Let’s Talk About Sex!

The following is a guest post from Kate Cox:

Kate Cox had ideas about games, thought, “someone should write about this,” then realized in 2010, “I’m someone.”  She’s a straight white cis woman who’s been an avid gamer since 1986 and who currently lives around Washington, DC.  She writes about games, gaming, and gamer culture at your-critic.com.

I had an unexpected amount of video game time to fill, this past weekend.  After an hour of Bastion and an hour of Chrono Cross I cast about for something new, feeling at odds.  What I really wanted to play was Mass Effect 3, and that’s physically impossible for another six months.  I tried other games as a distraction but none of them actually satisfied my craving, no more than a bag full of carrot sticks actually satisfies a craving for a bag of chips.

Everyone on Twitter gave helpful, thoughtful suggestions for what I should try, and in the end I ignored every last one of them and got sucked into a marathon six-hour session of Fable III.

The female lead character of Fable III, a white, brown-haired, bosom-heavy princess.  She is wearing a blue blouse and black trousers, brandishing a sword.  Her older mentor (white, male, grey-haired, bearded) looks on.

This is my pretty pretty princess, kicking your ass. She had a piratey hat but NPCs made fun.

 

Fable III isn’t exactly challenging, as far as game play, story, or game design go.  And yet, it has challenged me in a most unexpected way.  I knew, offhandedly, before I started playing that this was considered a “mature RPG.”  And yet I was surprised (pleasantly so, but still taken aback for a moment) to find that among the character attributes for nearly every adult NPC in the game, there is a sexual preference qualifier.

The game was telling me, bluntly, in no euphemistic or uncertain terms, which of the characters I was interacting with were straight or gay — and, by extension, letting me know up front which men and women were considered to be in the dating pool for my character.

Knowing all of this, and knowing how the Fable franchise prides itself on a choices-and-consequences approach, I was still surprised further to discover that the bed in a player’s house can be interacted with — and on interacting, the options are “sleep” and “sex.”  Sleep has essentially an alarm clock option, and sex can be chosen in the protected or unprotected varieties.

I am in my thirties and have been playing video games since the middle of the 1980s, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen the existence of sex, as an event unto itself, so explicitly and practically addressed in my pixels.

To be sure, I have played my fair number of games that contain romantic interludes, or the plain ol’ bumpin’ of uglies.  Divine Divinity contains an unmarked quest for finding the main city’s brothel, and rewards a large amount of XP for employing services therein.  (The brothel in question has both male and female staff, and the player character can pick either, without comment and with equal experience awarded.)  Then of course there are the just-barely-offscreen quicktime event shenanigans in God of War (I, II, and III), in which Kratos turns his ragey gusto toward anyone with boobs for a time.

Fallout: New Vegas does not tread the BioWare-style path of party member romances, but sex workers (both voluntary and involuntary) feature fairly prominently in quests and on the Strip, and there are indeed some questionable fade-to-black moments the player character can select if so inclined.  And then of course, there are the BioWare games, with their array of party member romance options, based on conversation and consummated in a carefully choreographed fade to black.

 

A screenshot from Mass Effect 2 of a female Commander Shepard and Garrus talking, closely and intimately, against a blue-lit backdrop.  Garrus's dialogue is subtitled and reads, "I want something to go right. Just once. Just..."

I ship this so hard, but I'm actually grateful for the fade to black.

 

Indeed, the fade to black is what I’m used to seeing in games (with “suggestive offscreen noise” its crass and less-often seen cousin).  We all know how this goes: provided you’ve said the right things throughout Mass Effect 2, someone comes up to Shepard’s quarters during the last quiet moment on the Normandy, they exchange a few more words, there’s some suggestive motion, press “F” to continue, and it’s the next morning.  (Relatively speaking, since they’re in space…)  The romance option with Liara in the first game was much more explicit, but even so, probably less tawdry than many R-rated movies I’ve seen.

