We stayed together, eventually marrying in 2009, and as the years went by, I began to learn more and more what true romance is. The big moments were fun, but the real foundation was simply the act of maintaining our relationship. Having arguments and coming to their resolutions. Accepting each other's flaws and working on our own. Real love isn't grounded in grand gestures but rather small moments and shared history. It's the nicknames and jokes only we understand. It's holding hands in the car and kissing each other goodbye as much out of habit as out of passion. It's the boring moments that happen after the credits roll.
As my perception of love changed, the way I viewed many of the videogames that I'd once revered changed, too.
As my perception of love changed, the way I viewed many of the videogames that I'd once revered changed, too. Final Fantasy VIII, once a totem of romance in my eyes, seemed shallow and flawed. All the complaints that I'd read from people over the years started making a lot more sense. I began to appreciate games that portray love in a way that I could empathize with.
One wouldn't think giving the player the ability to cuddle on a couch would be all that affecting, but it was easily one of the finest moments of The Darkness. Though the game suffered from some imperfect mechanics, it hit the bullseye in terms of its emotional resonance with its portrayal of a love with a rich history. More importantly, it put across perhaps the truest vision of a "love worth fighting for" that any game has ever achieved. The game's protagonist isn't seeking love. He's not fighting the baddies for some promised vision of a perfect romance. He already has the woman of his dreams. We're shown in concrete ways how he cares about her and when I played through the section where she's taken away I shared in his agony.
Other recent games have touched on this as well, the brightest being Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. The previous games in the series fell very much in line with the old "get the girl" format that I'd grown up with. At the end of the first game the villain kidnaps Nathan Drake's love interest, Elena. You beat the baddie and get the girl. The second game plays out almost the same way, with the game ending as Elena and Drake head off for an assumed happy ending.
Except, they don't get one.
In Uncharted 3 we find out that Nathan and Elena are married, but estranged. Elena, no longer willing to deal with Nathan's reckless obsession with treasure hunting, leaves him. They're reunited of course, but their interactions have more weight to them. It's clear that they care for each other, but they have a history now. They have a past together and not all of it's good. The most touching moment in the game comes when Nathan, assumed dead by Elena, wanders back into her apartment. Exhausted, beaten, and having cheated death perhaps one too many times, he all but collapses into her and she holds him, a look of tired affection on her face. You can almost hear her thinking to herself "Why do I keep letting him do this to me?" but at the same time "What would I do without him?"
I wish I could see more of that in videogames. Not just the grandiose acts of passion, but the quiet moments of subtlety that color a relationship. I'd like to see more games that treat characters and relationships as complex, nuanced and imperfect. I'd like to see games that can help to give the impressionable the right impression.