Fire Emblem: Awakening Screenshot.

A Love Letter to Our Video Game Love Lives

"Have YOU ever licked a lamppost in winter?"

You know that phenomenon that happens when you rewatch one of your favorite shows from childhood, and you see the character you had a crush on as a kid, and you have this moment where you’re like, Oh my god, I must be old. That kid is a BABY?

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Yeah, that happens in video games, too.

When I was in 6th grade, I played Dragon Age: Origins for the first time, and it was the first game of its ilk that I’d ever experienced. By that, I mean most of my “gaming experience” was relegated to animal-care sims—you know, horse games and Nintendogs and the occasional romp through The Sims. So, I really didn’t know what to expect from DAO—in particular, I had absolutely no idea that this Rated M for Mature game was going to incorporate some element of sex appeal.

Cut to me being the last Grey Warden standing, along with Alistair, who was waiting for me outside Flemeth’s hut, unsure if I’d made it out alive. And, reader, lemme tell ya, I remember that day like it was yesterday: Alistair’s concerned face, the golden lighting of the late afternoon, the soft dialogue, the bug that made it so that he stopped saying words and it looked like he was just making a kissy face at me.

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I immediately went downstairs and asked my mom, “Hey is it weird that I might have a crush on a fictional man?” And she absolutely said, “Yes,” but that didn’t stop me. How could it? My middle school “love life” was a hot mess, full of braces and uncomfortable scenarios. Meanwhile, Alistair Theirin was a man to me: a beautiful, grown man, with banter and nice hair and a puka shell necklace.

Fast forward to earlier this year, when I replayed the entire series, and I found myself looking at Alistair and thinking, “Hm … a baby.” Because yes, there is a significant difference between being 20 and being 24, and it’s enough that it starts to feel weird.

Weirder still was that feeling of having outgrown this fictional “lover” of mine, looking at him with the same fondness that I might reserve for an old dog that I’d grown up with, but still somehow retained his youth. And I could still do all the same things with this fictional person. We could still exchange gifts and talk about how pretty I was (I mean duh, obviously), but it didn’t have the same giddy effect it had on me when I was a teenager. Instead, I viewed it from a critical lens: Ah, yes, the writing is so good. I’m here for the plot now, boys. This whole song and dance is for the kids, not me.

But did this mean I was done with romance in games as a whole? No! God forbid! You should have seen the horrible, gremlin-y expression on my face when I was romancing Ifan in Divinity: Original Sin 2! It was terrible, and cringey, and exceptional.

Because that’s what it’s all about, right? It’s just good fun. Why feel embarrassed over things that bring us joy?

Leave your shame outside the game!

Yass queen, slay. (EA)

Many people debate whether or not romance plot lines detract from a video game, either because it takes away from the “strategy” elements (lol) or because it’s just cringey on a societal level. I’m not here to fight the former, because hey, we all play games for whatever reasons. I’m here to bring the latter to bat.

Is it a little weird when people commission body pillows of Lucina from Fire Emblem? Like, is that level of engagement with fictional relationships a little suspect? Sure, yeah, there’s likely something unhealthy going on there. But the core element of romance mechanics, I believe, isn’t to fill whatever may or may not be missing in your personal life. It’s just because romance, dating, and sex are fun parts of the human experience, and simulating them is fun, too!

Just like how romance novels fulfill a certain niche within the reader community, so too do romance mechanics add a level of engagement for gamers that feels fun and memorable. I agree that such mechanics shouldn’t be ham-fisted, because they really can take away from the story or player experience if they’re done poorly. (E.g. comphet BS, weird random sex scenes, etc.) But provided that they’re available to whomever, should they want it, and that they’re done well, fairly, and maturely, I think they only serve to enhance a game’s narrative, and then some.

I remember DAO for more reasons than the romance, but my experience wouldn’t be the same without my preteen infatuation with Alistair, and I think that’s kind of beautiful. It’s a sweet thing to look back on and return to, almost like engaging directly with a digital memory. And it’s especially funny to compare the fictional men and women I’ve been “involved” with to the people I’ve been with in real life, and realize, intentionally or not, that there’s some level of crossover.

All of this to say: If there’s romance in a game, and you find yourself inclined towards one of the romance options, baby, go for it. Don’t overthink it. Don’t make it complicated. Just have fun. Have babies with Chrom in Fire Emblem Awakening. Bag a skeleton in Divinity. Hell, have a kinky threesome in Hades. Go wild with your bad self. It’ll only make the game more enjoyable, memorable, and personal for you.

And for the love of god, tell us your fondest stories from your video game love life in the comments! With wild and reckless abandon, like the sex-god stallion you are.

(deatured image: Intelligent Systems)

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Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).