. I thought the game was well past the story-beat statue of limitations. But I’m still sorry.

        • psientist

          @MattBodega I have already recovered, must be the magical physics of companion bonding
          expression of self <> responsibility for self<>otherselves
          and pinging lots and lots of pinging

    • JacobDangerGermain

      @MattBodega Dude, check out the DLC where you go after morrigan. I cried buckets when she apologized before stepping through the portal and disappearing again. She wouldn’t even romance me anyway because I was a lady.

  37. CraigBamford

    This sort of thing is practically ubiquitous. It’s not really about gaming; it’s more about how we’re socialized to think about relationships, and I do honestly suspect that Nice Guys ™ are more of a symptom of that broken process of socialization than anything else.
     
    But in any case….”scum”?

  38. JacobDangerGermain

    Intellectualizing romance is never a good idea. Relationships are emotional constructs. For a segment of people who pride themselves in eliminating emotion and intellectualizing everything the Nice Guy model works. Since this segment of people is a non-trivial portion of the people who create our entertainment media, the idea proliferates through the rest of society. I’ve never understood the necessity of having player romance in rpgs anyway. It’s like no hero can be heroic without getting emotionally laid on the regular. Mass effect can kind of get away with it since most times you’re having sex in those games, you’re also reasonably convinced that everyone is going to die during the next mission, but I’m not really down with sex as a last hurrah, either. I appreciate more when these games promote a sense of camaraderie and empathy and not just “Hey babe lets be intimate now.” Femsheps relationship with gay shipdude was much more touching than my femshep’s fling with reporter lady that ruined her relationship with Liara because i didn’t realize “play chess” was a euphemism for “fuck in the shower.”I dunno, the way I played the relationships got kind of weird, but whenever it’s set to a bunch of dialogue options that obviously lead you to sex like in DA2 or something, the whole story gets silly. I had a lot more fun constantly flirting with and then rejecting anders than I did standing around listening to merril’s sad story and finding her stuff in hopes of that elf booty. I would have been really surprised if anders suddenly manned the fuck up and told me to fuck off and left my party after doing this over and over or if merril told me one day “you only like me because you think I’m weak and effeminate and need protecting and you want to protect me” and then also left the party no matter what I said. That would fall more in line with real life, AFAIC.

    • JacobDangerGermain

      Hey where did all my line breaks go?

  39. bendroste

    I found this a really interesting read, not least because I have been thinking about how to craft more meaning full relationships (both romantic and otherwise) in a project I’m currently working on. Interestingly your comments with regards to rejection, betrayal, and doomed relationships reminded me of my experience with the romance subplot in Mass Effect 3. I know you highlighted Bioware games explicitly as a company that is guilty of this “coin goes in sex comes out” relationship model, and yet ironically for me ME3 achieved everything you wished for in the second half of your post! The reason for this unfortunately is that the romance subplot was so ill crafted and neglected that the experience I got out of it was decidedly NOT what the developers intended. In fact the total lack of any relationship development outside of the flirting and sex proves your point.
     
    Reading this has inspired me to write about my experience on my blog in an article I call: “I Was Used and Abused By My Asari Girlfriend”
    http://bendroste.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/i-was-used-and-abused-by-my-asari.html

  40. rikashi

    While I agree with a few points, there’s so much else that is wrong with this article that I could write a (longer) essay.
    I think the main disconnect seems to be that you are perfectly happy with the way that relationships in the real world play out, and cannot sympathise with anyone anyone who thinks that sometimes these relationship dynamics really suck. I mean let’s be honest here, a lot of men get lots of sex by being supremely confident, misogynistic assholes.
    The nice guys in games are ideals. In many ways they are a manifestation of the artist and consumer’s desire for a better reality and in a small way these idealistic representations help to improve society. Yes, often these simplified relationships objectify women in a way that is deserving of scorn, but lashing out against the idea that people should be nice to those they care for, or that people react well if you are nice to them, that seems very misguided.
    If you prefer a world where cheating is normal, callouseness and judgementalism is OK and people should always act on their initial gut instincts without giving others a second chance then that’s just, like, your opinion. Hey here’s an idea, lets encourage games and media to acurately portray society’s everyday misogyny since that is more realistic and therefore interesting. I’m sure that won’t furthur establish those conditions as norms or in any way harm our attempts to improve society by imagining a better future. /snark.
    P.S. try playing Mass Effect II as a female Shepard. Liara and the guys all use the same relationship mechanics so you can be equally disgusted at playing a nice girl. However, there is a silver lining! Jack will not give you sex no matter how many nice tokens you throw at her, and the flippant assumption which leads her to rebuff your advances is brilliant. Tali’s aborted romance is another gem, where everything seems to be going well until she sudenly just refuses to speak to you again unless it’s business-related, in that totally awkward and uninformative way that leaves you wondering for years afterwards just what the hell you did to screw things up. Whoever wrote that script was obviously a genius.