It’s actually just as well that ME2 fades to black; if, later, you choose to call your special someone back up to Shepard’s quarters, the “couch” and “bed” animations might actually be the most awkward, least natural, most static, least romantic, and least sexy interactions on Earth.  Even as PG rated cuddle sessions, they fail.

 

A screenshot from Mass Effect 2 of Garrus and a white female Commander Shepard lying in a romantic embrace on a bed.  He is flat on his back and she is on her side, awkwardly holding him.  Both are fully dressed.

It's not just a body-shape thing; male Shep with Tali is equally wretched but you can image search that one yourself. (Warning: don't image search that one.)

Still, the real surprise for me with sex in Fable III is not that it exists; sex is implied in plenty of games.  The surprise is that its existence is announced independently.  By adding “sex” to the bed options, and indicating NPC sexual orientation (and flirtatiousness levels) in info boxes, the game is putting out there the idea that sex is a thing your PC might do for any combination of fun, profit, and love, depending on any number of whims, emotions, and circumstances.

 

Almost like the real world, there.  How novel!

Now, I know I’m late to the discussion, and I haven’t played Fable or Fable II.  (I was interested in Fable II but there’s no PC port and likely never to be.)  I knew going in that a wide array of player choices existed in the game, but “vague understanding they exist” and “actually having a choice in front of you to make” are two different things.

For what it’s worth, my Princess hasn’t shacked up with anyone yet, mainly because she hasn’t met a soul worth her time.  Most of the NPCs she’s encountered and interacted with are neither attractive nor interesting, so “friend” is more than enough work there.  (Also I can’t actually find the way back to my house, which was free DLC content and doesn’t appear on the world map that I can find.  I may need to buy an apartment in town.)  I certainly have no moral objection to my character having (safe, consenting) sex.

Once again, though, I’ve been surprised by the baggage that I the player bring into this world with me.  Although its wardrobe cues are drawn from the 16th – 19th centuries, Fable III takes place in a version of the 1820s that never existed, where most fantasy RPGs take place in a version of the 13th or 14th centuries that never existed.  Its “Albion” is yet another false Britain, and so I find myself instinctively guarding against the roles reserved for women in the Georgian and Victorian eras.  In that environment, I feel that marriage is not actually an option for my female character.  In order to remain a successful, independent, respected agent, my gut says she needs to stay single.

These are totally assumptions I the player bring to the world, and really I only notice and question them because I take the time to write here.  I mean, as mentioned, I have no problem pairing off my Shepard.  Yes, I felt that not only did she have the burden of representing humanity to the galaxy, but also of representing women.  But when forced to examine it, I find that in a sci-fi, future-based environment, I feel that a woman can be partnered and yet also successful and respected.  Plus, the Commander was a renowned, accomplished hero in her own right before a partnership option entered her life.  She has a strong identity and can keep being herself, and the world in which she lives will support that.

Intellectually, I’m keenly aware that this Albion is not actually England in the dawn of the Industrial Age.  I know that it’s a game in which I can make any choice the mechanics allow, and still reach one metric of success as a player.  I’ll be able to complete the story regardless of the side-choices my Princess makes.  But in my gut, I still feel the pressure of a few centuries’ worth of feminist issues.

Realistically, I don’t actually think the mechanics of the game will enforce any kind of social penalties for marriage.  Based on what I’ve seen so far, the biggest impact on the overall story arc I can imagine is NPC gossip and chatter around me in towns.  But this unnamed Princess is right now forging her place in the world.  She’s trying, very hard, to become a leader and to earn the loyalty of an entire kingdom through hard work and hard fighting.  She’s aiming to place herself at the very head of a nation-wide rebellion to oust her lousy brother, who’s a terrible king.  That’s no small task!

And yet while I feel that a permanent partner (even with divorce easily available in-game) would hold this nameless lady back, I’m not at all averse to her having some sexual interludes for fun, if the right NPCs show up.  Somehow I don’t feel that the Princess openly having gentlemen or lady visitors will set off any actual consequences with her people (though they may gossip); we’ll consider this the “never existed” half of the culture.

