Fallout 4 EP32: BOOM You’re Dead

By Shamus
on Aug 18, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

Let the record show that all three of the deaths so far this week have been from explosions. Like I’ve said before, explosive damage vs. the player is OP relative to all other damage types in the game.

You can’t bring up gender or sexuality these days without being dragged into the ongoing culture war. Even when you’re dancing on the edge of these topics, all it takes is one person with an axe to grind to send the whole thing spiraling out of control.

But we’re going to try anyway, because I have faith that you folks are reasonable and level-headed, even though you come from a lot of different points on the political spectrum. Just be cool and remember that the people who disagree with you aren’t villains. Also remember that a lot of us are coming from part of the internet where people are not so nice, and that tends to make people defensive.

Anyway, preamble over. The question Rutskarn presents is this: What do we think of games where your companions have player-oriented sexuality? People aren’t “gay” or “straight” but instead “attracted to whatever the player is”.

Well…

I can see both sides, here. On one hand, there’s something to be said for a fixed world that you “discover”. When you pick a race in Dragon Age, it doesn’t make YOUR race the dominant race and some other race the oppressed minority. The politics of the world don’t change based on the decisions you make at character creation. Instead, you discover the world and then make choices and live with the consequences. If I play a dwarf, then I can’t be a mage. End of story.

Note how much it annoys people that you can be a blood mage and the game doesn’t punish you for it. They want their choices to have consequences, even if the end result is that they have fewer options. The fact that – as the player character – I can mess around with the supposedly scandalous and dangerous Red Lyrium without causing outrage or harm feels lame, even if I’m not currently doing anything with Red Lyrium. When characters make a big deal about it, it rings hollow because I know my character could rub Red Lyrium all over their naughty bits without hindering their quest in the slightest. Taking the edges off of my choices or clumsily pandering to my every desire can feel kind of patronizing. It cheapens the experience.

On the other hand, I’m not here to play as someone with no agency. This IS supposed to be entertainment and a game where you play as the hero is sort of pander-y by its very nature. I want to play a game where I’m a ripped young stud who vanquishes evil through force of will and strength. Is asking that I be able to hook up with my favorite companion really a bridge too far at this point?

So it’s more of a question of where we draw the pandering line.

As a matter of personal taste, I sort of lost interest in romance stories over the last decade or so. Maybe it’s because the stories feel too indulgent and shallow. Or maybe a “romance” just feels too hurried and perfunctory when it’s part of a 5-hour story as opposed to the huge, mostly-text 40-hour stories of yesteryear. Or maybe I just liked it better when a romance plot culminated with a verbal expression of love rather than an awkwardly animated sex scene. Or maybe – and this is the most likely answer of all – I’m just getting old and don’t know how to have fun anymore.

It’s a shame the debate has so much culture-war baggage associated with it, because it’s an interesting problem that requires a lot of nuance and patience to untangle.

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A Hundred!A Hundred!201221 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?

From the Archives:

  1. aunshi says:

    It’s possible to imagine an anti homosexual bias in a post apocalyptic world, needing to repopulate the earth could be a real concern in a small developing community.

    Luckily there are no children in Fallout so people are free to do as they please and no ideas around sexuality need to be considered at all.

    • Izicata says:

      If I recall correctly, that was exactly the problem Veronica ran into. It’s not that the Brotherhood specifically dislikes gay people, it was that the Brotherhood expects you to have children. So they have a social stigma attached to not being willing to engage in sexual activities that produce children.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      This is something that was brought up as part of Veronica’s backstory in F:NV. The Brotherhood, worried about their dwindling numbers, started pressuring their remaining members to procreate as much as possible, regardless of their sexuality.

      Veronica implies that this is the reason that she was forcibly separated from her girlfriend (Christine, in all likelihood), but Dead Money goes on to imply that Father Elijah did it himself because he didn’t want anyone beside him to influence her. Veronica doesn’t want to blame him because she still has a hero worship complex going on, so she blames Christine’s family instead.

      The NCR is implied to be somewhat inconsistent in it’s treatment of it’s gay soldiers and citizens, with the major hubs being relatively progressive while the more isolated outpost are more lenient on bigotries among their members.

      People outside the Legion imply that male homosexuality is both tolerated and encouraged among its ranks, whereas an ex-slave tells a story about how he had to hide a relationship with his master on pain of death. Even then, it’s suggested that the transgression was that it was relationship between a master and a slave, not that it was a homosexual one.

      In Bethesda land, no one comments and no one cares, because world building is for people with too much time on their hands. Or maybe they just didn’t feel like delving into that particular subject, which is respectable – it might end up alienating a potential audience when they inevitably handle it as poorly as they handle everything else.

      • Grudgeal says:

        That would seem weird to the actual Romans, though. I mean, I know Caesar’s Legion isn’t based on actual Rome at all, it just strikes me as funny. From what I remember of Roman society, slaves were objects owned by their master (or at least foreign slaves taken as war captives or sold on marketplaces). To use a slave for sexual gratification, heterosexual or homosexual, was entirely natural to them at least as long as it stayed within the bounds of ordinary propriety (so no shagging your slaves in public and don’t be the bottom, essentially).

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Yes,but real rome was a rich nation.The rich could indulge in all of their desires simply because the nation didnt care about what they did.

          New vegas legion,on the other hand,is still scrounging for resources.They conquer not to get rich,but in order to survive in this harsh new world.

          • Grudgeal says:

            I don’t think it has anything to do with wealth so much that Roman society was so classist and xenophobic that they viewed foreign captives as literal commodities to be bought and sold and (ab)used any way the owner desired.

            If Caesar’s Legion is against homosexuality between master and slave not because it’s homosexuality but because it is between master and slave, it means it’s actually *less* classist than actual Rome in some ways because the act of interacting with a slave would somehow ‘taint’ a regular citizen and implies that the slave is significant enough to be able to do so. It also makes little to no sense because it’s stated pretty much outright that female slaves in the Legion have no such caveats attached to them.

            • Gruhunchously says:

              Here’s the wikia entry on the slave in question, which suggest that the Legion does indeed condemn homosexuality outright on pain of death. Like I said, the only characters who suggest that the Legion encourages relations between soldiers are Veronica and Cass, neither of who would have first-hand experience.

        • Xeorm says:

          There’s more to a relationship than only sex. Plus, different kinds of sex are allowed. Slave on top would have been a rather big scandal.

          • houiostesmoiras says:

            As someone who majored in Classics in college, I feel like I have to bring an historical perspective, if only to be pedantic.

            The Romans didn’t practice chattel slavery (that is, slaves were more than just property/human-shaped livestock) for the most part. Pretty much the only way to become a chattel slave with no chance at freedom was to commit a crime worthy of execution, get caught, be convicted, and be sentenced to slavery instead of execution. (Chattel slaves were property of the state, rather than of an individual. In Athens, they were mostly used in the silver mines, at least up until Athens had a desperate enough need of soldiers to offer freedom for military service.) There were a number of ways to become slaves, the most common being prisoners of war; the second most common was to be sold into slavery to cover either one’s own or a family member’s debts. (Slaves were expensive, and thus a very good way to pay back a debt.) In both cases, the slave was acknowledged to be a person who was currently lesser than their owner. Slaves were paid (not very much), and there were rules in place for proper treatment of slaves. Manumission was possible by several methods. The most common were:
            1) Being enslaved for a certain time period. Debt slaves were often contracted until they made their master a certain amount of money/labor or until a certain period was up (often 7-10 years), whichever came first.
            2) Buying one’s freedom. Slaves weren’t paid much, but they were generally paid, and they were fed and housed by their masters, unless they wanted to spend some of that money for other accommodations (which was more common in ancient Greece than Rome, but not unheard of). Some even owned businesses (I’m less familiar with how this worked in Rome, but, in Athens, the upper class considered handling currency crass, so most banks were actually slave-owned enterprises), and they were allowed to keep all profits past some goal set by their masters for themselves. This was the most common way for prisoners of war to buy their freedom and become basically resident aliens, and manumission was commonly achieved within 5-10 years of being captured.
            3) Particularly favored slaves, or those who performed some particularly outstanding task (saving the master’s life, that kind of thing) could be freed out of hand.

            I’m not remotely saying that being a slave back then didn’t suck, but most Americans are used to thinking of black slavery in the antebellum South, and classical slavery didn’t suck anywhere near as much as that.

            Now, to relate that to sexuality…

            I’m going to try to stick mostly to Rome, even though I know more about classical Greece. In Rome, women were supposed to go about veiled, but women from powerful families could, sometimes, amass enough personal power to at least go about in public unescorted and speak to men to whom they were not related. Depending on how indulgent their husbands were, they could even be fairly open about having affairs. That sort of thing was entirely dependent on their husbands, however. On the other hand, wealthy/powerful women were almost expected to take lovers from among their female slaves and servants.

            Men could screw pretty much whomever they wanted, provided they weren’t the wife or daughter of another citizen. (Unless they were the wife of a very indulgent or homosexual citizen. Getting married was more important than consumation, at least politically.) Homosexuality and bisexuality were perfectly accepted, and since men could have as much sex as they wanted with their servants and slaves, it didn’t really matter what sex those servants and slaves were. (Rarely, a particularly favored female slave might even be freed to become a wife.) Sex with apprentices or fostered sons was also common.

            Here’s the thing about all of the above: Everything in Rome was about power politics. Even sex. Especially sex. It was fine to be homosexual, as long as you were the top. It was fine to do almost anything as long as you were the top. When Cicero discredited Claudia’s authority and, therefore, testimony in his defense of Marcus Caelius (basically, “your husb- ah, I mean, brother.”), it was not the incest that discredited her, but the fact that, contrary to her reputation as a happening swinger, her brother was a regular lover, someone who regularly took the masculine role in sex over her. When people insulted Julius Caesar by calling him “every woman’s husband and every man’s wife,” the insulting implication wasn’t that he slept around. It was that, when he slept with a man, he was taking the wife’s role. He was the one getting something put in him. When anyone, man or woman, took advantage of a slave, servant, or anyone else under their authority, the person in a position of authority was demonstrating that authority.

            So, in real-world ancient Rome, both men and women could be bi- or homosexual without any trouble, so long as the person with the more important social role took the dominant sexual role. (And the freewomen didn’t let their affairs harm their husbands’ reputations.)

            Basically, very nearly all sex in ancient Rome was either rape by modern standards or illicit by their own.

            All this is a long-winded way of saying that, in trying to imitate Rome, the Legion didn’t get slavery or sex right. They did, however, capture the Roman love of crucifixion pretty much spot-on.

            EDIT: Apparently the comment extension doesn’t support the <ol> tag.

            • houiostesmoiras says:

              Since I’ve already wall o’ texted…

              Further reading: Les esclaves en Grèce ancienne by Yves Garland (Also available in English translation as Slavery in Ancient Greece)

              Some weird facts:
              In spite of the fact that slaves in the Classical world were rarely slaves for life, various philosophers and writers tried to get a grip on the idea of slavery by positing that certain people were born to be slaves. Aristotle acknowledged the hypocrisy but argued himself into backing the status quo. Xenophon was one of the few writers who declared that slavery was something brought on men by circumstance and ill luck, rather than any innate quality. (Of course, when we talk about ancient Greek writers, “men” is to be taken literally. Women were barely an afterthought to them.)

              One Greek state did practice hereditary chattel slavery, that being Lakadaimon (the city-state of which the “city” part was Sparta). Their slave race was called Helots, and, although we’re not entirely certain where the Helots originally came from, one popular theory is that they were the original inhabitants of the area, conquered and enslaved by the tribe who would become the Spartans. It was possible to become a Helot by being captured in war; it was not possible for a Helot to become a citizen or even a free resident alien. It was possible for Helots to achieve slightly better treatment by becoming squires to Spartans and accompanying their masters into battle. (Yeah, the 300 was more like 1,100 volunteered by 300.) My favorite professor is actually well-known in the Classics community for having demonstrated that Helots must have outnumbered Spartans by orders of magnitude, using some impressive math and records on farm quotas.

