Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Love in Space ME3 Style

So I know I'm late to the game, but I am finally playing Mass Effect 3. Finally.

Actually if I'm being honest I've had the game for a while (as in when it came out) and I played it once before but I didn't get very far. I also took a passing stab at ME1 and gave up on it fairly quickly because I wasn't quite sure what to make of a FPS RPG and so despite the reviews I gave it a pass to indulge in other Bioware titles. One of the notable ones I really enjoyed was Dragon Age: Origins, even though I was unable to see it through to the end.

But I'm playing it through and I'm enjoying the story. It also happens that recently the question was raised about the relevance of in game romance and story telling.

And this takes us back to the nature of stories, video games, and the stories we tell. I know for me, part of my writing muse has been to work on the tapestry of a good game and adding my own stories to the characters there.

So, ME3 and the nature of romance....

First let me say that I'm not done with my first play through so I'm not entirely sure where some of the plots are going, but I do "kinda" like this current plot.

I'm playing a woman Shepard and mostly taking the Paragon choices in RP when they come up. For those not familiar you have the choice in dialogues to be empathetic or hard nosed, Paragon or Renegade. I'm playing this Shepard as mostly a "good guy".

There is also this very sweet specialist assigned to your ship, Traynor. Took a second to place her because she has a proper English accent but dark skin, but then it clicked and I thought of the potential love interested she might be an interesting one to pursue.

Now the compliant about romance stories in gaming is that they often feel like a matter of picking the right buttons to click at the right time and that the relationship doesn't evolve naturally. Well it is a game so natural is a little odd, but in any good story the romance can't just happen. I know I've struggled in Mind the Thorns to make a romance for Regan follow a natural flow rather than just be "poof - here's a romance for the heroine!"

So my first reaction to the debate was that you can absolutely craft a series of dialogue choices to create a natural flowing romance, hints at something there, more questions about what makes us tick, and eventually something possibly grows. Admittedly Dragon Age did, I think, a pretty good job of this.

As I'm playing, I'm thinking about how I'd like to see my Shepard and Traynor hook up. She's cute, delightfully out of her element, but very knowledgeable about her specialty, and seems like an interesting character.

During the play through (remember I'm not done yet so things could change later in the story) she offers to come up to the captain's cabin for a "game night" of playing Chess. While there Shepard shows off the space (it's big compared to the crew bunk) and shows off the fact that, yes, she has an actual shower. Traynor comments that she'd love a chance to take a real shower, and Shepard okays it.

I mentioned earlier that in games I like to see the romance naturally blossom. Here's what rubs me weird with this story arc. I'd like to think that I was just following what was natural assuming a romantic interest on Shepard's part, but I honestly also wanted to avoid blocking off romantic opportunities later. My brain was on the "if I pick B will I still have a romance option later? Or do I Need to pick A now?" And right up to the end of the scene where the two of them are cuddling and talking about how Traynor may just be using Shepard for a chance to have a real shower from time to time (she also sends an email where she says despite the shower she still feels a little dirty), I really didn't allow Shepard to follow anything natural. I was picking choices because I felt "If I don't pick them I'll lose all chance later".

Now it's been a while since I dated. A good good long while, but I'm pretty sure (and my wife will correct me) that I had more than one opportunity to show interest or not. And to shut down all possibility of a relationship I had to do more than just not get in the shower with someone. Granted there are ways to completely shut down all chances, but usually they involve more than showing discretion.

I do think that romantic story arcs can be well done in games. I know that in Dragon Age Origins I did feel that my character developed a natural relationship with her companions on every play-through I did (though I didn't finish any of them). In ME3 though, this case felt very "paint by the numbers" romance.

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