    • himatako

      @rikashi I don’t think the article said that you shouldn’t be nice to each other at all. While it’s true that you should be nice to each other, it is NOT a good thing to promote the way of thinking that by being nice to someone, they will definitely return your favor with a romantic feeling. The ‘Nice Guy’ that this article refers to are these people. People who think that by treating someone nice, they own something to them. They have to return them by loving the Nice Guys. This is hardly a better reality, but more of a self-centered reality, thinking that everyone has to become your lover  if you treat them nice.
       
      Also, I think the author already offer a nice and interesting solution too. For example, she wrote:

      Alternatively, in the case of Mass Effect, the protagonist has a basic history established both by games and character creation. “I heard about what happened on [Insert Planet Here]… I’m still not sure how I feel about it and- Well, maybe it’d be best if we took a break.”

      This approach , combining with the kindness token system, could create a more interesting relationship system. If you’ve been kind to them, maybe they’ll ask you about what you did. But if you haven’t been kind enough to them, maybe they won’t even care at all. 
       
      Also, what she mentioned in the article aren’t just for ‘realistic’ sake. You can create a story about breaking up or cheating without promoting or sending a message that cheating is good. There are many stories about breaking up or cheating in other medias already, but in game, we rarely see them. To be honest, a game that portray society’s everyday misogyny in a way that doesn’t promote misogyny but raise awareness would be ok in my book as well. I mean, there’s a difference between a game that is misogynist and a game about misogyny.

      • BartoszChmielewski

        @himatako  @rikashi Anyone still remembers old KotOR II? There, relations between people relied on influence you gained or lost by various actions. It was by far the most perfect relation-simulating system I have ever seen in cRPG – and precisely what the author is arguing about. Too bad we are now back to the dialogue-only systems…

  41. himatako

    Have you played ‘Aitakute ~Your Smile in My Heart~”? It’s a Japanese date sim game that I think did best with various relationship. Each character has endings that end up breaking up in relationship, cheating, or happy ending, depending on what you do during the game. There’s even one character that the more you’re nice to her, the more she think of you as a nice friend and will never return your feeling. There’s also a choice in the game that allow you to be homosexual or dating a transexual character.
    To me, it was one of the most progressive dating sim. (Although there are many problematic representation of women, a problem that many date sim suffer)
     
    One character doesn’t even care much about how you’re being nice to her, as long as you have enough money and you’re getting along well with the other girl, who she has always want to take a revenge up on. While later she admit that she love the protagonist (in good ending), she also admit that she used him as a tool for revenge. 
     
    What’s nice about this game is it ties all these human complex relationship and translate it to game mechanic well, I don’t think it was a success monetarily though, but I wish Konami would be brave enough to do something like this again instead of sticking to their comfort zone with Tokimeki Memorial.

    • himatako

      Oh, one thing I forgot. Unlike other date sim, the game doesn’t end when you and the character become lover. The game continues, and you have to keep your relationship going. At that time, all the game’s goal is to ‘get that character’, and the ending is where they confess their love, then it jump to the happily ever after scene. This is probably the first game that broke the dating sim norm and let the game continue after you or the character confess their feeling to you, making the goal not to ‘get that character’, but to understand and be together with that character.

  42. LogicalDash

    You call for the abolition of kindness tokens, then give examples of alternative ways of using kindness tokens. I find this odd.
     