              Attica (the city-state of which Athens was the “city” part) practiced the milder forms of slavery I mentioned above, including a fair ease of manumission. At some points, free resident aliens actually outnumbered citizens in the city. However, slaves were an important part of the ancient economy, and they kept getting themselves free. Worse, it was illegal in Attica to buy slaves who were captured specifically for slavery. This led to a strange circumstance whereby Scythian pirates raided Ionia for slaves, went to Athenian merchants (who were probably perfectly aware of what was going on, let’s be honest), claimed they were involved in oh so many wars, and sold them thirdhand to Athens. This is strange because Athens was a frequent trading partner with Ionia, and we even have records of a lawsuit brought by a slave in Athens who was an Athenian citizen before he was captured while trading in Ionia and sold to an Athenian citizen.

              (And if you think that’s strange, I can show you a lawsuit from the Assyrian Empire where a woman sold into debt slavery by her father is suing her husband for not working hard enough to get her out before remarrying. Spoiler: She wins and is granted a crapton of property, as well as naditu status, which basically gives her equal legal standing with men.)

    • evileeyore says:

      “Luckily there are no children in Fallout so people are free to do as they please and no ideas around sexuality need to be considered at all.”

      I see someone has forgotten Little Lamplight (and most of Fallout 1 – drink!).

    • Twisted_Ellipses says:

      The old society is gone as well though, so in theory old stigmas might be cast aside?

      Fallout 4 torpedos the blank slate angle by giving you a very specific backstory. You had a wife/husband, so if you want to romance your own gender you either have to be bi or not have loved your now deceased wife/husband. Not great.

      Bioware have experimented with different set-ups for each of the Dragon Age games. The first one had 2 hereosexual & 2 bi options, the second had all bi and the third had a much more esoteric mix. Inquisition works the best, it feels more nuanced, along lines of elf/human/dwarf as much a gender. Dragon Age II gets an honourable mention for having Aveline who is not only uninterested in having sex with you, but who also has her own relationship.

      The Witcher series also went through a 3 game progression. The first game has that atrocious collectible sex card game (which you can’t even play Gwent with) and by the third game you’re drawn by the story into a binary decision between two monogamous relationships. I prefer story/character heavy RPGS, so I’m biased towards relationships that make sense for the player-character, rather than the player.

      • Bubble181 says:

        You could have a working relationship with Tress and whatsherface in Witcher 1 too. It just didn’t preclude loose sexual encounters on the side. Being monogamous was a choice that wasn’t really reflected in the game, but possible. If anything, that game more properly separated the sex from the relationship. At the cost of completely gameifying sex and making monogamy the least attractive option, but that’s another thing.

      • IFS says:

        DA2 also had Sebastian (if only as DLC) who was heterosexual and chaste, which is a fairly unique romance in video games. DA2 also had somewhat different versions of romances depending on if you had friendship or rivalry with the character, which was quite neat.

      • mechaninja says:

        Being bisexual shouldn’t be a big deal. One is monogamous, but if that relationship ends (and in FO4, you don’t have to feel any guilt for that end), one might date either direction.

        The joke by whatever comedian where he said “if you’re bisexual, you’re saying you’re going to cheat” feels to me like the religious person saying “how can you have a moral compass if you’re an atheist”.

        • acronix says:

          It really shouldn’t feel like that because the first is an exaggeration on the basis of making a joke, while the other is actually a pretty significant philosophical question about the nature of morality.

          • MichaelGC says:

            But the joke depends on there either being some truth to the statement, or (more to the point) the audience believing there is. By referring to a comedian, mechaninja is just putting some colour to things, rather than just stating the two propositions in a dry and literal way, like I’d probably have done.

            Also, as stated, the second question isn’t philosophical at all – someone phrasing it like that has made up their mind on the subject. It’s not far off – you’d just need to ditch the ‘how’, perhaps – but I think it’s unlikely the particular strawperson asking the question in that way wants to have a long debate exploring the various possible angles.

            The point is that both the comedian’s statement and the question involve a giant assumptive leap, and I think it’s this equivalence that mechaninja is emphasising.

    • Brightroar says:

      On the other hand, Arcade doesn’t seem to be stigmatized for his sexuality. The Followers of the Apocalypse and the Enclave Remnants seems to know about it and have no issues. I got the impression from his companion quest that he, like Cass, just kinda move from one relationship to another without making real connection, but likely because of his Enclave background rather then social stigma ruining his ability to be with someone.

  2. Bubble181 says:

    I think it, in part, depends on the kind of game. It doesn’t make sense to *not* have player-oriented sexuality in, say, HuniePop. Some games are based on “wish fulfillment”/power fantasy, and too many restrictions or hindrances only defeat that purpose.
    Sexuality/orientation *can* be a significant part of your personality – it isn’t for everyone – and as such, it makes sense for at least some people to be of a fixed orientation, no matter the player’s gender. In games with a stronger narrative, based on individual, actual characters, a fixed orientation is probably more logical.

    For me, I don’t feel “everyone can have/has the hots for the PC” is really necessary. The modern-day “the whole party can be romanced” approach – preferably with “options” of all aces, colors and genders for everyone – feels like pandering to a vocal minority group.

    • This general topic is actually something I’m not too bothered about, even though I quite like romance storylines in general.

      I would like to point out an interesting bit, though–when the companions have no orientation, you can’t make their personality/quest/etc. be all about their orientation. You literally CANNOT have Stereotypical Flamboyant Gay Man #5 or Butch Lesbian #27 or whatever stereotypes annoy people the most because they just won’t make sense as characters. So it forces the writers to actually be clever and stretch themselves whether they want to or not.

      Interesting side benefit, no?

      • The thing about “playersexual” that bothers me isn’t the pandering aspect of it but that they generally write one romance for all player characters. Just because someone is open to swing both ways does NOT mean that their INTERACTIONS should be identical across the board.

        For instance, I’d be delighted if, say, one companion is open to casual relationships with both females and males but they will only get really serious with females (or the other way around). That’d be interesting.

        The way it’s usually handled, though, it’s like they *can’t tell* what sex the player is, and that just feels lazy to me. I’m not really interested in a romance plot where they’d happily romance a pile of dirty laundry if someone put a “PC” sign on it.

        This also brings up a pet peeve of mine, which is that I really DETEST how some godawful lazy “you’re so beautiful” line tends to creep into the romance dialog somewhere. In a game where you can make your character look like Gollum. I mean, okay, it’s one thing to imply that they’re viewing you through rose-tinted glasses. It’s another when basically it just becomes a stupid joke.

        But, generally as long as the writing’s decent I’m pretty happy. I have games like Skyrim for comparison purposes if I ever start getting annoyed. “Hey, you have an amulet! Wanna move in together?” “Sure!”

        Did they have to WORK to come up with something that goofy?

        • djw says:

          I would have preferred that they just leave marriage out of Skyrim. The mechanic was so perfunctory that it felt like a subtraction, rather than an addition.

          It would have worked better if the Amulet of Mara was more like a Tinder. “Hey, that’s an Amulet of Mara, you wanna hook up tonight?”

          It would have had the same emotional impact (eg. none) without turning the institution of marriage into a joke.

          • Majikkani_Hand says:

            …but then it would have needed to be an Amulet of Dibella. :D

            I’m miffed with Skyrim marriages because not only are they shallow and boring, they actually SUBTRACT interesting content from the game–I wanted to marry Marcurio because he’s got the best dialogue and one-liners and I had him out with me all the time anyway, but the marriage replaced not only his dialogue, but his VOICE. He was honestly creepy after that, and I had to leave him at home and try to dodge around him when I dumped my loot.

          • EmmEnnEff says:

            But if they left marriage out, they wouldn’t have been able to tick *that* checkbox off on the promotional material.

        • Wide And Nerdy® says:

          Though the Amulet itself is an interesting way to let the player control what they want from that part of the game. If you don’t want to get hit on, don’t wear an amulet. No need to have the “do you want a romance Y/N” dialog option.

    • Falterfire says:

      So a few things I think are important here:

      First, in most games any player love interest will either be in a relationship with the player or not be in a relationship at all. In any given playthrough, frequently companions will either be player-sexual or totally asexual. Even if they won’t have a relationship with players of a given gender, they will also never have a relationship with anybody who isn’t the player of any gender, so we’re already warping their personality around the player.

      Second, the ‘pandering to a minority’ thing feels an awful lot like “Screw you, my option exists so adding your option is pointless’. Even if your argument is that ‘it doesn’t make sense for the character’, that requires you to assume things about the sorts of characters the player can make. I’d elaborate further, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody seriously make the argument with regards to anything other than gender, so I’ll just move to the more specific arguments.

      Third, with regards to any-gender relationships, it depends how important you think sexuality is to the behavior of most characters. How differently do you expect gay-Bastilla and straight-Bastilla to behave? If they’d behave the same everywhere except in what relationships they pursue, then you aren’t really losing anything by adding the option, and you’re allowing for more people to play the character they want. I’d argue this is true for quite a few characters in RPGs for the situations that actually occur in-game.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        In any given playthrough, frequently companions will either be player-sexual or totally asexual.

        They won’t be asexual, they’ll just be single. A person doesn’t become asexual just because they aren’t dating anyone right now. That’s like saying a bi person is straight or gay based on who they’re currently dating.

        • Keeshhound says:

          I think they mean that if an NPC isn’t “romancable” then the subject of sex and relatonships almost never comes up with them. You can’t ever ask Wrex or Garrus or Tali about what they’d look for in a partner in ME1, for example.

    • Wide And Nerdy® says:

      The other end of this is, I’d like to see a game where your companions keep expressing their feelings for your PC and you’re not interested in any of them. And it gets increasingly ridiculous from typical ingenue to hardened grizzly squat guy in spiked armor, to Bea Arthur, to Strong, to Codsworth are hitting on you, you’re like “Aw, Cmon! Really?”

      • And then finally you get them to admit that they had a betting pool running about who could get a picture of you with your clothes off.

        There’s an interesting side to that–it’s been my general experience that women don’t mind too much when someone they’re not interested in hits on them, but guys HATE it.

        Not just in games, either, real life, too.

        • Decus says:

          Probably a sample bias. As a guy I don’t mind being hit on by people I can at the very least tolerate which usually also correlates to “people I find reasonable”. On the other hand, people who lash out at you for rejecting them or refuse to accept your rejection are intolerable. Every girl (and guy) I associate with is basically the same there. My own sample bias is actually that guys tend to be more obnoxious than girls on the “I can’t accept rejection” end of things and thus the girls I know are more commonly annoyed by people hitting on them.

          This is why/how you got people complaining about Anders in DA2 because it was very easy to mess up and get him flirting with you and then very angry at you for rejecting him. On the other hand, Dorian was a cool dude in DA:I and I liked that they had a very touching “I’m glad to call you a friend” speech no matter your character gender if you weren’t in a relationship.

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            I was going to mention Anders. On the other hand DA2 is one of the few games that explore non-PC involved relationships as some companions who are “available” to the player will get into relationships of their own if not pursued. PC attention still overrides all but it was probably one of the better (triple A) games to show companions have life besides running around with the PC.

  3. Wide And Nerdy® says:

    I’m kind of there too. If they’re going to do player service, they might as well just let you hook up. And player sexual can get a little weird when you’ve inadvertently talked up a guy.

    I’m glad that Alistair and Garrus just want to be my buddy. Knowing that they harbored sexual desires for my character would make it awkward (like with Kaiden, though that wasn’t a big deal because it was always awkward with him). I like good buddy pairings in media (and it annoys me to no end when fans ship them especially if the writers react by teasing it because buddies are a beautiful thing in their own right).

    I’d just rather not have any romance or sexuality as the focus in a game. We don’t need to pretend that characters don’t have romances or sex, but we can easily say that those things are happening at other times or are being set aside for whatever is going on. A quick glance at a photo, a mention in dialog at an appropriate time, and you’re set.

    If we’re going to do player service, I still maintain that Saints Row IV did it hands down the best. This is why I wish FO4 let me romance everyone from Strong, to Codsworth, to Curie pre transformation to Ada as a tankbot. Embrace the silliness of it.

