At the base level, there are two types of video game romances: there are the “default” romances, in which a love interest is chosen for the player, and there are the games, such as ones created by Bethesda Softworks and Bioware, in which there are a variety of options that can be chosen with various genders. Over the years, developers have begun to add bisexual romance options and even same-sex romance options for players to choose. However, I can’t help but notice that in games where there are “default” romances, they have not really been all that diverse.
There is only one example I have found that classifies as a diverse romance, that is by “default”, and sadly it isn’t in the main content of a game; it is found in DLC. In The Last of Us “Left Behind”, the player discovers toward the end that Ellie has romantic feelings for her friend Riley. This is shown through a kiss the characters share towards the end of the DLC, and it is the single showing of a lesbian romance in a AAA video game.
The Indie title Gone Home (developed by The Fullbright company) showcases a lesbian relationship between the player’s sister, Samantha, and her best friend (turned girlfriend and lover) Lonnie. The relationship between Samantha and Lonnie ends on a hopeful note (unlike Riley and Ellie’s relationship which leads to Riley becoming infected with the same virus that has caused the post-apocalyptic nature of the game’s events) and is very well crafted and written. I have not seen a homosexual relationship (in this case meaning between two men) as a default romance in a video game thus far and I find that very disappointing.
The closest thing to a “default” romance between two men, that can be found in a AAA title, would be the romance between Iron Bull and Dorian in Dragon Age: Inquisition. The problem with considering this a “default” romance is that both characters are romance options, thereby eliminating the default nature of their relationship. Iron Bull and Dorian are only drawn together if the player does not romance either of them. Many readers are probably saying, “You are over-thinking this,” and I’m sure there are some that are saying, “What does it matter? You play it for the story, not the romance, right?” But truthfully, it does matter. There are kids growing up in the coming generation that play video games and are seeing relationships between a man and a woman that are designed as poignant, passionate romances. When I was young, I grew up with Aeris and Cloud, Yuna and Tidus, Mario and Peach – the list goes on and on. Now, as an adult, I have the OPTION to choose to romance a male character, but the younger generation isn’t able to see relationships that say, “If you are male and you love a man, that is normal! That is entirely okay!” just as I didn’t see those relationships.
When children and teens play video games today, all they are being shown is imagery enforcing the ideal that if you are male you should be with a woman, or if you are female, you should be with a man. The youth of today needs imagery and also video game romances that reinforce a belief in themselves, whatever their sexuality might be. As an adult, I want to see games that show a strong Nathan Drake type character falling in love with the nerdy guy that has never shot a gun and doesn’t know anything about treasure hunting. I want games where a Lara Croft type character falls in love with a fellow female archaeologist who has struggled in the same ways she has.
I want more games to show diverse video game romances that are well written and will show the changing world that loving yourself, and loving someone who is the same gender as you, is okay.
Not all countries will like it and not all countries will be okay with that imagery being shown in a video game, but it is a step that should be taken in the fight for equality because another hetero-normative romance that makes straight, homophobic people comfortable isn’t compelling or groundbreaking. Bioware broke ground by giving us the choice, but now I think it is time for someone to go one step further by showing a different perspective to the standard romance.