    Human relationships are transactional. This certainly doesn’t imply that anyone owes anyone sex in exchange for being treated well. But just like in commerce, some things aren’t for sale, and if the person you’re buying from hasn’t done anything to indicate that sex or love is available for exchange, then you’ve got no one to blame if you don’t get any.
     
    Conversely, go on any dating site and you’ll find plenty of people openly advertising that they will attempt to maintain a romantic relationship with a person who does certain things for them. They’re usually subjective things, like sense of humor and shared interests. You could represent them with tokens, but the weakness of the representation is obvious, so everyone involved in a relationship has to make constant judgment calls over whether what they’re getting is what they want, whether it’s enough, and how to count it.
     
    In a game, it’s up to the writers and scenario designers to make that type of call. Ideally you’d have a game master, like in a tabletop roleplay, so you can work out whether a given character’s Charisma score reflects anything of interest to another character, and therefore, whether CHA-based influence skills will work.
     
    If you really believe that kindness tokens are intrinsically unhelpful, you’re left with no option but to remove the simulation of kindness from video games. They are made of tokens. This is all.

    • Dylan Holmes

      @JacobDangerGermain  @LogicalDash Uh…what? Are you implying that autistic people should be barred from expressing opinions, or something? If you feel that way, you should probably stop reading Nightmare Mode.

      • JacobDangerGermain

        @Dylan Holmes  @LogicalDash Cute.

      • Kim Marx

        @JacobDangerGermain Please don’t bring ableist bigotry into the comments here.

  43. CelsoEdTeixeira

    There are a lot of routes to finding love, some of which are more shallow than others. You could read the Bioware system the way this article suggests, the kindness tolken, or you could see the protagonists investigations of their potential partners, their beliefs, and histories as a way of getting to know people you may or may not want to have a relationship with. I’m not sure if promoting more shallow routes to denying love such as the “You look like my father and I have daddy issues” method you suggest would encourage a healthier perspective.  As far as manipulating this into a insert time get sex approach, people will always figure out ways to game the system, especially in early relationships, the trick is that these attempts at manipulation rarely last long.

  44. niidelj

    @cirnobar well, it’s not wrong to call outlook standards sexist – after all, many (men) like e.g. breasts on a woman but not on men…

  45. BartoszChmielewski

    While I agree with what the author says about shallow romancing engines in BioWare games (though not exactly with the tone of the article), I can’t help to notice the author misses one crucial point – the relationships in games are most usually NOT normal relationships.
     
    They are formed in extraordinary circumstances, most notably in situations when all the world around characters is falling to pieces (ME and the Reapers, to give you one example). This is not the moment where people are picky about relationships. Most of the time they just need to have some fun to reduce stress level (as Garrus points in ME2), or just need someone they feel safe with. Mr. Nice Guy is really the most viable option then.
     
    Such relationships form quickly, but they also fall apart quite easily – as soon as the stress they feel is gone. And there is nothing strange or awkward about it – just human nature…

  46. thebigJ_A

    At least Morrigan ditches you. That’s something (small).

  47. Mass Effect clearly puts more depth into this than most games, and it pays off. I stuck by Liara the whole way through, but it did include at least some nods to these ideas. Samara, for example, can seem like a romantic option, but you get shut down pretty hard if you try to pursue it.

  48. “After that, the relationship is over. Sex was your end goal, the reason for everything you did. There was no reason to stick around after you got it.” … there’s some fairly moving scenes with Liara in the 3rd game that have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with the relationship you’ve been trying to build with her, which both of you pretty much know is doomed.

    I don’t disagree with your overall point, though. Games are still in the very early stages of relationship simulation (and I mean all types of relationships, not just romantic), and they do still too often default to ‘here is an obvious nice option and a not-nice option. Pick the nice one. Works every time.’

  49. The ‘kindness-capitalism-made-flesh’ mechanic does turn romantic relationships into just that: a mechanic. Basing a romantic interest’s response on your chosen character background or the decisions/actions you took during the game would offer little improvement, though. It’s still a mechanic. People consult guides to get ‘the best ending’ and the same will apply here. In a game you can always go back and do things differently. I wish I could do that for relationships.

  50. I wonder

    • Robert Stewart

      One aspect of gaming is the purely mechnistic “here’s a system: solve it” where playing the game means figuring out the pre-designed set of inputs and applying them in the right order to get the desired result, but there are other aspects too.