    • I think the main reason SR4 won that little prize was because it didn’t pretend to say “sex=love” like most games with relationships (Huniepop is in this same category since it’s pretty obvious in that game) but instead treated it like casual sex is usually done; straightforwardly ask about sex, get response, do action, get on with your business. There’s not much time for much more than that in most games due to the need to focus on the actual game, which I think causes what I’m going to snarkily call cogno-sexual discobiscuits. :D

      • Wide And Nerdy® says:

        Oh I agree. Thats a big part of it, but I still think the silliness sealed the deal. Its the only game I’ve played with romance options where I tried all of them, for that reason. It just seemed to fit The Boss’s personality and the tone of the game.

        The Boss, btw, is another example of adding characterization of the PC done right. His/Her personality prompts the player regarding how they should be playing the game. Giving you a PC who enjoys being what you play him/her as. If Bethesda is getting into this game of predefining the PC, The Boss would be a good inspiration. What we got seems to be a watered down Commander Shepard (and considering that the starting point was Shepard, watering that down was a terrible idea).

      • Grudgeal says:

        Another thing SR4 did was that its ‘romance’ was essentially a satire of Bioware-style romances by boiling them down into its core components: Click button, receive sex. There was no greater meaning on the narrative and it didn’t even pretend to it otherwise, and in doing so highlighted just how shallow the mechanic is elsewhere even if you have to click a few more buttons to do so in ‘serious’ games.

        At the point SR4 came out romances had already become a cliché in the video game industry and they played that for (almost) all it was worth.

    • I think it would be hysterical if you romanced Strong, and the Lover’s Embrace perk was enhanced at the cost of about 1/3 of your hit points worth of damage. Post-coital Stimpaks would’ve become a tradition.

      I’m having a little trouble thinking of Super Mutant romantic dialog.

    • Sunshine says:

      It does let you romance a tin-can Robobrain in Far Harbor.

    • Faction says:

      Kaiden’s unwanted advances in ME1 made me uncomfortable, so I dealt with them in the most passive-aggressive way possible…..on Virmire.

      BUT, after seeing what a terrible person Ashley became in ME3, Kaiden was quickly resurrected with a save-game editor as a platonic friend.

      • Christopher says:

        Kaiden’s unwanted advances in ME1 made me uncomfortable, so I dealt with them in the most passive-aggressive way possible…..on Virmire.

        Hahahah!

  4. I think it’s mostly the thinking that sex is the end goal of a romantic relationship as opposed to an emotional bond between two people that’s the problem; for example, my last playthrough of Mass Effect had my FemShep have the obvious relationship with Liara because it made sense (for the most part) and the payoff was never the sex but instead the conversation between the two of them about the relationship. Since I had the Shadow Broker DLC, I was able to keep it going through ME2 even though, naturally, ME3 made absolutely no mention of that happening.

    Long story short, my character stayed with Liara throughout the entire series, and the emotional impact from actually playing through the series with one character had absolutely nothing to do with the actual story but more because that relationship came to a final end long before my character was ready for it. It’s easily colored my own game design ideas for the better, since the big AAA game design idea I have has the main character in a relationship entirely designed to buck the trend of either sex-as-end-goal or dead-spouse-as-motivation. Just typing that, I managed to refine one of the side missions in that game to further buck the idea I designed it to, and this is getting off-track.

    Like I started with, it might be partially age but mostly due to the 13-year old’s idea of pointless sex being a major goal of a relationship between two barely-characterized bundles of pixels like most AAA games seem to believe.

    • Sunshine says:

      I think that part of it is that it must be difficult to systemise a relationship in a game. How would you go about depicting that besides “complete objectives for quest reward” or “this character is your designated love interest, act like you love them.”

      • Oddly, I think Fallout 4 took a very small step in the right direction with the “do things the person likes” bit, even if it was incredibly easy to game with people like Cait. Combine that with the dating from GTA IV, the limited romance choices from NWN2, make sure the character writers are at least better-than-average, and that’d be a good start to it.

        You’d also want to have it so you need to keep someone with you or in the party in order to romance them, since a few dialogue choices (in something like Mass Effect, for example) can negate the need to even bring them along unless it’s something that gives them unique lines.

        • tmtvl says:

          the limited romance choices from NWN2,

          Do you mean “female elf druid or male human paladin (what’s a paladin?)” or do you include cut content, so “Neeshka! or three other people”?

  5. Wide And Nerdy® says:

    I loved FISTO. Just the idea, which makes sense, that the guy who wanted a sexbot wasn’t looking for a robot that emulates a human but is actually attracted to robots that look and act like robots. It makes a lot of sense that there would be someone like that in the Fallout Universe.

  6. Pax says:

    It might be that there’s room enough for several types of romance in games. Like was suggested on the show, Dragon Age: Inquisition and New Vegas’ very character-oriented orientations works well for, I guess, a more serious(?) game, or at least one where you’re discovering the fixed aspects of the other characters, as opposed to Fallout 4, where player-oriented is the point because everything about the game is supposed to make you feel like the ripped, shirtless badass on a movie poster. EVERYTHING in the game is player-oriented.

    I posit a third idea, and I’m not sure if it’s a good one or not. You have player-oriented characters, but hide it by giving them different character-oriented backstories depending on the gender, and maybe your own player’s preference if it’s picked ahead of time. So for example, Veronica in New Vegas would have the same backstory and orientation if you played a female, but might be straight and have a different backstory centered around difficulties she’s had dating men within the brotherhood instead if you’re a guy. I don’t think I’m actually savvy enough to decided if Schrodinger’s Lesbian is actually a good idea, or insulting, however.

    • Christopher says:

      I kinda like that idea, just because it reminds me of Nier. It’s the only game I know of that changes the protagonist and their relation to their family member completely depending on version to appeal to different markets, with the Japanese version being a young, handsome dude with his sister and the western one being an ugly middle-aged man with his daughter. It’s the most obvious pandering I’ve seen, but the amount of effort that must have gone into something like that is praiseworthy on its own, and I don’t think the pandering missed its mark either.

    • Mormegil says:

      I haven’t played Dragon Age Inquisition but I do know the player-sexual thing bugged me in Dragon Age 2 for 2 reasons.

      1- Anders was previously established as straight. Now he’s not for some reason? Fine if they want to establish that with the story but kind of irritating when it’s just “this character is different now because our romance mechanics are different.” This sort of fell into the same category as the elves now looking like the aliens from Avatar for no apparent reason.

      2 – The dialogue system kind of set itself up for romance instead of friendship. So when you’re just trying to be good friends with an NPC it leads to the romance options and if you say no they get snooty about it. It’s like I have to friendzone my entire party.

      • Poncho says:

        Yeah, the dialogue is the worst part about the relationship mechanics in DA2.

        “Hey buddy, I hope you’re doing good!”

        “I LOVE YOU, HAWKE!”

        “Uh….”

        • Matt Downie says:

          I wonder how it would feel to play a game where they built ‘player-sexual’ into the fiction. You’re someone who has a magical/psychic power that causes everyone around you to fall gradually in love with you, irrespective of gender. By the end of the game, even the villain has fallen for you.

          • Majikkani_Hand says:

            This sounds like something that sounds awesome at first glance but gets really, really creepy when you think about it too long.

          • Syal says:

            I’d like to see that happen to an NPC. Any conversation you have with that character forces you to speak in ludicrously sexual overtones and their response is always a very emphatic “I’m not interested, knock it off”.

      • Ronixis says:

        They never explicitly stated that Anders was straight in Awakening, they just established that he was interested in women. He won’t tell a female Hawke about his relationship with Karl, so it fits that he’d be more private about his interest in men elsewhere also.

        And all the romance options are clearly indicated (by the icon if nothing else) – the issue I know of is that in some scenes all the non-romance options may seem too hostile. I remember the issue I had with Anders’ dialogue is that the reject option presented to a male Hawke is to say ‘yes’ to something like ‘do you have a problem with that?’, which I thought would be more generally hostile in ways I didn’t want (although the dialogue itself wasn’t really).

    • Dev Null says:

      I came down to suggest exactly this, but I see you’ve beaten me to it.

      The problem I have with player-oriented sexuality – as it has generally been implemented – is that it makes your romantic partner seem kind of shallow. They have no backstory establishing their preferences, because they need to end up attracted to ugly lefthanded male turtle-people, if that’s what the player chose to play. If they had a range of preferences and separate bits of backstory that embraced those options, then it’d feel less shallow. What I mean by that is something like:

      Dave is human and will be attracted to the player regardless of sex, but only if they’re human (because mild racism is too ingrained in his character.) In a couple of conversations with him you can hear about him and some friends going out on the town, and again later learn about a past romantic partner of his that ended badly; those two scenes will need alternate versions to setup his sexuality, whatever that ends up being.

      That said, I also like the idea of characters who are fixed in orientation, or even automatically _not_ attracted to the player, no matter what they are. Someone universally unattainable could setup some good character interactions.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        That said, I also like the idea of characters who are fixed in orientation, or even automatically _not_ attracted to the player, no matter what they are. Someone universally unattainable could setup some good character interactions.

        Sunless Sea does that at one point. Many crewmembers are romanceable (using a system that cares more about player personality than “Raise their affection four times”), but one of them has an unexpected outcome if you hit on her. She turns you down no matter what because you’re not her type, then she hooks up with one of your other crewmembers instead.

  7. Ninety-Three says:

    You’re not getting old Shamus, I’m about two decades younger than you and I’m just as sick of romance in games.

    I think game romance, especially Bioware romance, is doing the same thing the Marvel movies are currently doing: sanding down the edges and perfecting a formula that delivers fanservice without a drop of substance to get in the way. And just like Marvel, replacing substance with formula is starting to cause fatigue.

    • Henson says:

      I agree. I’d really like developers like Bioware to do some serious re-thinking of how to do romances in their games, because the current model feels like blatant pandering.

      I’d love to get a new RPG with only two or three romance options, but the romances are built into the plot and have very specific story beats for each character corresponding to events in the main story. I think this would have a better chance of making relationships feel like the natural growth from spending time with other people rather than the result of a lot of flirting. It might give romances more weight.

      On the other hand, having few options would risk having some players buy a game with no romance option for their tastes/orientation. For some people, that’s the main reason they play these games. Damned if you do…

      • Raygereio says:

        the current model feels like blatant pandering

        That’s because they are blatantly pandering. Oh, Bioware might like to dress it up all pretty and pretend its character development.
        But it is what it is. Power/sexual fantasies for the player to indulge in.

        Here’s an old, but stil relevant quote.
        Josh Swayer from Obsidian made a post some years ago, basically saying that he didn’t want to write romances because creating that kind of gratification for users felt cheap and awkward.

        This is how Patrick Weekes, a Bioware writer reacted.
        Sawyer struck a nerve there, I think.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          Jeez, you’re definitely right about striking a nerve. I like how he defends it with “Yes, it is blatant pandering, that’s all games are”, then accuses Sawyer of being a railroading DM as though CRPGs aren’t, by the insurmountable technical limitations of the medium, ten times stricter than the railroadiest human DM will ever be.

        • Rutskarn says:

          That Jessica Alba line is pretty gross.

          • That’s…actually where I stopped reading, because it made the beginning point of the case quite clear and it’s not something that’ll be kind to anyone except the exact people Sawyer didn’t want to write for.

          • Jokerman says:

            Yeah… wtf, i wonder why he was he so spiteful there, ten years ago though, certainly said a few things that i wouldn’t say now 10 years ago. i wonder what his thoughts on seeing that would be now.

            • MichaelGC says:

              I wondered that too, and had a little search to see if he’d said anything further online, but couldn’t find anything. Mind you, Google is so ‘helpful’ when you search these days that it’s becoming all but useless. I know what I was trying to search for, Google – that’s why I searched for it.

              • Primogenitor says:

                (appologies fro the off-topic tangent here!)

                https://duckduckgo.com/ is a “find me all the web pages containing this” type search engine that I often prefer to Google when I want something very specific, especially if its something with non-alphanumeric characters in it.

              • Yurika Grant says:

                “Perhaps you meant this entirely different thing you didn’t actually search for?”

                No, Google, I did not.

