Monday, June 10, 2013

The best emotinal arc I've had in weeks is a video game romance. I am officially pathetic. Also, I have thoughts.

I "achieved" the romance plot with Alistair yesterday.  By which, I mean, we had sex.  I've actually had the "sex with Alistair" option for a while now but I was a little worried that it was too soon to use, and it might go badly.  He might refuse or something.  Anyway, he was earnest and awkward and sweet, the dialog I mean, not the sex, and after a truly embarrassingly terrible cut scene, I got a little popup achievement notification.

I find it worth noting that the quest is achieved with sex, especially since sex is not the hardest thing to unlock.  I'm certain that there is still more romance plot to unfurl, as Alistair asked something along the lines of "what do we do now," and I said, "fight darkspawn."  The relationship has not been settled beyond this adventure.  (Although when I responded to his worry that other party members would talk about us with, "Anyone makes a snide remark and I'll throw them to the darkspawn," he laughed and said, "that's why I love you.")

And, seriously, words are not enough to explain how bad the cut scene is.  It's like every good thing the game was doing with romance all went out the window, along with every good thing Bioware has ever done with romance in any other game.  The good music turns terrible, the good dialog is silent, and every awkward detail of their character modeling is put on display.  What makes it even more bizarre is that Dragon Age came out two years after Mass Effect 1.  Did they just not want to invest the resources to make it better?  I'd been noticing that the modeling looked better in ME1, but it isn't so bad to look at during normal gameplay.  When those awkward limbs and emotionless faces start trying to look sexy it's really hard to watch.

Terrible cut scene aside, I keep finding ways in which this experience is and isn't like other kinds of storytelling.  I read romance novels, and I watch romantic movies, and I care very much about the romantic plots of TV shows, so I've seen this kind of story many, many, times.  When the story plays out in an RPG, there's the effect that playing has versus reading or watching.  There's also the effect of a much more drawn out time frame.  I can read a book or watch a movie in a few hours.  But the romance plots in these games are tied to the game plots, and new conversation options come up only after finishing certain quests or getting enough experience points, so I am forced to wait in a way that I usually don't have to.  There are over 60 hours of gameplay, and that's a conservative estimate, given the way I play.  That's a stack of books, and several seasons worth of TV time.  It's not just that the characters go through a lot together, in story, but I, as the player, spend a lot of time involved in the game and with the characters.

I actually went back and replayed a significant dungeon (well, overrun castle, actually) because when the quest was over, Alistair was mad at me. 

(And, because I am one of a million fangirls out there, I thought I'd link to a nicely put article on The Hairpin about Alistair fangirling.  I stopped reading when it got to mentioning spoilers I hadn't come across yet.  Luckily they were just referred to, and rather confusingly, so I got foreshadowing but not actual PLOT.)

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