      There’s the narrative – the fluff and flavour, setting and story – the modern text adventure game genre calls itself “interactive fiction” – and not without good reason. If you play a game engaging with the narrative rather than the mechanics, then you may follow the same path through the game, but for different reasons, and you’ll get a different experience out of it – in terms of mechanics, a character is just not a designated potential romantic interest; on the narrative level, she’s cold or distant, or you’re just not her type. If you’re experiencing the story rather than gaming the system – if you’re gneuinely being the sort of character that character falls for rather than pretending to be in order to manipulate them – then a lot of the creepiness goes away.

      Then there’s the contrast between scripted and emergent events – a scripted event is one where someone sat down and said “we want the player to experience this under these circumstances” and put that in; an emergent one is one where the game just naturally has that happen under those circumstances – scripted events are the video-game equivalent of direct divine intervention – a hand reaches in from outside and forces something to happen – and they tend to be fairly easy to game once you know the triggers. And, yeah, there’s something profoundly creepy about the idea of taking advantage of that special programming. Emergent behaviour – particularly if the underlying systems are sufficiently chaotic – is a lot harder to control in the way major game developers seem to want, but it produces something a lot more authentic…

      Approaching a game purely as a multi-dimensional optimisation problem is, for most games, missing a large part of the point, though, sadly, it’s a point that seems to elude major publishers too – making everything either a mechnical “press button A to get outcome B” or an irrelevance is an enduring problem of mainstream games, and not just in terms of romantic relationships.

  51. I think the Sims 3 does some pretty interesting things with regard to the fact that you’ve character traits which play a big part of things. Sure you can pursue romance options with pretty much anyone if you choose, but unless there’s a degree of commonality it’s an uphill struggle and is hard to maintain in the long term vs finding someone more sympatico

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  53. Helpleo

    I partly agree, partly disagree. For me, Bioware game are souless wish-fullfulment machines for the uncreative; Mass Effect, in particular, is so preocuppied in simmetrically dividing everything, and mathematically organizing its universe in order for everyone to be happy, it forgets to be spontaneous. The “kindness capitalism” (regardless of genre – it feature a bisexual alien precisaly so it can have an option for both genres of Shepards without going as far to create two sets of responses) system makes a lot of sense in this context, because the universe of play is a cause-effect place (in which blue or red colored answers usually magically solve everything).

    Though; I got interested in Liara, and usually spend my time talking to her (mostly because I didn’t realize i could go to the basement of the Normandy until the endgame, partly because the other chatting option, Kaidan – I was playing with a female Shepard – was an utter bore); eventually, she digressed into the fascinating mating rituals of the Asari, and the game started giving options to coerce her into mating with me; I usually avoided those options, despite being clearly interested in the ritual, because I understood how important it would be to her (or, at least thats what the writers suggested to me).

    So, I avoided the opportunities that would clearly facilitate the awkward virtual semisex; evebntually, we settled into being friends, and I was fine with that. But by the end of the game, she basically went into my Shepard chambers and threw her into bed. So there’s that.

  54. Angelus Delcaos

    On one hand I would be very curious to see how a game trying to have more realistic relationships would work out, but on the other hand I have the feeling it would just be frustrating. In the same way a game like Mass Effect is a fantasy of being a competent leader of people in the future, possibly with psi powers and out to save the galaxy… these “romances” are also a fantasy of being able to “get” the NPCs you want as long as you “game it” right. It’s no more realistic than the shooting part.
    All that said, making relationship “quests” more complex (if still implausibly convenient) and more difficulty to “win” would still be interesting (and maybe just that little bit more realistic in the process).

    • Ygorbla

      Yeah. The underlying problem is that games can’t really represent a realistic relationship, since we don’t have genuine AIs. So if you’re a writer creating a game and you want to have romance in it, you have just a few options:

      1. Relationship values. These are simple and straightforward and lead to the problem outlined in the OP.

      2. Scripted relationships. (This includes relationships scripted to ‘succeed’ and relationships — or, if it never reaches that point, come-ons — scripted to fail for whatever reason.) These actually do appear, and you can use it to convey something as realistic as you like, but I think part of the problem here is that when the player has no interaction at all, they tend to not feel connected to it — in any case, it’s sort of giving up on the promise of games. I mean, if you’re just reading Romeo and Juliet to the player, with no input on their part in terms of how it goes, then your romance is secondary to the actual game, isn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess, but I’d like to see games that at least try to give the player some interaction in how personal relationships develop.