              • guy says:

                The Youtube auto-mix/play next video thing is annoyingly circular. “Here, have a bunch of related videos you’ve already seen from the last time you used this feature with a tangentially related video”

              • Jokerman says:

                I searched his twitter for “Alba” and didn’t find anything, maybe he just wants to bury it, but i think a better way to deal with saying something you are not proud of is to confront it, say you were wrong.

                Obviously that is assuming anyone has brought it up, i expect someone has, but you never know.

            • Syal says:

              i wonder what his thoughts on seeing that would be now.

              “Who’s Jessica Alba?”

          • Baron Tanks says:

            Woh, that’s not just crossing the line, that’s seeing the line, digging it out, hauling it to the Utah salt flats and race over it while setting a new landspeed record. And right there at the top of the post, just nuking any argument he might have pre-emptively.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            I think he just mistook Jessica Alba for Megan Fox.

            • Grudgeal says:

              He could have used the name of a well-known female porn star in a porno film, it wouldn’t have made it any less creepy as an argument in that context. To say that the only purpose of the female form is to be a sex object and “all they have going for them” is really creepy and poisons the rest of his argument no matter how valid it may be.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                I was joking.Of course its wrong to compare any person to an object,no matter who that person is.

                Except for Robert Pattinson.He is just a tool.

              • Shamus says:

                It doesn’t even need to be sex-related. If someone said I was “nothing more than a code-monkey”, it would be pretty insulting despite the fact that I love coding and I’m proud of that work. Saying someone is “nothing more than X” is sort of denying they have any value as a human being. Worse, Alba wasn’t even involved in the discussion. He just decided to take a swipe at an innocent third-party for no reason.

                My thoughts while reading this: “Maybe he didn’t mean LITERALLY Jessica Alba. Maybe he was just sloppily referring to her character. Then again, isn’t this dude a WRITER?”

                But like others have said: It’s been ten years. A lot can change in ten years. I KNOW I’ve got some shit from a decade ago that makes me cringe now.

                • Grudgeal says:

                  True, but I think there’s just an additional degree of creepiness here. I mean, if someone said about me, on the job or personally, that taking blood samples and making the GP look good was all I had going for me, I’d be insulted. If someone said that waving my scrotum around and being leered at as a sex object was all I had going for me and implying that asking to wear trousers made me less professional, especially taken in context that such comments may already follow me both personally and professionally, I’d probably be insulted and rather creeped out.

                  That said, I hope as you do that if that writer sat down today, sober, and read that comment he’d regret them. Lord knows I’ve done enough stupid stuff in the last decade myself.

          • Wide And Nerdy® says:

            I think he could have stated it better but I agree with his basic point. That is why Alba got roles or at the very least its why she had star power. This doesn’t obligate her to do anything she doesn’t want to do, but its kind of silly to take that specific role in Sin City and then balk when they ask you to do what the character calls for.

            I’ll give her and them credit though. They made that scene work even with the obvious flaws. She made such an impression that I didn’t even notice till subsequent viewings.

            This is a bizarre world. I never thought I’d be in the position of defending him for making this kind of an argument. Someone noted that a lot of the most outspoken male feminists were some of the biggest pigs before they converted. Its like Paul persecuting Christians and then becoming one of the most hardcore Christians himself. Guilt drives you.

            • Syal says:

              I’m more bothered by him not realizing restraint can preserve sex appeal. I can’t think of a Jessica Alba movie where she isn’t in her underwear at least once, but Weekes basically said that’s the same as being a porn star.

              …I forgot she was in Sin City entirely though, so no comment on what the role called for,

              • MichaelGC says:

                Her character is the little girl Bruce Willis’ character goes to jail to protect, and then when she grows up she has a job dancing in the bar (the one which acts as a story nexus, with various of the characters crossing paths there). She dances whilst fully albeit revealingly clothed, which means that part of the film actually ends up making the same point! I suspect inadvertently, but hey-ho.

                • It’s sort of creepy, though, since iirc what Bruce Willis saves her from is being raped by an extremely-well-connected serial rapist who he (nearly) kills.

                  What the second guy was saying was that a character who was first introduced as an intended rape victim is supposed to be solely a sex object. This IS Frank Miller’s creation, but this was before he went 150% Grade-~ guano and started making all of his female characters either sex workers or T&A with less personality than the entirety of Bethesda’s catalogue since Oblivion.

                  • MichaelGC says:

                    Granted that it’s creepy – it’s a very creepy and disturbing film. However, I’m unable to see the character as solely-anything.

                    Also, if Weekes had been talking about the character, he should have said so? What he wrote seemed pretty cut & dried, and much as I like some of the other things he’s written I don’t see any way or need to excuse him here.

                    • Syal says:

                      He mentions “in Sin City”, so it’s ambiguous. As a direct comparison to Sawyer it’s “you’ve created a character with a particular appeal, and now you say you won’t play into that appeal.”

                      I can only assume the studio knew that when they hired her though, which undercuts the point pretty badly. If that was an issue that came up for the first time a month into filming, Weekes might have a point.

                    • MichaelGC says:

                      No, he reiterates mentioning the actor’s name, and the comparison is not to something Sawyer has created, but to what Sawyer does for a living. It’s not ambiguous. He’s a good writer – if he wanted to write about the character he’d have done so. (And if he had done, I’d have disagreed with that, too.)

                      It was a long time ago – which is one reason I went searching for any follow-up – but that’s not a good reason to go easy on what is clearly stated in that post. It’s only a reason to go easy on the writer, should it ever be relevant to do so. (And it is a very good reason.)

                • Syal says:

                  My memory of Sin City:

                  There’s an ugly guy.
                  There’s a yellow guy.
                  There’s a hooker army.
                  Elijah Wood gets decapitated.

                  • The attempted rape is what caused the yellow guy to become the yellow guy because before then he was a normal guy, aside from all the raping.

                    Other than that, that’s about the main bits to take away from the movie…that and Frank Miller already had some weird stuff going on in his head before 9/11.

        • Classic says:

          I think the Sawyer post being reblogged somewhere is what helped me realize how gross and infantile my love for BioWare smut is. That said, I do love me some BioWare smut. Though, more than BioWare smut, I love really weird, problematic relationships that strain the definition of romance. NWN2’s female leads were fertile in this regard, with Elainee being, very likely, SO MUCH OLDER than the main character, and it being kind of a creepy point of interest for her. And her would-have-been romantic rival Neeshka is a tiefling who’s so emotionally stunted (or maybe drawn so “arch”) it’s comical.

          I didn’t get too far in Dragon Age 2, but the player-sexual party members seemed to really work there? The game pretty dramatically re-writes fate based on the role of the player character. I don’t know if it counts as a spoiler since it happens before you reach Kirkwall, but it determines which of the Hawke twins gets ogre’d. Next to that, having the PC’s sex effect other story forks and changes seems mild?

          That said… Dragon Age 2 gave the player some pushback? The Badass Widow Aveline can’t be romanced by the PC. It’s not like it’s as gross of a choice as it could be.

          It really seems tangential to the greater BioWare problem of making a sex/makeout scene something that happens when the player “wins” a romance. Last I checked they’ve been dialing that back, but even I noticed it got kinda creep-tastic after a while.

          • Pax says:

            And an interesting aside to the romances from Dragon Age 2, from what I remember, they pretty much start with sex, and most of the actual romance is dealing with their issues after you’re together, including the big issues the game is about. I feel like that might be a pretty interesting inversion of the Bioware usual, too.

            • Shoeboxjeddy says:

              Yeah, you jump into bed right away. And unlike ME2 with Jack, this isn’t a trap that poisons the relationship, it’s just something fun you do together. The final step is they start casually hanging out at your house all the time.

              • IFS says:

                That depends on the person you romance as well. Anders and Merrill move in, after all they don’t have anywhere better to stay and view the relationship quite seriously. Fenris and Isabela don’t move in (though I believe every character gets an updated outfit in the romance), Isabela because sex and relationships are a very casual thing for her, Fenris because he keeps his distance from people. I forget how Sebastian handles things but I would imagine he doesn’t move in as he’s dedicated to the chantry (though rivalry-romancing him can cause him to push away from that).

                Another thing I really liked about the romances in DA2 is that since the game has a few time skips they don’t let you properly start the romance until act 2, at which point you’ve known all these characters for about 3 in universe years, the game has various party members respond to your choice of romance (for example Isabela will act protective of Merrill, Varric will caution you regarding whoever you chose, and if you are in a relationship by the time you do Aveline’s act 2 quest some of the dialogue changes). Some of the responses happen in random banter dialogue, but some happen in conversations giving you the option to respond (and if its a dialogue where the person you romanced is present they might respond as well). DA2 did a good job of letting you feel like the romance added to your character, and affected their relationships with their other friends as well.

                • Wide And Nerdy® says:

                  Part of why Isabela doesn’t move in, and is hesitant about a more serious relationship, is that she never wants to put herself in a position where she can’t leave or run. The romance fits quite well with the rest of her arc in that regard. She’s afraid of commitment.

          • GloatingSwine says:

            The infantile part of Bioware romances isn’t the “smut”, it’s the gamification of romance. If you say the right things this person will definitely bang you within like four conversations.

            There are hentai games that have more reasonable portrayals of a developing romance than that.

            • Classic says:

              No.
              I mean, I see what you’re trying to say, and thanks for thinking well of enough of me that I’d make a mistake rather than make such a damning confession. But that was exactly what I meant. A huge part of a BioWare romance is that there’s no risk to the player. However rough the romance might get for the characters involved there’s a (possibly very problematic) light at the end of the tunnel for the player to have some weird, vicarious satisfaction with.

              Also… I don’t think I play the kind of hentai games that you’re talking about?

          • djw says:

            I’d like to see more games do romances like Aveline (both gay and straight). Have romances be side quests where you help (or hinder) your party members from getting (laid, into a relationship, married, or other) with somebody that’s not you.

          • Wide And Nerdy® says:

            As tired as I am of it myself. I will never, ever, knock anybody for liking Bioware romances. Its like a cheesy romance novel.

            In fact, now that I think of it, I think Cassandra’s romance was Bioware defending its romances. Cassandra likes these cheesy romance novels that are so bad that even Varric is embarrassed by them though he keeps writing them.

            Cassandra knows they’re cheesy, she’s embarrassed to admit she likes them, but when the Inquisitor romances her, she says she doesn’t care, she wants the cheesy romance. We shouldn’t be embarrassed by what we want.

            • MichaelGC says:

              Fully agree with that, and actually I’d go a little bit further and say that it’s also OK to be a little embarrassed on occasion, as long as that doesn’t stop you enjoying yourself.

              What I mean by that is that it’s OK to have little parts of yourself which you self-rate as slightly less-yourself than other parts of yourself. They don’t have to be guilty pleasures – the field is much wider than that – but a guilty pleasure would be a good example of the kind of thing I mean.

              And just to emphasise that I don’t at all disagree: often we are embarrassed, too, when we shouldn’t be.

              • Wide And Nerdy® says:

                I see your point, you’re right. Embarrassment is an important mechanism for growth and correction, just like fear, pain, pleasure. All act as feedback to encode little bits of knowledge.

            • That’s part of the reason I actually stuck with trying to be with her and did my best to make her happy, even though that ended up with her becoming the new Divine and the relationship ending. She stood for something I personally believed in and it was what I thought needed to change in Thedas, even though it came at the cost of my own character’s happiness.

      • John says:

        This is essentially what Bioware did in KoTOR. There are only two romances–practically speaking, as the Juhani route was so cut down that it doesn’t really count–and they both have their payoff in the end game. (Bastila a little more so than Carth.) The reason that KoTOR works relatively well is–I think–that the developers were focused on a specific sort of movie-like story rather than simply making a bunch of optional romance sidequests.

        • Henson says:

          I really wish they hadn’t had to cut out that last bit of dialogue where a romanced Carth can turn your character away from the dark side. That would have been the ultimate payoff.

          • ehlijen says:

            Did they? I definitely remember actually playing through that part, and I never used any mods.

            • Henson says:

              They may have patched it in for later versions, I don’t know. But the original game out of the box did not feature the ending where Carth redeems the main character.