Sex in games (and everywhere else) has a way of falling into a certain trap, though.  Alex Raymond wrote a really interesting piece a while back on how video games perpetuate the commodity model of sex:

To give an example: a guy I know once received a call from a couple of his friends, who asked if he wanted to go to a strip club. He said something like, “Why would I want to go to a shady bar and pay a random stranger to show me her boobs when I can have sex with my girlfriend?” And his oh-so-clever friends informed him that Hey! When you think about it, you are still just paying to see boobs! Except the payment is in dinners and dates and compliments, rather than dollar bills.

 

Ha. Ha. Get it? Because all women are prostitutes.  …

 

So what does this have to do with video games? Well, some video games allow the player character to have sex with NPCs; even more allow the player to have romantic relationships with NPCs. What the vast majority of these games inevitably do is present relationship mechanics that distill the commodity model down to its essence–you talk to the NPC enough, and give them enough presents, and then they have sex with/marry you.

 

This design approach is extremely simplistic and perpetuates the commodity model of sex–the player wants sex, they go through certain motions, and they are “rewarded” with what they wanted (like a vending machine). Furthermore, when sex is included in a game, it is generally framed as the end result–the reward–of romance, rather than one aspect of an ongoing relationship/partnership. For example, one gamer commented that the romance in Mass Effect seemed like the romantic interest was really saying, “‘Keep talking to me and eventually we’ll have sex’”. The relationship is not the goal; the goal is the tasteful PG-13 sex scene. The NPC’s thoughts and desires aren’t relevant; what matters is the tactics you use to get what you want. This is a boring mechanic in games and dangerously dehumanizing behavior in real life.

Fable III is most certainly and emphatically guilty of what Alex describes; the mechanic of all relationships in the game is purely an item-exchange, level-up sort of thing.  And yet it actually feels more like a free choice than in most other games I’ve seen.  Although mysteriously my assumptions about marriage in-game are framed by a historical understanding of the 19th century, my assumptions about sex remain grounded firmly in the 21st: any number of adults can do whatever they all willingly and openly consent to, and should do so as safely as possible.

In pretty much every other game I’ve ever played, sex for a player character exists in one of two contexts: (1) within a romance arc (not necessarily leading to marriage), or (2) as a literal commodity, traded for money or information.  The avatars I’ve controlled have encountered a number of sex workers in their times and likewise my player characters have on occasion used seduction as a tool to advance.  But sex as a choice, with a willing partner, just because we’re both there and it seems like fun?  Not so much.

This, then, is the paradox I find.  While sex in Fable III is to every pixel a tradeable, level-able commodity, it’s also a free and open choice, presented without judgement.  If there is a “doing it right” to be found, I’m certain this game isn’t it — but it’s also, in a strange way, closer.

With the recent release of Catherine, “how does game design approach actual sex and actual relationships?” is a question flying around criticism circles at the speed of the Internet.  In almost all cases, I think that answer is still, “badly,” with a chaser of “inadequately.”  Ultimately, all of our games still rely on sets of numerical mechanics and rules.  They’re a series of unbreakable “if, then” statements and our heroes (and villains) can’t decide to take a left turn to the established rules of reality the way a flesh-and-blood human can.

In this one small way, though, in this one tiny instance, my Princess can break the rules.  Maybe the next time I see “sex” as an in-game choice, it will be in a game where the NPCs are actually designed to be characters, rather than a half-dozen fixed sound bites and gestures.  Society’s head might explode.

*If you hear Salt-N-Pepa singing in your head, congratulations: you, too, are an old.  Now dance!

[Originally posted at Your Critic is in Another Castle]

38 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Sex!”

  1. I’ve played Fable 2 but not 3. 2 had a very similar approach to romance and sex, and I found it refreshing in much the same way that you did, and with much the same concerns.