      3. Dialog / event trees. These allow for somewhat more realistic interactions, but they can be frustrating, and I suspect that they’d just encourage players to save and load and game the tree by figuring out how it works, which could lead to some of the problems with relationship values. It’d solve the OP’s problem to an extent, though, in that you could make the tree map to a more realistic interaction — I mean, as long as you have save / load options, romance in games is always going to feel like romance with a time machine!

      But they seem to have fallen out of favor, perhaps partially because they involve creating large amounts of content that most players will never see.

  55. Schtroumpf

    “telling women what they want to hear and listening to their problems is all it takes to get laid.

    Of course, that’s not how the real world works.”

    Perhaps not always, but often enough it is (unfortunately) all it takes. Assuming every woman is smart might be a better fantasy than assuming every woman is dumb, but it remains a fantasy.

    • Rgiojmrg

      What’s wrong with you, moron?

  56. I am also a guest

    a good and understated point marred by some weird conflation of complaints
    oh well

  57. Berzee

    Yeah…I’ve been hankering for a while now for a game that actually displays a real, ordinary marriage as part of the story. “After that, the relationship is over” is a good description of why the standard “romantic subplot” feels ridiculous, I think.

    Of course it isn’t just games; regardless of what medium you’re making a story in, it’s too easy to slip into the simplification “Love is only romance, and romance is only kissing. I wrote some characters kissing, which means I have succeeded in portraying the soaring human experience of Love.”

    Games are just usually so busy with stuff exploding and stats getting upgraded, you probably have to be very intentional if you want to fit anything more than that into the story. =S

  58. Berzee

    Ok, a further grievance with the world at large. =P Games that combine the following things are just supremely ridiculous to me:

    1) A fixed protagonist
    2) A variety of romantic subplots to choose from

    I guess these situations are intended to suggest that the Hero Of The Kingdom is doomed to meet several people that they admire very much and have strong feelings about, and it is up to said Hero to make the difficult decision of settling how they ought to give their heart.

    But the way this is usually handled (is it really all Bioware games I am thinking of? maybe no one else is even willing to make the attempt?) is “Click here to give your character feelings for Person 1. Click over here to give your character feelings for Person 2.”

    Actually, I quite like the way Skyrim does it. Your hero is player-defined, so it makes sense that the person they will like is the person you like too. You can seek out practically anyone in the game world and, after establishing common ground by killing 10 wolves for them or whatnot, sweep them off their feet. You’re not limited to the one or two people set aside by the Authors as “romanceable” and you can actually MARRY the person and share a (superficial representation of a) life together.

    Dropping by to get some homemade soup every morning I think is much more romantic than Your Choice Of Three Smooching Cutscenes Before Final Boss Fight.

    P.S. The worst thing is being railroaded into these situations! It took all of my wits and several walkthrough consultations just to succeed in shutting down the romantic advances of all of my easily-infatuated party members in Jade Empire. o_O

  59. vaen dryl

    on the subject of realism in games, let’s be more realistic in the real consequences of shooting people, both in how they don’t actually always die so cleanly right away and the effect your actions, as the player, have on the friends and family of all the mooks you’ve so gallantly slaughtered.

    there’s a reason games aren’t realistic OP. a very good one. people play games to get away from reality, not explore it further. blaming games for how much of an asshole the men are you’ve dated is no different from blaming games for all the random shootings that have happened in the world.

    In short, you’re a hypocrite OP.

    • really though

      if you need to “get away” from how humans form relationships with each other than maybe put the game down and sit in the sun for awhile

    • Aleks Molcanov

      Not everybody plays to escape from reality. Article’s critique of the portrayal of sexuality and relationships is very legit. Games are shit at simulating anything else but pretty light and realistic bullet flight paths. You really pwned that feminist there, way to go bro.
      When a studio such as BioWare makes a big deal of how much romance options you can have in their game, and how badly it’s handled, this critique is very legitimate.