              • ehlijen says:

                Possible. It was easy to miss either way, as it happens after the final battle and I think has a number of other requirements as well (I think you need to save carth’s son (not something you’d do naturally while evil) and maybe say the right thing regarding killing saul?).

      • Poncho says:

        I enjoy myself some interesting romance options in my games, but I wish there were equally explorable and fulfilling non-romance options available, like your character isn’t the one to initiate the romance, your character is maybe just not interested in anyone while the super important mission is going on, and you still get to explore all the conversations that might come out of abstaining from a romantic pursuit.

        As it is now, in every game I play, it feels like if you don’t romance someone you are just missing out on content and character development that doesn’t get explored otherwise or in any other way. I get that a romance is typically going to flesh out a relationship more than the alternative, but I’d like to ability to explore characters as friends or teammates in more depth without triggering their “I love you” flag.

    • Wide And Nerdy® says:

      Marvel does keep skirting that line.

      Then they give us Civil War which I’m going to put up there next to Spiderman 2 for Most Comic Book on Screen.

      Their middle sequence finally managed to top the Doc Ock Spiderman battle with to that point was the best realization of comic book action on screen.

      I think people have forgotten just what it was like to see that for the first time. Before that, you always had to sort of ignore that it was stuntmen and actors on wires with rear projection and that their best stunts couldn’t match the superheroes they were supposed to be portraying. Just the sheer grace of Spiderman running up walls bouncing and swinging to gain velocity to keep of with that train to catch Doc Ock, I don’t care that the CGI is a bit dated now, they used it to best effect.

      And I hadn’t felt that way again until Civil War.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        What middle sequence are you referring to, the airport scene, or something earlier? Because if you liked the airport scene, we’re going to have to have an argument.

        Shamus was afraid of a gender politics flamewar, little did he suspect the nerd tangent flamewar!

        • Zekecool says:

          Of course he meant the airport scene! It is the best Marvel action scene. I don’t know how anyone could have an issue with it.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            I just went back and watched the scene, because I thought it would be interesting to list everything that bothered me the first time around. I have over a dozen issues with it. My favorite issues are “The archer sprints into a fistfight, that’s so stupid”, “Vision is asleep for the entire fight because the writer couldn’t be arsed to actually write him out of the script”, “characters only exist when they’re onscreen, even if they should be hostile and twenty feet away from our focus character” and “The ARCHER SPRINTS INTO A FISTFIGHT!

            The whole thing is stupid and illogical at almost every opportunity, written by someone who clearly just doesn’t care about being otherwise. So I guess it wasn’t fair of me to complain about Wide and Nerdy calling it “very comic book-y”.

            • Matt Downie says:

              The archer guy is a skilled martial-artist. And he doesn’t actually want to shoot arrows into these people’s faces, because they’re not really bad guys, and he probably forgot to bring along the boxing-glove arrows.

              I agree with you about Vision though. I was always hoping to get a glimpse of what he was doing behind the camera while everyone else was fighting.

              • Poncho says:

                I imagine he was watching everything go down while trying to figure out how to stop the fight, which he later does, and then joins in on the action from that moment forward.

                In all likelihood, they shot the spider man scenes and the vision scenes to do similar stuff, because they weren’t 100% sure if they were going to be able to use spider man at that point. They only needed vision there in case that deal fell through.

                • Wide And Nerdy® says:

                  Yeah I actually thought that fit. Vision may be intelligent but he’s still very young, he hasn’t had to deal with something like this. And he may be stuck in that trap of trying to find a way to accomplish what he wants rather than having to make a hard choice.

        • Christopher says:

          Is this because Spider-Man referenced Star-Wars and not Attack on Titan during that fight?

          • ZekeCool says:

            I would literally have been really annoyed if he did. Though I did think it was silly when he said “that old movie The Empire Strikes Back?” No one talks about Empire that way, not even 15 year olds. The line was so inorganic it was almost physically jarring, and it would be so easy to fix. “Did you guys ever see Star Wars?”

            Boom… there. Organic and snappy. Works so much better.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Ive heard a few youngsters refer to it like that.Well ok,not the empire specifically,but the original trilogy ones as “that old star wars movie with the snow” or “that old star wars movie with the slug”.

              • MichaelGC says:

                I suppose that’s fair enough, in many ways? …

                But anyway, that’s it: I’m going to be calling myself ‘old’ from here-on-in, with perhaps a slight but ill-concealed tinge of pride.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Because if you liked the airport scene, we’re going to have to have an argument.

          Its ok,we know you have poor taste :)

    • Falterfire says:

      I don’t think that’s the heart of the problem.

      The heart of the problem is that by necessity, there’s only so much you can do with a romance without restricting player freedom severely. The Witcher doesn’t have this problem, because the player is playing Geralt. Geralt does what Geralt does, and he proceeds through a romance in the way that makes sense for Geralt.

      But if you want to do anything beyond that, you end up either not caring at all or caring about only a few superficial things the game can track (Like the Fallout 4 “Companion Liked That/Didn’t Like That” system) and since basically none of those are personality traits, you end up writing dialogue that is as generic as possible so the player can be either Reginald Cuftbert or an actual hero and it still more or less works.

      Sure, you could heavily restrict the conditions for romance, but then you end up making romance feel like a gamified puzzle where either you blatantly signpost what the player should do or some players get frustrated and end up looking up a guide at which point the whole thing is totally unsalvageable.

      I really think the notion of romanceable characters in a game where the player can roleplay whichever character is doomed from the start to be shallow at best.

  8. Hector says:

    I’m under the impression that explosion damage is multiplied in this game per limb. So 1 point of damage becomes 6 (torso, limbs, head). Or at least, when I tried the perk that eliminates the limb damage, explosives went from super-deadly to trivial.

    Am I correct in this? And if so, that make it among the most valuable perks in the game, but mostly because it does something very different than what you actually expect.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      My understanding was that everything which says “limb damage” on it only refers to “progress towards crippling the limb” not “HP damage”. Otherwise limb damage immunity would come with 50% immunity to bullets, because half the bullets are striking your limbs.

      I might be wrong, but then again this is a Bethesda game so even odds that I’m right and the limb damage perk is glitched to also prevent HP damage dealt to limbs.

      EDIT: I just booted up Fallout and ran some tests, using the console to cheat myself into a pile of perks and frag mines. Max ranks of adamantium skeleton vs no ranks makes no appreciable difference, at least in the case of “shooting your own frag mine, which you are standing pretty much directly on top of”.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Seems like that’s the case. Was discussed in the comments of the older post Shamus linked. Seems like the game devs didn’t account for the explosions damaging every limb (which is how they’re crippling your limbs) when they were doing the damage balance for explosion weapons.

    • Primogenitor says:

      I guess that also explains why two mini-nukes to the face in VATS is fine, but a stray grenade is instant-death? Is VATS-enabled damage resistance / threashold / etc still a thing in FO4?

  9. Henson says:

    I think one of my favorite comparisons between New Vegas and the actual Mojave area is that the real Nipton actually has that same wagon-wheel lottery sign out front. I wonder if Nipton residents ever get any funny looks about it.

  10. Mark says:

    It’s certainly not morally wrong to do it one way or the other. But sexual orientation is a fairly fundamental element of someone’s personality and just deciding that every NPC’s orientation is “whatever the player wants it to be” means you simply don’t have as well-defined a character.

    Consider the parallel of whether to go Light Side or Dark Side in KOTOR: if everyone on the ship turns out to have been enthusiastically in favor of whatever side you chose, you’ve closed off a huge avenue of conflict and character development and made the game’s story that much less interesting. Same deal here.

  11. Ninety-Three says:

    I don’t like the “everyone is attracted to you” approach because it always results in homosexual relationships being portrayed in exactly the same way as heterosexual ones.

    For starters, those worlds always end up as progressive utopias where apparently not a single person judges you for your sexual orientation. That is at best, weirdly jarring (“Really? Everyone is bi and everyone’s cool with it? In Victorian London? Um… okay.”), and at worst can come off feeling like it’s insensitively erasing the real problem of discrimination (if you don’t get what I mean, imagine a game where you play a black man in the United States civil war, and the game never has you experience a single moment of racism).

    My bigger problem though is that the “everyone is bi” approach means that the writer makes one relationship which is used for both “female PC/male NPC” and “male PC/male NPC”, and the result is that the player’s gender can never come up. The simplest example is that there’s never a line to the effect of “I was afraid to hit on you because, I mean, odds were you weren’t gay”, but it goes deeper than that sort of thing. Eventually the absence of player gender becomes conspicuous and you realize that you’re not playing a man romancing Anders, you’re playing a cipher, a character whose gender isn’t acknolwedged any more than their customized first name .

    A real part of romance is that sometimes you get told “no”, because you’re not the right gender for them, or they don’t like your personality, or they’re already taken. That’s an interesting part of relationships, and if romance in games was really art instead of emotional porn, they’d be willing to give that to us. It’s another of those cases where the “The player can do anything they want” attitude actually diminishes the amount of experiences in the game: You can bang anyone you want, but if you try to bang someone, you’ll only ever get one result: success.

    • lurkey says:

      SWTOR of all things have “flavour flirts” like that — click [flirt] dialog option, get “Sorry, married. Happily married” or “Seriously? We’re in the middle of a warzone, dead bodies everywhere, bullets flying and you think it’s the perfect moment to hit on me? What is wrong with you?!”

      Makes me click on absolutely every flirting option :D

    • Zack says:

      I understand what you’re saying in the second paragraph, but adding sexual or racial discrimination to a game gets tricky. To me, it can make the game world seem more fleshed out, but I don’t have to deal with any kind of discrimination in my daily life. Many people who do face such discrimination probably don’t want to be constantly reminded of it when they’re trying to relax and play a game.

      For similar reasons, I’m fine with playersexual companions even though I’d prefer distinct characters, if only because we’ve had distinct characters in the past and they tend to mostly end up assuming the player is a straight male.

      • Yurika Grant says:

        And that’s the problem with today’s society. No one wants to be offended, or taken out of their little safe spaces, or challenged. Because hiding problems makes them go away, as we all know :/

        • Majikkani_Hand says:

          In our escapist fantasies? Not really, no. That’s where I go to get AWAY from the B.S. I have to put up with in the rest of my life, so I can be sane the rest of the time.

          Chiming in for Zack’s point, yes. I don’t want to have to deal with discrimination (sexism, homophobia, and transphobia especially) in my games, at least not unless I’m forewarned it’s going to be a heavy, emotional experience (and then they’d better execute it properly and not just throw it in there halfheartedly for “realism”) because it’s not fun or relaxing–not a GAME–for me to be reminded of that stuff–it’s just painful.

      • Mokap says:

        Surely if the people playing these games are reasonable people (God knows that’s not true, but let’s just go with it), they wouldn’t be offended by the fact that sexuality discrimination in Victorian England existed? Or the fact that blacks were discriminated against during the US Civil War? If you’re offended by history, then perhaps you shouldn’t be playing games, or watching movies, or consuming any form of entertainment, just in case it triggers you.

        Obviously it’s different in something like Mass Effect or Fallout, where they’re fictional, but as long as it makes sense within the context…

    • djw says:

      Not quite sure why your comment sparked this idea in my head, but… in a fantasy world why do we never see a spell version of gaydar that actually works?

      • Tam O'Connor says:

        You’re not reading the right supplements. There’s an AD&D web doc floating around (The Guide to Unlawful Carnal Knowledge), and, of course, various books for 3rd edition (The Book of Erotic Fantasy, The Quintessential Temptress, Nymphology, off the top of my head.) Oh, and there’s the Scroll of Swallowed Darkness for Exalted. Of course, the maturity and/or class level for these is not particularly high, but if you’re trying to have dramatic sex in RPGs, I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong.

        And no, I’m not linking anything.

        • ehlijen says:

          The scroll of swallowed darkness is nsfw april fools joke parody, i don’t know about the others. But i suspect all of them are better of being read only for a laugh.

          • Viktor says:

            Book of Erotic Fantasy requires post-it’s over the art, but it’s actually useful for a DM. The rules and world building aren’t necessarily good, but they’re a starting point that can help you think better about how to deal with sex and sexuality in-game. Just be sure to talk with your players about boundaries.

