Steve thinks we should stop ‘romancing’ in-game characters
Though I try my best to keep my gnarled, Tales From The Cryptesque, 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 recognize 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.
‘Romanceable’ is a beautifully sanitized 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 defenses 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 Call Me By Your Name, or become estranged from members of their family.
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 sanitized euphemism”