    • KFK

      Now that you mention it, I’d be delighted to play that let me explore reality further.

  60. video games!!

    I hadn’t thought about this before, mostly because I don’t play Bioware games. Would be nice to have something more interesting than a quest log romance.

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  64. Kayla

    Where in the article does Moss imply that all nice guys are like this? At the very beginning, she states that she’s not talking about guys who are genuinely nice, ONLY the ones who think that women are obligated to go out with them if they’re nice enough (which isn’t actually very nice at all).

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  66. Seamus

    This was an interesting article and I think you’re right. But I still wanted to point out, that there was a relationship in Mass Effect that was doomed from the start: You could do your best with Samara, in the end she would still reject you (as she would have anyone). I think this goes in the general direction of what you are implying: That not every Relationship is meant to be and thus should not be achievable.

  67. Mygaffer Nunya

    I would love to see a much more complex handling of relationships in games, at least in games where it makes sense for romantic relationships between the PC and the NPCs to take place at all. Right now things are too cookie cutter and gamey, although I do not think that they actually shape anyone’s beliefs about how relationships work. I think people those opinions are formed outside of gaming, like most values.

  68. A nice guy.

    The simplistic view of relationships in games may seem like an idicator of social ignorance, and sometimes it is. I’m looking at you Japanese girlfriend simulators. But with the well developed characterization, combined with the player imagination to fill in the gaps, it seems part of a different problem.
    The real issue, I feel, is the complex logistics of portraying honest relationships in games. We already complain about open games having limited moral choices. Or the modern railshooter-fps that takes almost all choice away. I don’t think we are at a point where it’s economically feasible for a game to impliment a well thought out, realistic version of relationships. Especially if it is a subsection of a larger game. Personally I am thinking GTA 4 here which tried to have a dating/relationship system that ultimatly was just, date three times, play insufferable minigames or a horrible Ricky Gervais set, get reward, then upkeep to keep people happy, if you cared and weren’t in the middle of a mission. Which once again, you could personally hate the character but if they provide some sort of reward(call them to get the cops off your tail) you would take them out to maintain that.
    And even if they do impliment a fantastic system, you can always just save a point, hit on that intrest you want, fail, load save and try again till you succeed. Or, just look up the guide. No learning necessary. Any social lesson or in depth simulation is lost.
    A system that is honest and not derogatory to overall game experience and gamer, is a massive task to pursue.
    I honestly think we have come a long, long way from Custer’s Revenge on the Atari. But then again, we have also have DOA Beach Volleyball and Rumble Roses XX

  69. Doc

    I’m not nice. I’ve been told that I’m scum – actually lower than scum.. Yet I get poon… So the lesson here is treat women lousy, and they will have their ankles on your shoulders in no time…

  70. I agree with what you’re written – aces, and spot on – but you’re asking for the kind of emotional complexity bioware only ever paid lip service to.

    For interactions where your past and current actions / outlook / “morality” affect your interactions with NPCs, I’d recommend Fallout New Vegas and Alpha Protocol. They both have gameplay issues, bugs and glitches and all, and New Vegas doesn’t even do romances. Both games have their share of problematic writing and character development. But there’s always a payoff – actions have consequences, personal and “professional”.

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  73. Ah, the argument from everything happens in a vaccuum. In case you’ve been living under a rock and know no games besides Mass Effect, games that let you define the sex of the protagonist are a minority, there’s a long history of games with male protagonists where this happens, and there’s no “Nice Gal” cultural current to go with the exceptions anyway.

    • Rebochan

      Yet the article’s chief argument to its thesis is a game that allows gender choice. It severely cheapens the author’s argument that this is not even addressed when Fem!Shep is such a universally well recognized character.

      I mean, if the author was so insistent on using Mass Effect to explain the “Nice Guy” system, then wouldn’t there be some value in pointing out that even with the genders reversed, it is a fully masculine perspective imposed on the player? “Nod until the nookie comes out” is generally seen as a male approach to relationships, and in this case, Bioware’s titles aren’t addressing or correcting it. They simply allow women the ability to mimic the same behavior towards the opposite sex. And Bioware games pretty much universally only encourage one-night stands thanks to their storylines.

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