  12. ehlijen says:

    Purely player-sexuality isn’t inherently good or bad on an objective level. It can be good or bad on a tonal level in a story, though. It’s obviously a contrivance to please the audience at the expense of character integrity. That’s fine if the purpose of the character is to facilitate exactly that, but it does take away from the emotional verisimilitude a well written character is supposed to have. If the character is meant to appear real or deep in any way, fourth wall breaking changes like that are going to hamper the writer’s effort.

    That’s when an NPC is blatantly only into whatever the PC is, and regardless of the actual gender combinations involved. The mutability by out of world factors is the issue.

    There are some handwaves and excuses possible: bisexuality, deliberately non-physical affection, alien who can only barely tell human genders apart as it is…
    And they work, in measures. Everyone being bisexual is a big coincidence, and becomes more and more comical as the size of the cast increases. One could say that’s just how the future of humanity is in a scifi game, and that’s fine, too. But that then requires an effort in world building, and carries a risk of making the world harder to connect with simply because it’s different. (I know some people who can’t connect with Star Trek’s Federation because it’s ‘too utopian and real people don’t work like that’).

    But player-sexuality can be done well, where it is appropriate.

    But where it isn’t, it will feel forced.
    It’d be like Deus Ex spawning more dudes for a combat Denton to slaughter while adding more traps and cameras to the level if more sneak talents have been chosen. Yes, you are giving the player what they want, but you’re also taking away some of their sense of achievement.
    If foes only exist because the player chooses to be a fighty character, that in reverse means that those foes can be overcome simply by choosing not to fight.
    The sneaking Denton didn’t sneak past an army of guards anymore, he asked the DM to favuor his skills and had his wish granted. The fighty Denton didn’t prevail in the face of overwhelming odds, he picked a fight just because he felt like it.

    This can work fine the first time through the game, but as soon as the player notices that they’re being catered to, suspension of disbelief is strained. The world feels less real, because it is. This in fact reminds me of the heaven-hell part of one of the futurama scary door skits:
    “A casino where I’m winning? I must be in Heaven! Wait, a casino where I’m always winning? I must be in hell!”
    (obvious hyperbole, of course)

    Player-sexual companions work fine for comical stories (SR-series) or games designed to be experience once fully (Bethesda). The idea also works for fawning admirers the player can choose to hook up with to no real effect if the game is about empowerment. But it does reduce characters to in game objects, which coupled with the home run = sex mentality (is that how that base metaphor works?) and the need to fit a romance plot into any Bioware game feels…gross to me at times. And I’m someone who likes romantic and/or erotic fiction. (I mean, Bethesda didn’t do this in the past, but now the Bioware bug’s bitten them.)

    There are some alternatives, though:
    KOTOR 2 offered a different NPC to join the party depending on player gender to serve as the love interest. That of course doubles the writing, animation and voice recording work required for one NPC slot, and that’s assuming you’re just going with two options, which isn’t really enough to cater to everyone’s tastes.
    Or you could make the cast large enough to cater to everyone, but that runs the risk of ‘checklist writing’, in addition to all the other tropes already being reused by the main companies. It also won’t be as effective, because there will be players who want NPC A but with B’s sexual orientation.
    And last is not giving the player a choice as to who their characters is (see Witcher). This is a bypass, not a solution, of course, and depends on a compelling main character to hook the player with and then a compelling love interest to not push the player out of the mindset with. This is utterly incompatible with the Bioware or Bethesda approaches.

    Enough rambling. In short, I think player-sexuality is fine if well written, believable characters are not the primary goal. If they are, then whether or not they are romancable at all should be a carefully made choice with some serious writing chops behind it, and whatever the writer says the character is attracted to should then trump what the player wishes for.
    Consider Game of Thrones. The pivotal, most remembered moments almost all revolve around stuff happening that the Audience doesn’t want to happen. (But don’t overdo it, either!).

  13. MrGuy says:

    To me, the issue is less about pandering and more about characters.

    If I’m going to spend a big part of a game interacting with certain characters, I want them to be interesting, three-dimensional, well written characters. I would guess that simultaneously puts me in the majority of readers of this blog and in the minority of game players.

    To me, for most people (and so for most characters), the character’s sexual identity is part of that character’s story. It’s a huge part of who that character is. Veronica is a great example – her sexuality is part of the reason why she feels alienated from the brotherhood, and her attempt to reconcile her alienation and desire to be part of what she calls her family is central to making her interesting. Boone’s relationship with his wife defines who he still is, even after she’s gone.

    Making a character’s sexuality an “eh, whatever – I’m into whatever you happen to be, I guess” takes a central part of the character and makes it a “no big deal.” And to me, that’s where characters stop being interesting – when the character’s motivation doesn’t fit with what we’re told their backstory is, and it doesn’t matter, then the characterization doesn’t matter. It pierces the illusion that the character we’re interacting with is REAL – they’re a real person with a real history and real motivations. It’s drawing a big circle around “look, we all know this is a videogame, and you’re the only important person here, so whatever you want is fine with us.”

    Edit: Wrote this based on the post before watching the episode. Guess I could have said “I agree with Shamus and Ruts.”

    • Bubble181 says:

      @edit: there’s a video connected to this post? People talk about similar/same subjects in there? Huh. Well, that’s a shame.

      :P

    • lurkey says:

      I disagree with importance of sexuality and Arcade from the same New Vegas is the example. If you don’t have Confirmed Bachelor and don’t do his personal story, you don’t even know he’s gay and that’s no big deal, because his story arc is all about good man’s despair and disillusionment with the world he wants to help and he is also defined by him being a Follower and being born into Enclave. Random dudes that he may have boned are clearly not important part of his life on the moment you meet him.

      Same thing with Dragon Age’s 2 player-sexual characters — all of them have story arcs that doesn’t have to do anything with sexuality (although one of them flaunts it loudly and proudly).

      (Sexuality is damn overrated anyway. I know, I know, sex sells, but its ubiquity is so annoying)

      • Blunderbuss09 says:

        I think that’s why there should be a balance to it; people identities are shaped by their background and that would affect whether or not their sexuality is a big deal with them. The Followers of the Apocalypse are pretty progressive so I don’t think they’d care about Arcade being gay so it’s never been an issue. Veronica being gay was An Issue to the BOS because they’re a traditionalist isolated faction. Therefore a unique character should have a unique perspective on their sexuality.

      • Yurika Grant says:

        Eh, I wouldn’t say ‘you don’t know’, unless you actively avoid talking to him. He makes it pretty clear in dialogue he’s gay, even if you’re playing a female character. He openly states it, in fact. Ask him about himself and part of one of this responses is:

        “Right now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, ‘why hasn’t some lucky man scooped this bachelor off his feet?’ Like I said, I’m boring.”

        Not exactly subtle :)

  14. BespectacledGentleman says:

    I’ve seen a few games that ask for your character’s orientation towards the beginning of the game, then make all potentially romanced characters of the appropriate sex attracted to the PC as well. It’s definitely pander-y, but it does ensure that all advances will be from the proper gender(s) and that potential romance options won’t be closed off because of the PC’s sex. There can be people of other orientations, they’re just not designed to be romance options.

  15. Rutskarn,

    To complete your comparison of the real world and in-game version of the Bonnie & Clyde museum items, return to your memories of Clyde’s shirt. As an artifact of the era, it’d definitely have cap value. What stat and armor bonuses do you think it would have conveyed when a bunny-hopping bonnet-wearing wanderer eventually took it and put it on?

  16. Christopher says:

    The “everyone wants to romance the player” thing is inherently more funny to me. Not really in a Bethesda game, like who even cares. I played a human woman and married some mage elf lady in Skyrim, big ceremony and everything, and I can’t even remember her name, because that stuff never comes up. But it’s great fun in a comedy game like Saints Row 4, and those are comedy scenes, you’d want everyone to see them. It’s also pretty funny in Dragon’s Dogma, because whoever you romance perform the exact same animations during critical end-game cutscenes.

    You get to see the court jester or the badass dark knight act the exact same dainty way that the princess would, in a very dramatic situation. That’s some model swap shit, almost on the “exchange Quiet with Ocelot” level. So I guess my stance is that I think “everyone wants to fuck you” is perfectly fine with me if you’re fine with being funny and lazy rather than serious and interesting. I have room in my life for both a game where everyone loves me and a game in which I can’t romance Tali or Cassandra because I’m playing a woman.

    https://youtu.be/SUbLL3J0__o?t=29s

  17. Grimwear says:

    When it comes to romance in games and sexuality there’s really no good answer.

    My own experiences with it began with KOTOR then progressively moved through Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I’ve seen people say Saints Row 4 had the best romance options and while they’re silly and work with the game and what it does (though why Keith David won’t have sex with me I’ll never know) the problem from my view is that it’s all hollow. When it comes to sexuality in games for me it’s a series of compromises since the scope is just too large.

    I adore games that allow me to meet companions and teammates and learn their backstories, build trust, and finally unlock a final mission or conversation that shares their full story. It was only natural then for developers to throw romance options into the mix. My personal gripe was in Dragon Age Origins when I was trying to build all the relationships and see everything but in so doing turned Zevran down and made him dislike me.

    I’d honestly prefer if developers kept character backstories away from sexuality aspects when romance is involved and allow the player to do what they want. Since I can wish for anything I’d also prefer a way to outright tell characters or at least the game that I’m only interested in friendship without suffering a negative consequence or just bypass the romance aspects entirely. I accept that this does ruin some stories for example Veronica who’s entire arc depends on her sexuality but there’s really no winning when you want to add relationships into the mix. You’ll either piss off people who need to change their character’s gender in order to romance the character they prefer or you upset people who appreciate and want to feel more represented in games by having distinct and permanent sexualities.

    The major issue is again one of scope and in order to find a character who is well written, with the proper personality (that you find attractive), as well as the right sexuality becomes such an ordeal for devs and the writers especially that it makes more sense to not have romance at all and just cut it. They work with what they have and I personally believe the best option is just make everyone able to be romanced and you provide head cannon for their sexuality.

  18. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I had a romance with Cait in Fallout 4. It was awful.

    I’ve complained about how bad the dialog system is before, and how every conversation sounds like two people reading unrelated pairs of lines on different sides of the planet, but the Cait romance is where it was the worst.

    Romance is something that needs to be written with a deft hand, and trying to write it so generically in order to accommodate as many player possibilities as they can leaves it feeling completely lifeless. Generally, I’ve found that they only work when there’s some givens they can be built around. The romances in The Witcher 3 were great, obviously, because they were writing toward a solid target.

    Bioware and Bethesda romances are almost always terrible, though, because they’re so amazingly transparent in their mechanical nature and their player-centrism. They’re built too much on an approval/disapproval axis, and the “romantic” conversations play out like exposition dumps that eventually reward you with sex. My romance with Morrigan worked out alright, but that was mostly because I happened to be playing my character right way and there was an actual plot payoff at the end.

    I don’t think you can fix them, either, without either devoting ten times the resources into them or being willing to set boundaries on what kinds of PCs the character will romance.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      Also:

      It needs to be remembered that smoke and mirrors are always an important part of video game design. A game is always going to be player-centric, and it’s always going to have limited agency, but a game that does a good job of *hiding* those things will always succeed much more, even as a blatant power fantasy. Beating a dragon only feels awesome if you convinced me that it was a hard thing to do in the first place.

      Having one character whose sexuality depends on the player is easy to sneak in. Having ten of them is going to be very noticeable.

      • I romanced Curie, which wasn’t too bad, dialog-wise. I’d also maxed out my relationship with Piper, but I didn’t romance her. The game wants to keep your options open, as Piper would occasionally come up to me in Sanctuary and ask something that could easily lead to “I want to do the sexings with you.”

        Having a “I like you” bark in passing is one thing, but if all romanceable companions do it constantly, then it starts me thinking this was modeled after one of those Harem mangas or something.

  19. Phantos says:

    It depends on the game, I think.

    I don’t typically care if Fallout doesn’t give me a wide berth of romance options. That was never the linch pin of those games for me. It’s not a dating sim, where that’s the whole point. Not every game needs it.