    One thing that doesn’t sound like it happened to you — maybe they fixed it — in 2, if your reputation is high enough, town NPCs “fall in love” with you just looking at you. ALL the town NPCs (of compatible orientation). They then follow you around in crowds, saying things that _presuppose_ that you want to be engaged to them (except in the “evil” town – there they just proposition you for sex, which I didn’t mind so much), and once or twice they trapped me in a corner. It was profoundly creepy. I suspect it could be triggery to people who have been sexually harassed for reals.

    Relatedly, I really did not like the skinny = attractive equivalence in the game mechanics. Was that still in 3?

    1. Oh it’s tragically all still there, on the plus side you don’t usually get peeps swarming you in Fable 3 until after you’re monarch (as opposed to 1 & 2 where it was usually a little over a quarter of the way through), the skinny = attractive thing is still there too but the devs at least understood *one* of the problems with their approach to customizing your character and hid the stats for clothes and other appearance related things (though they somehow didn’t get that the real problem was that if you wore the wrong hat people would be scared of you which is just…hard for me to understand how they missed that).

      On the plus side, the artists at Lionhead did an amazing job on the game, seriously they did almost a good enough job for me to overlook most of the infuriatingly poorly implemented and obviously unfinished bits.

  2. I don’t know if I agree about the mechanics of relationships and sex in games. It’s mostly because I don’t see an alternative. Any social interaction in games is going to rest on game logic. It’s primitive today, but even with some sophisticated AI it’s still basically the same. In fact, everything you do in games works that way, but some mechanics are better camouflaged than others. A story isn’t diminished because I can break it down into a sequence of choices, and neither is a virtual relationship. That is, if they’re done well.

    You can also break down real relationships with actual people to a series of choices and events if you want, and call the resulting relationship or sex a reward. You meet someone you find attractive and you act in a way that you think will bring you closer to a desired relationship that will satisfy you. It’s not magic or unexplainable. This reductionist view seems like quite a bleak way of looking at relationships, if you have nothing else. I’d say the same goes for fictional relationships in games. Yes, you can break them down into a series of button presses and the sex scene reward, but for me at least the story told inbetween is usually worth more than the payoff. Again, if it’s done well.

    But maybe I’m missing something here. What’s the alternative? How can you bring aspects of real life relationships into games and make them less like leftrightdowndownbuttonSEX? Bringing in the frustrations and randomness of real life into games seems like a bad idea in general.

    1. Re: alternatives–I wrote quite a long post back in Feb 2010 about how game romances can be improved (where “improved” includes either subverting or avoiding the commodity model of sex): http://borderhouseblog.com/?p=1507

      But I think Dragon Age 2 (which came out a little over a year after I wrote that post, which is why it’s not discussed there) is a game that completely avoids commodifying sex. Sex isn’t the endpoint of the relationship, it’s the mid-point, and there’s actual further development after that point. You can’t use gifts to buy someone’s affections–how a character feels about you already will actually affect how a gift (and they are character-specific, and there are only two of them per character) will be received. The characters all have different attitudes toward sex, and none of them are presented as better or worse than the others.

      Basically, the romance storylines are actual stories that the player can take part in. They’re less game-y, so there’s less point counting and commodification. The only problem is the build-up to the relationship is a bit less natural in DA2 than DA:O, but DA2 also takes place over a longer period of time in a shorter game, so things have to be a bit compressed. But otherwise, I was pretty ridiculously impressed with the romance “mechanics” in DA2. (The sex scenes are still super cheesy, though, haha.)

  3. I got all excited when I saw she had been playing Chrono Cross, hoping for some love for that underrated PS2 game, and instead it’s an article about something else. Oh well.

    1. Chrono Cross is really, really slow going for me, but I’ll get there and I promise to have loads to say. Just probably not before New Year’s. ;)

    2. Chrono Cross is kind of weird… it was praised to high heavens by reviewers when it came out (GameSpot gave it a perfect 10 score), but it’s probably switched to underrated by now.

      Oh, and I think you mean PS1, not PS2.

