Steve thinks we should stop ‘ro­manc­ing’ in-game char­ac­ters

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START CONTENTS - Steve also writes for the sexy City A.M.

Though I try my best to keep my gnarled, Tales From The Crypt

es­que, 31-year-old finger on the pulse of mod­ern cul­ture, I am fre­quently con­founded by the in­scrutable lan­guage of today’s youth. What ex­actly is Big Dick En­ergy? Am I woke? Is this col­umn fleek? Is any­thing I’m say­ing even slightly on the fleek spec­trum?

But please don’t mis­take my out-of-touch naivety for a lack of will­ing­ness to learn. Ev­ery night be­fore bed I read a Buz­zFeed ar­ti­cle about Love Is­land and watch five min­utes of rap­ping men’s In­sta­gram sto­ries, and write down all of the words that I don’t recog­nise or make me feel alien­ated and afraid. In the morn­ing I re­peat these words back to my­self in the bath­room mir­ror, like I am cast­ing some ar­cane spell near a toi­let.

This is how I stay rel­e­vant in a rapidly evolv­ing ed­i­to­rial landscape. This is how I com­mand an awards-wor­thy col­umn and a six-fig­ure re­tainer (pay­ment pend­ing) at the UK’s lead­ing Xbox magazine for at­trac­tive young peo­ple. So it is with this care­fully cu­rated weight of cul­tural au­thor­ity, and a keen aware­ness of what is ‘on point’, that I must fi­nally ad­dress and re­pair a most beloved gam­ing trope. I ask for your trust, dear reader, as I sadly in­form you that ro­mance­able NPCs are not good. I do not ‘stan’ them, and nei­ther should you.

The prob­lem

‘Ro­mance­able’ is a beau­ti­fully sani­tised eu­phemism in­vented by the ac­claimed RPG de­vel­oper Bioware to de­scribe the po­ten­tial of a char­ac­ter in their games to have full, wet, stink­ing, an­i­mal­is­tic sex with the player. I know enough about be­ing woke to un­der­stand that it’s not ideal to de­scribe any­body, vir­tual or oth­er­wise, in terms of the po­ten­tial­ity for them to be co­erced into be­ing boned by you through a se­ries of well-nav­i­gated di­a­logue choices, but that’s not even the real prob­lem with ro­mance op­tions in RPGs. Ro­mance in games is any­thing but ro­man­tic. In games where the player is the sole char­ac­ter with any agency in the world, these one-di­men­sional rut­tings paint every­one around you as lit­tle more than a sexy-progress bar wait­ing to be filled, a dirty re­ward to be un­locked.

For some time these ro­mance­able NPCs were ex­clu­sively women play­ing a role in a testos­terone-sod­den, male­fan­tasy w**k-ad­ven­ture (look, I warned you I was woke ear­lier) but lately games have adopted the pro­tec­tive veil of so­cial progress. In the up­com­ing As­sas­sin’s

Creed Odyssey you can now have sex with both men and women, as ei­ther a man or a wo­man, but still by re­lent­lessly bad­ger­ing an in­dif­fer­ent NPC un­til their de­fences are worn down.

This is ob­vi­ously an im­prove­ment, but far from any kind of proper LGBT rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Heroes in games with these gen­der-ag­nos­tic ro­mance­able NPCs are only ever gay in­side the cutscenes, and be­ing gay is about much more than just hav­ing sex with some­body of a sim­i­lar anatomy. These sup­pos­edly gay heroes never stop mid-quest to bake some­thing, think about Ti­mothée Cha­la­met, or be­come es­tranged from mem­bers of their fam­ily.

The so­lu­tion

If by now you’re think­ing, “well okay, but

no kind of sex­u­al­ity, gay or oth­er­wise, is prop­erly rep­re­sented by the mo­not­o­nous bang­ing of a se­ries of dead-eyed NPCs”, then I think we’re in agree­ment here.

Let’s sack off the cur­rent trend for blindly pur­su­ing vir­tual notches in dig­i­tal bed­posts, and in­stead try to tell some ac­tual sto­ries in which the love in­ter­est you choose to woo or be wooed by ei­ther has the abil­ity to re­ject you like a hot sack of toast, or plays some kind of role in the tra­jec­tory of the plot. And if we can’t do that, let’s just ad­mit to our­selves that our sexy in-game af­fairs amount to lit­tle more than vir­tual pornog­ra­phy, and show the whole sor­did or­deal, start to fin­ish, un­cen­sored and unedited, in 4K and at 60fps, for the en­tire eight min­utes that sex takes.

“‘Ro­mance­able’ is a beau­ti­fully sani­tised eu­phemism”

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