    But I’m down for games that give you more options regarding diversity. Even if I don’t end up using all of them. And I do think it was clever of Bethesda to make all of the romanceable companions down for whatever, regardless of your gender(or nightmarish appearance). As long as the character uses a gender-neutral nickname for the player character, they can get away with not having to write and record more dialogue. More inclusive, and less work for them.

    …Come to think of it, it’s kind of weird that a game with such narrow, false-choice dialogue has such a multiple-choice approach to romance, when dialogue options are usually how that’s done in games.

    Granted, Bethesda’s idea of romance is stepping in and out of Power Armour forty or fifty times. Which I believe is how Shamus proposed, actually.

    • ehlijen says:

      It’s not really a multiple choice approach. It’s a do or do not, there are no options approach.

      The game doesn’t care if you romance piper and then danse, or just danse or just piper, or neither. It doesn’t track your choice for the purposes of which other choices you can make.

      It’s like saying a house with 5 rooms is a multiple choice exploration game. You can choose to go into any of the 5 rooms! Which one first? Will you leave any out? Will you visit room no 3 twice?
      No, it’s just a house with 5 rooms. You can choose how to move inside it, but that doesn’t make it a multiple choice question in the traditional RPG meaning. Nothing will be different based on your choice, and you can still choose all other options if you like.

      It fits perfectly with the Bethesda ‘minimal effort, minimal player obstruction’ approach.

  20. Syal says:

    A middle-of-the-road option would be to give characters sexuality, and if the player doesn’t match that character’s they have to pass a bunch of skill checks and/or do sidequests to do any romancing.

    You can do it for other features too, like if you make your character really short or make them look exactly like an NPC’s mother.

    • Majere says:

      I really don’t think implying that a person’s sexuality is negotiable if you’re just persistent enough is at all a good route to go. More than enough straight dudes already have that impression without it being encouraged by media.

  21. Phantos says:

    Oh man. The maze. The stupid trap-filled Super Mutant maze. I love it. It’s like something someone made in Minecraft.

    That had to have just been Bethesda dicking around while making levels and going: “Why not? Just slap it in there”.

    That was my favourite discovery in this game, right next to accidentally winding up in the bar from Cheers.

  22. Vi says:

    I just realized how odd it is that romanceable characters never seem to have a physical type beyond gender orientation, even when the player character can be customized to an extreme degree. How many folks in real life find every species, age, physique, facial feature, and grooming habit of their preferred sex equally sexy? That’s quite fantastical already!

    • ehlijen says:

      The only game I’ve ever seen anything like that in was Baldur’s Gate 2, where every romancable NPC had a clear list of OK species to date. I think it was mostly elves and humans, sometimes half elves and halfings? But I don’t recall anyone liking dwarves.

      Poor, hairy beer barrels on legs…

      • Grudgeal says:

        That part with dwarves could at least have made sense if Bioware had stuck with the original female dwarven models from BG1 and Icewind Dale. I mean, what self-respecting Dwarf would court some long-limbed freak lady who doesn’t even have a beard?

        (I find it entirely in-character for Anomen to not be attracted to female dwarves by the way. But then again I find it entirely in-character for none of my characters to be attracted to Anomen.)

    • Vermander says:

      Good point. I doubt many people are so sexually open that they’d be equally willing to shack up with a dwarf or a qunari of either gender. And what about the various lizard and cat people in the Elder Scrolls games?

      Come to think of it, it’s odd that many games let you spend so much time customizing your character’s appearance and then don’t have the NPCs acknowledge it in any way.

      • IFS says:

        One of my favorite jokes in DA2 is a line of party banter in one of the DLCs where a companion remarks on something being on Hawke’s face, with Hawke going “what? How long has it been there?”

        Its decently amusing on its own, but way more funny if you went with the default Hawke that has a blood smear across his/her nose. Especially so if you do the DLC in act 3 at which point Hawke has had it there for somewhere around 6-10 years. Not exactly a the game responding to your chosen appearance, but it does fall in the same ballpark. It might be funnier if they made it so you only got the line if you had that default appearance, but then I’d probably have never heard it.

  23. MichaelGC says:

    And of course the companions in Fallout 4 aren’t really player-sexual, either. They don’t care what the player looks like, for example. Or says or does, for the most part. No, they just get really … passionate about lockpicking or drug use or armour modification.

    I wonder what that would be like in real life? I don’t see many people getting in & out of power armour or correctly dealing with deathclaw eggs day-to-day. “Wow, you parallel-parked that car nicely! Are you free this evening?” “I’ve never seen anyone self-bag their groceries quite like that. I think I’m in love.”

    • GloatingSwine says:

      Future Boston being full of extreme fetishists would explain why they have a small enough population to fit in a baseball stadium. Finding someone with a reasonably similar kink to get it on must be hell.

  24. Blunderbuss09 says:

    Personally I think any issue like this in a story needs to address two things; does it make sense for the character and does it make sense in the world?

    In Dragon Age 2 all of the romance characters were bisexual but it answered those two questions. Fenris and Merrill are elves, which until that point were implied lean towards bisexuality as a rule, and this was yet another way for humans to fetishize and objectify them (which came into play during Fenris’s backstory). Anders was a radical that stood for rebelling against traditions and freedom for the individual so that makes sense. And Isabella was … well, Isabella. And since Thedas had different religious and cultural traditions – which comes into play constantly in the games – then obviously many countries were more lax. That meant you had interesting situations where a horrifically oppressive caste religion was totally okay with you being gay or transgender but god help you if you dared to rebel from your chosen path of being a baker.

    In this game though? It really does feel like your character is the center of the universe because everyone wants you and every damn faction practically crowns you royalty as soon as you join up. Even characters that would be 100% in-character as bisexual, like Hancock, seem cheap because he’s romancing you because it’s easier rather than who is he as a person. Not to mention that the game, as mentioned before, is very sexless so the topic of how sexuality works in the wasteland never comes up. Do people care less because finding love or sex is rare? Do people reject any sort of deviancy from their homes in an attempt to drive off typical wasteland corruption? The whole point of Fallout is humanity trying to find its way by dealing with its history and their flaws but never brings up such an important part of the human condition. If you want to steer clear about the issues of human sexuality then for god’s sake don’t add romance options!

  25. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Rutskarns tight schedule:

    Item 1: DO NOT HANG OUT WITH JOSH
    Item 2: AVOID JOSH LIKE THE PLAGUE
    Item 3: Gamble a bit
    Item 4: Visit goodsprings and primm
    Item 5: ?
    Item 6: Profit!

  26. Zaxares says:

    I personally am in favour of the “characters have their own set personality and sexual tastes” approach. It makes them more believable and realistic, as opposed to knowing that whatever I make will be whatever they are into. It breaks the illusion, and that illusion is what I play RPGs for. That’s why I loved the approach Bioware used in Inquisition, where each of the romance interests basically had “types” and if you didn’t happen to meet that type, well, too bad. That’s the way it works in real life too sometimes.

    That said, I can understand why Bioware went with the approach they did in DA2, where every single romance interest was bisexual. It makes for much easier writing (as opposed to having to create romance interests for every single kind of sexual orientation out there), and it also extends equality to people who might really, really like a particular but then it turns out that they’re not interested in you simply because you’re the wrong race (“Ew, dwarves!”), the wrong profession (“Ew, mages!”) or even just the wrong set of genitals (“Ew, a non-mutated phallus!”).

    So yeah, I can see both sides of the argument, and if push came to shove, I could tolerate the DA2 approach if the characters are interesting enough.

    • Vermander says:

      DA 2 also required the PC to be a human though, and all of the romance options were humans or elves, so racial preferences were less of an issue. There’s also the fact that all of the romance-able party members were renegades and rebels of some sort, so they were willing to ignore the expectations of their respective societies or cultures.

      Aveline and Varric however both opted for “Flattered, but not interested.”

      Interestingly, it wasn’t really possible for Hawke to find a “respectable” spouse to settle down with. All of the potential romantic partners would have been a scandalous choice for a noble’s husband or wife (or at least it’s implied).

      • IFS says:

        Merrill does have a line in her romance where she expresses some concern about you being a human, as the Dalish frown on those sorts of relationships. Other than that Varric has a throwaway line that indicates he prefers dwarves.

  27. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I hate modern video game romances(especially bioware ones)for three reasons:

    First,theres no effort.You just hit the talk button,pick every upper option(or whichever one is the good option on the wheel),and after a couple of missions you will bang them.It paints real relationships in a rather idiotic way.

    Second,sex is the ultimate goal.I loathe this,because sex =/= romance.Whenever I see this it feels like whoever wrote this has no idea how real romance works.Its such a juvenile portrayal.Which I wouldnt mind if they were treated as such by the game,rather than being portrayed as something serious and adult.But no,you have this serious conversation about childhood trauma,emotional distance,finally finding someone you trust,and then you have sex and thats it,end of the line.

    Third,there are no friends anymore.You no longer have mal and zoe from firefly.It just removes the feeling that these are real people you can have real interactions with.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Aye – and on your first point, it’s even worse in Fallout 4, because it’s not even based on talking to them. (The following lengthy quotation is from the RPG Codex.)

      the worst thing is that companion affinity depends entirely on those gamey, grindable activities like lockpicking and hacking and on your interactions with other NPCs. It is not in any way affected by your conversations with the companions themselves. You can tell a guy that he’s a druggie loser, you can condemn another as a cold blooded murderer, and you can tell another that his core beliefs are totally idiotic. Their affinity meters will not budge an inch. You can go to Piper, a reporter who’s fought against the synth conspiracy her whole life, and discuss the fact that you’ve joined the conspiracy and defeated all their enemies except for her, and it won’t have the slightest effect on your relationship. However, pick ten locks in front of her, and watch her blush and choke back tears as she calls you a gift from heaven and thanks you for showing her that she is, after all, worthy of the love of a person such as you.

      People heap a lot of scorn on Bioware for their player-pleasing companion design, but they were never this bad. This companion system is on a much higher plane of lazy, manipulative, and shallow game design entirely.

      http://www.rpgcodex.net/content.php?id=10267

    • Christopher says:

      I don’t really think this is true anymore. You have nine companions in Dragon Age Inquisition. Six of them can be romanced, three them can not(One is married, one is in love with someone else, and the last one is a weird spirit man who acts like a boy although he’s got the same body as every other adult male). Additionally, you can romance two of the three NPC commanders in your army(And there are also two minor sexual encounters other places in the game you can engage with that I don’t know the limits of). Depending on your character’s race and gender, you have a maximum of six romance options on a playthrough(If you are an elf woman, specifically. Five for a human woman. If you’re a man, or a woman of another race, you have four). With everyone you can’t romance, sex won’t ever come up. You do have friends, after a fashion. Bioware never does friends as well as games where your character and party members they can take with them is established.

      And I can’t talk for the other companions, but once you sleep with the Iron Bull he doesn’t just give you a slap on the bum afterwards and you’re done, you get small additional scenes with him after certain story missions and a comedic scene where your companions stumble upon you the morning after in his bed. You also get a quest where you do something he loves(dragon hunting) in order to make a necklace for him that’s a Quarian sign of relationship/engagement ring.

      Bioware isn’t my favorite developer by a mile, but if this specific thing is what’s keeping you away, you should give them another chance, because they have improved. It’s unfair to harp on something they did in fact change from Mass Effect 1.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      First, yeah okay. I would just call this clear interface design. Rather than making it a puzzle that 100% of interested players make sure they solve with careful saves or using the internet, the interface basically tells you “this kind of interaction will cause them to like you more.” It’s also not just 100% saying the “nice” thing either. For example, if you say the romance options to Merrill and then diss her quests each time she asks, you will not be dating her. So it’s a mix of talking and doing stuff together… aka what people actually do to hook up.

      Second, no, not really. In Mass Effects 1 and 2, the last scene in the romance each game is a hook up, sure. Not true of 3 though. 3 has a variety of romance scenes. For example, Liara basically takes a video of your romance and creates a mental impression of your feelings for each other at that time. In Citadel, Tali wants to binge watch her favorite show together with you. Etc. In Dragon Age 2, you hook up in Act 2 and then proceed with the romance from there, the sex is the exact middle of the romantic storyline. This criticism seems like you’ve been skipping Bioware games for a while.