  4. I haven’t played Fable 3 yet, but in 1 and 2 the sexual/romantic relationships—which seem to function similarly—have the potential to exceed a strictly commodity model of sex, by virtue of extending the relationship past the fade to black sex scene. Through the course of a marriage the interactions don’t change, and in fact there’s a literal commodity aspect insofar as spouses will give you gifts if you keep them happy. But there’s less and less of a meaningful reward for going through the motions: the sex non-scenes don’t become more explicit, and the gifts become increasingly useless as your personal fortunes increase. Ultimately, the only real reason to remain in a relationship is because the player wants to do so.

    Given the moral choice at the end of Fable 2 which directly concerns the welfare of your spouse(s), the game appears to be aware that emotional attachment has the potential to become an important aspect of those relationships. The NPCs don’t offer much in the way of personality, to be fair, and actual in-game interactions with them never exceed do this/give that to receive relationship and sex, but for the sort of player that fleshes out those bare bones with projected or imagined emotion and character/interaction depth, it comes to satisfy what Alex mentions above with DA2: it’s about a continued relationship, not strictly a commodity model.

    I’m unashamedly one of those players, and tend to grow unreasonably attached to in-game lovers no matter how rudimentary their personalities or our relationships (ask me about my unending love for Popori of the original Harvest Moon SNES game!), but still. I agree that the commodity model is troubled, and that even the relative complexities offered by the Fable series are woefully underdeveloped, but there’s a lot to be said for a simple sustained relationship. I wish games did more to beef up that sustain, instead of just allowing player imagination to provide it. But I appreciate it as a start.

    1. Fable 2 is one of the worst offenders when it comes to the commodity model. You shower gifts and attention on your chosen target until they love you, and then you give them a ring, and then you’re married, and you basically own them–they go where you tell them, they live where you tell them, you are the “provider”. The NPCs have extremely little personality–they have some basic preferences in what they like, but they are completely interchangeable, your choice being based mostly upon which class’s look you like the best (and here I mean economic class, not class as in mage, rogue, warrior).

      The game is also deeply cynical about marriage. It turns sex into a chore that you have to do to keep your spouse around so they’ll keep giving you gifts. It’s true that sex isn’t the end goal of the relationship, but that’s about the only thing that deviates from the commodity model.

  5. I saw some progression in how The Sims franchise handles relationships and sex, particularly between The Sims 2 and The Sims 3. In TS2, relationships are very much of the, “Keep talking to me and eventually we’ll have sex” variety. You use friendly interactions to increase your chances of having a successful romantic interaction, and then use romantic interactions until the engagement, marriage, and “woohoo” options are available.

    However, In TS3 you can skip the friendly interactions and go right to flirting, and sims don’t need to know each other very well in order to “woohoo.” Unfortunately, without using friendly interactions before becoming romantic interests, the sims in question never technically become friends. TS2 at least had a little “friend” indicator, regardless of romance level. Also, some sims just aren’t compatible with one another (something I notice more in TS3), which adds another touch of realism to sims’ relationships.

    I think The Sims is a pretty unique case, though; it’s meant to simulate real life, so the relationships are more involved than just trying to get that steamy scene, unless that’s how the player wants to play the game. There are just more aspects to all types of relationships, and the only real reward (with regards to TS2 and TS3) is that fulfilling wants or wishes for a sim earns points for them, which could be interpreted as them simply being happy that they’ve done something they wanted to do. Of course, you can spend the points on special objects for your sims, but since practically anything, from fixing the toilet to getting a promotion at work, can earn points, these rewards aren’t romance-specific.

    Some play styles for The Sims definitely follow the commodity model, but I feel that because there are so many ways to play and interpret the game, it’s up to the player to decide how to navigate relationships, if they want to in the first place.

    1. “Unfortunately, without using friendly interactions before becoming romantic interests, the sims in question never technically become friends.”

