Video game romances are hardly a new thing: they go back as far as Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man. However, those romances have become much more complicated, as well as more believable, thanks to RPGs that incorporate romances into their storylines.
However, no video game developer does romance like BioWare, who took something that seemed basic in other video games and created romantic entanglements as good as anything seen in the movies and on TV, except more interactive.
As BioWare's titles grow and expand, so, too, do the character romances in their games. From the basic, "I like you, here's a gift" that the company started with to the much more complex relationships such as those seen in the Dragon Age franchise, BioWare romances are a big part of the appeal of playing its titles.
The Beginning Of The Age Of The Video Game Romance
BioWare first introduced its idea of video game romance in Baldur's Gate 2, which used a specific set of guidelines that brought a couple together. Although these guidelines have advanced since then, this still serves as the basic groundwork that the company uses when bringing characters together in the name of love.
First, players establish a friendship with the character they want to romance. Eventually, the player will get an option to extend that relationship into something else, either by offering a gift or a new line of dialogue. That lets the game know the player's intent. Soon, new avenues of actions and dialogues begin to pop up, allowing the player to choose among them to continue the wooing of the character. Eventually, making the right choices will bring the player and the intended romantic partner together.
It seems so simple, but it involves something most other video games don't bother with: time and effort. In a BioWare game, players can't just say, "Hey, I like you, let's go steady," to make a romance happen. Instead, a player must use certain actions and dialogue over a course of time to let a character know they're worthy of love.
Even in BioWare's most recent title, Dragon Age: Inquisition, romance follows these basic guidelines.
BioWare Romances Are Meaningful
However, a romance isn't just a meaningless side quest, at least in a BioWare title. Instead, romance can make or break a character, as well as help a character choose a side in whatever battles and wars come up. Those romances also mean that the player must often make hard choices.
For example, players who romanced Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins realized something quickly. If Alistair participates in the last quest - to slay the dragon - he will sacrifice himself to save the player's life.
Of course, most players with foreknowledge of that just didn't put Alistair in that final party. And that meant that the player dies in his place.
In Mass Effect, romantic entanglements also often create conflict. If Shepard romances Kaiden, he gets very upset in the second game with Shepard due to the choices that character made that go against Kaiden's political beliefs. The two can eventually work out their differences, at least by the third game, but nothing is ever the same between them.
In the second Dragon Age, if a player romances Anders, they find themselves caught up in his scheme to blow up the Chantry, possibly going against the player's own beliefs about not killing innocent people, even if the reasoning for such an attack seems sound.
Relationships Between Different Races, Species And Genders
Mass Effect was one of the first video game titles to allow cross-species relationships. Regardless of where they came from, or what their species was, or what planet they were born on, players of the main character in Mass Effect could romance pretty much anyone on the ship. That included the Turian, Garrus Vakarian, who became one of the most popular companions for female Shepards all over the world. Mass Effect also explored a relationship between a human and an artificial intelligence: Joker and EDI.
However, BioWare also often offers same-sex relationships, although the company is choosy about how that option made certain characters romantic partners. In Mass Effect 3, the game also featured two openly gay characters, Samantha Traynor and Steve Cortez.
"My approach was to have the majority of the relationship be about building a friendship," said Mass Effect 3 writer Dusty Everman on BioWare's blog. "Everyone, straight and gay alike, can get to know the character, and romantic feelings only surface towards the end of the arc."
In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the developer introduced Dorian Pavus, a gay mage from the Tevinter Imperium. He is only a romance option for players who create male main characters.
Romantic Relationships Affect The Game's Story
Anyone who played Dragon Age: Inquisition, including the "Trespasser" DLC, will finally know Solas' true story. For players who romanced Solas in the game, that revelation probably hit home even harder because it affects, well, pretty much everything. Trying to keep spoiler-free, let's just say that Solas isn't who or what you think he is: he's so much more. And that slowly becomes evident to players who romance him within the game. It also becomes that much more heartbreaking when players realize they cannot go where he's going.
"The best example is from BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic," says gamer and BioWare fan Scott Loftis. "Vette is a character of the Sith warrior light side that starts off as your slave: you can free her or keep her as your slave. Over the period of leveling, you get new unlocks to learn about who she is and her past. You feel for the loss of her sister and mother from a young age. You learn of her passion to save precious items from her culture. Then you go save her sister from slavery. Later on you mourn with her as she finds out that her mother died before she could find her."
These romances don't just act as distractions from the story's main plot line: they weave themselves into the main plot line and shape who and what the main character becomes by the end of the game.