      Third, what does this mean? You can become close friends with every person you’re not romancing in the party. Citadel DLC for ME3 is a giant party where all your friends talk about how great being friends is. And do friend stuff together like play video games, workout together, grab a meal, etc.

  28. Thomas Lines says:

    I don’t associate with the sexuality of my character. If I go down a male or a female romance path with my player, I don’t think of it as a ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ relationship.

    Inhabiting a videogame character is much more complex than people can describe (which is why truisms about voiced/non-voiced protagonists never turn out to be always true). The actions, reactions and feelings are a fluid constantly changing mix of my thoughts as a player, as a roleplays and the developers thoughts as a writer.

    So when I date Tali as femShep (I almost always feel most comfortable with a female player character), part of that is because I as a person like Talis character and partly because it works for Shepard. Is the hetero or homo motivated? Its neither and both.

    So I’m always sad when games don’t work like that. But on the other hand, I can see the fixed point of view and there are some stories can only be told with fixed characters.

    I like to think there’s some optimism in the player-centric viewpoint because its saying sexuality doesn’t change who you are.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      In an ideal world,that is true.The problem is,most of these games want to have it both ways,be ideal and not ideal at the same time.Racism exists,but not sexism.Sexism exists,but not towards the player.Etc,etc.Thats why stuff like this yanks you out,because you can see that the game isnt even pretending to be a real world where stuff interacts with each other.

  29. Hal says:

    Funny story: I was once banned from a site’s comments because I accused the author of “having an axe to grind.” Apparently that’s combative, abusive, inflammatory langauge.

    Go figure.

  30. Kerethos says:

    I don’t really care what sexual orientation a character in a game has, based on my own preference. They can all be bi, gay, straight or asexual, as kinky or as vanilla as they want for all I care. But, no matter what sexual orientation they might be: Does exploring that part their character enhance the story? If the answer’s yes, great! If it’s not, meh, that’s a shame.

    I mean the whole “50 shades of Bull”-thing in Dragon Age Inquisition was amusing and also quite endearing, as it tells you some things about both your player character and The Iron Bull that you probably weren’t expecting (at least I wasn’t). So I was amused to find out that ones Inquisitor could favor submissive sex, as a way of dealing with the stress of command.

    However, I wish developers were more comfortable exploring stories around sexuality. But as it stands sexuality is mostly treated like a matchmaking game players can enjoy next to the rest of the game, with some exceptions, and if that’s what developers are comfortable with right now that’s fine too.

  31. Neko says:

    Back when I was playing around with Morrowind modding, I made some toy “romanceable” NPCs that were player-sexual not out of any intentional stylistic choice but simply because it was easier, and as long as I was vague enough then I didn’t have to concern myself with writing suitable dialog for gender pairings I was unfamiliar with.

  32. Kelerak says:

    I personally prefer my romances to be well-written, but hey, whatever floats your boats.

    But, seriously, I guess I don’t really care what gender each companion is attracted to, so long as the character is interesting enough and the character themselves can justify it. Having “player-attracted” companions does irk me a bit, though I can’t really think of any examples outside of Fire Emblem: Fates where that has happened.

    So long as it isn’t a forced romance (looking at you, Metro: Last Light), I’m cool with whatever.

  33. Guancyto says:

    Re: Pandering. This post got me pondering the old Baldur’s Gate 2 romances (the first place many Biofans like me were introduced to the notion of building relationships in an RPG; this was also the game where every party member had at least one personal quest). On the one hand, a lot of it was “don’t tell Aerie to fuck off and eventually you’ll get some,” but on the other hand they could all go wrong depending on the player’s choices.

    Sleeping with Aerie too soon would cause her to leave the party (she decides she needs to see the world for herself). Not cuddling with Viconia when given the opportunity (c’mon, like you would ever pass up the chance to cuddle a drow) causes her to realize she’s sacrificed her pride to ease her loneliness, and she breaks it off. Screw up a tense situation where Jaheira is taken hostage, or just be an evil dick too often? She winds up just plain not interested.

    By contrast, Merrill and Anders will jump your bones pretty much no matter what. It’s… disappointing that the pandering has only increased over the years. Player-sexual NPCs who sacrifice concrete sexual identity to expand romance options is only part of the trend.

  34. Christopher says:

    Speaking specifically for fallout 4, I think the romance is a bit lazy. But then it’s pretty much on par with all the other writing and characterization; shallow. I didn’t care about any of the companions enough to consider romance an option that appealed to me. Fallout wants to be an immersive game, but gets rid of anything that’s immersive. Your choices don’t matter. Your actions don’t seem to matter. Everyone is omnisexual.

  35. McNutcase says:

    What I’d like to see is a system in which potentially “romancable” characters have preferences. Maybe this companion doesn’t care much about gender, but is more into elves than humans, and really likes the idea of a relationship with a Mage. This other one finds magic a major turn-off, is unconcerned about species, but is very concerned with gender. And so on. This would be really obnoxious to keep track of, but it would be far more interesting than the currently ubiquitous protagonosexuality.

  36. gresman says:

    One interesting thing came to my mind while listening to Rutskarn relating his Nevada adventures involving death cars.

    In Vienna we have a military history museum. It is quite the nice museum. Lots of intriguing artifacts and even some planes and tank and some sweet models of battleships.

    One wing of the museum is dedicated to the first World War. Including a separate room for the car and clothes of Archduke Ferdinand when he was assassinated. My father always says that he thinks that is weird to put all these things together in a room so folks can watch and inspect it. I sort of am able to understand his sentiment. On the other hand for this is an intriguing artifact of the time. 102 years old. It survived two major wars and many other struggles but it still is there.

    Maybe I am the only one thinking that way but hey there might be some discussion value.

    By the way: Everyone visiting Vienna or living here and has an interest in history should check out the museum. :)

  37. “What do we think of games where your companions have player-oriented sexuality?”
    Those are basically a Bi-sexual characters.

    Now I got nothing against Bi people but, if all the characters in a game was Bi or player-oriented then that would make for very dull characters.

    I like how in Dragon Age Inquisition there is a female character that you can’t romance unless you are female, and it’s not initially obvious either she leans that way either.

    McNutcase pointed out something really interesting. Romancable character that only are interested in elves, which means you’d have to play as an elf.
    I seem to recall a game where this actually was the case but I can’t remember what that game was sadly.

    • guy says:

      That was also Inquisition. Solas is only romancable by elves.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      “What do we think of games where your companions have player-oriented sexuality?”
      Those are basically a Bi-sexual characters.

      They’re not really though. As the SW crew said on the show, the player-centric character isn’t so much bisexual as they are blind to gender. They’re not attracted to men or women, they’re attracted to specifically the player character. It sounds like pedantic haggling, but it comes across in things like the character never acknowledging their own sexuality or the gender of the PC (see: DA2’s playersexual characters vs DA1’s explicitly bisexual Zevran).

  38. A Bethesda romance (in Fallout 4 at least) is almost just a few lines of dialog that result in a stat boost.

    I kinda understand it (gamifying it) but it’s also kinda sad that it’s so mechanical.

    • What’s really sad is that I probably “romanced” Nick more than the others, in that I wanted to do his personal quest because I liked his character.

      I romanced Curie because she also had an optional quest that was at least a diversion (if shallow and cliche, for sci-fi robot stories).

      I think giving NPCs “loyalty missions” is a better route to romance in that how the player feels about an NPC is going to be based more on what they think that NPC’s persona is like. Giving them a story you participate in is one way to actually foster some kind of connection, more so than just doing something they like (which is a fine precursor to trust and/or friendship, which leads to a deeper quest chain) until they sleep with you.

      • I prefer what BioWare is (usually) doing. Giving the character a loyalty quest and a romance quest which do not need to be interconnected too much.

        But at that point BioWare obviously has to juggle the issue of “courting” and in video games courting always gets a bit odd unless you devote a lot of time to polish it.

        Witcher 3 has a few good moments of “courting” with Triss and Yennefer and um that other herbalist witch (with the three white mice magic trick).
        Those are what I’d call “good” romance quests.

        Also romancing Tali in Mass Effect is also what I’d call a good romance quest, but that spans across three games.
        The non-romance (aka loyalty/BFF) quest also stretch across all three games.

        I hope Mass Effect 4 has at least as good a romance “quest”, and NPCs that are fixed in their sexuality (so they don’t go the player biased route). This does mean 1 gay, one straight, 1 bi for each player gender. Which means at least 6 romancable characters (3 per player gender).
        But I’d like to see one more for each gender that just aren’t interested in the player at all “Hey, we can flirt but that’s as far as you’ll ever get.”.
        And never really explain what/who they are interested in, maybe if the player dumps somebody they’d then latch on to the dumped character, which could be amusing.

  39. Ramsus says:

    I don’t feel like there’s a real answer here. Everyone wants different things and not all things belong in all games or in them a certain way. I also don’t really think any approaches are in any way wrong unless they’re clashing with what the game itself is otherwise doing.

    I mean yeah, dialog written that ignores some obvious (to you, the player who made the character if you got to do that) traits of your character and says something clashing is annoying but that seems more about the budget and time allotted to the writing than anything to do with a style (unless the “style” there is “lazy/rushed”). But that really seems more like an extension of the across the board annoyance at lazy or rushed writing in AAA games that honestly don’t have a very good excuse for being so.

    Even if you have a game with excellent romantic writing in an appropriate style, it still seems like you’re going to leave at least some portion of the players dissatisfied. Romance and gender and personal identity are just incredibly deep and making any one choice about how it’s done in a game probably means not making half a dozen other ones that some people might have preferred.

    I think the worst thing that could happen is to actually achieve an “answer” to this “question”. How boring would it be to see the same style of “romance” in everything? Or even the same choices of how to go about it in any given genre? The only thing I want across the board is for it to be well written for what it’s intended to be.

  40. Somniorum says:

    The mention of Goodsprings and the saloon got me curious, so I looked it up on Google streetview. It’s got a clear shot! And Rutskarn wasn’t kidding, the place looks quite identical to the game.

    Shot of outside

    Inside the Pioneer Saloon

  41. Fred B-C says:

    My perspective on the issue is this: While I don’t think sexuality is as fixed as a lot of people, I do think it can be a little silly and possibly very offensive to have a character who’s clearly of one sexuality change just because the player character is awesome. Not only is Shamus right that we want our choices to have consequences because we want to feel like we’re actually interacting with a world, but it also just has some uncomfortable narrative implications.

    On the other hand, it’s a fantasy. Fantasies don’t need to be accurate to life. Maybe it should be put behind a wall of interactions or come out as a DLC or semi-official mod so that a player has to choose it directly, but I do think sometimes we get too up in arms about what a person may do to fulfill their own fantasies, even if those fantasies have uncomfortable implications. Guess what: most fantasies do; that’s why they’re fantasies.

    On the gripping hand, part of the outrage is because this is so easy to avoid. Characters exist in a quantum state: they don’t have their behavior fixed until we load the game. So just write the character to be the appropriate sexuality. No one can reasonably say that it’s offensive that Cheryl [a completely made-up example character] in their game is lesbian and in your game is heterosexual, as long as she’s written plausibly for each in each case. It might mean changing a few scenes for the character that establish their sexuality, but that itself shouldn’t be that hard, especially for Bethesda who just have to make another creepy ragdoll. In other words, in my game where I’m a woman, and I first meet Cheryl, she’s arguing with her female spouse, and in my game where I’m a man, and I first meet Cheryl, she’s arguing with her male spouse.

    In situations like that, where a character’s sexuality doesn’t exist until you as the player resolve it with choices, I think there’s no valid complaint left. Yes, video games are weird. Yes, sometimes characters change based on the decisions of the player. From a storytelling perspective, I’m not in the same canon as you. That’s literally the case in every single game of Fallout everyone has ever played. So it’s ludicrous to accept that in your canon you shot Iguana Bob and in my game I opened up a chain of “iguana” restaurants with him, but not accept that in your game Cheryl is lesbian and in mine she’s straight.

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