      I forgot to add that this is fine for players who don’t want their sims to be friends with their romantic interests. Even though it’s only a technical label, I just find it odd that one can have a long-term, happily married couple that never achieved “friends” status if they went straight to being romantic interests instead of becoming friends first (that’s mostly just me being nit-picky, though). I’ve also found it impossible to fulfill wishes like, “become good friends with [name]” if they were already a romantic interest (unless I stopped the romance, then made them be friends, then started the romance up again, which is kind of complicated).

  6. I think the DA games, (especially DA:O) handled sex pretty well, in that its not the “goal.” Yes, you still had to be charming to your chosen companion, and yes, you had to shower them with gifts, but sex was something that happened throughout the relationship, (frequently, if you chose to,) and there wasn’t any sort of an epitome… like in ME2. I mean, you really did end up feeling like, ‘eurgh, will you fuck me already -.-’ each time you spoke to them after you completed a mission and they would just talk talk talk – it made the build up even more emphasised.

  7. Great article! If the NPC is of the right sex/orientation, is everyone “on the market” in F3? Is it possible to have a character who is the proper sex & orientation who the protagonist can flirt with, but who will never partner with the protagonist, no matter how much effort is put into it? Having a character who is available to flirt with, but will always say “no” would be a positive addition, I think.

    In a tragic example of life imitating art, I’ve experienced the annoyance of men who seem to expect something from me in return just for paying me a compliment. For instance: a guy says something positive about my appearance, I give an obligatory “thanks” and turn away to resume ignoring him because I’m not interested. He then keeps pestering me, sometimes with a “Didn’t you hear me? I SAID [repeats compliment].” It makes me wonder if movies or video games have trained this guy into thinking that I “owe” him some kind of positive response, or that enough positive prompts on his part will trigger an inevitable positive response on my part. Ick.

  8. Actually I find sex in Fable 3 something of the worst or best presentation of sex in video games. Why? Because as all interactions it is almost completely derived from reality and contexts it provides. Sex is another mini game in game, same as playing with your dog, bleaching or shaking hands with strangers or playing violin. It’s just another game mechanic, only players can give meaning to “Press key” and something will happen.
    PS. I don’t like Fable 3; it’s well crafted game without substance.

  9. Personally I’m happy with the way things are, the less agency machines or A.Is have the longer we can stave off the Matrix.

    In all seriousness: Sex will always be coded as a reward in video games unless of course it just happens to your played character without your playing consent (i.e. if the character you are playing as does it regardless of whether you want to be with so and so within the game) and I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing especially if it’s simply there to drive along a specific narrative.

    I kind of get reminded of when Sims would hit on my Sim and my Sim without proper supervision would end up going along with it. LOL.

    I must say I disagree with Alex Raymond’s interpretation of the ‘friends’ message. To read it as saying “all women are prostitutes” has got to be one of the largest leaps between speaking and listening I’ve seen for a while. From what I read: the conversation wasn’t about ‘all women’. To say it was seems disingenuous.

    1. It’s not a logical leap at all. The joke is that the only way to have sex with a woman is to pay for it, where payment is either cash, in the case of a sex worker, or with gifts/attention/time/compliments, in the case of a girlfriend. It’s positioning heterosexual sex as a transaction where men are buying and women are selling, ignoring the reality which is that in a relationship, women generally sleep with their partners because they want to and enjoy it, not because they are being “paid” with dinners or whatever. It’s a complete erasure of sexual desire in straight women. It also supports the attitude that if a man pays for dinner or buys a woman a gift or something, she owes him sex.

      If you don’t believe either of these attitudes are distressingly common, please google around a bit. They are.

      1. Well… I don’t know… The joke doesn’t seem like it’s saying that the ONLY way to have sex with a woman is to pay for it. The joke is that the guy in question (the one whom brought up having sex with his girlfriend) pays using dates and dinners to have sex with HIS girlfriend. That seems like more of a critique on HIS girlfriend and HIM as well as THEIR relationship than it does a critique on all heterosexual relationships.

        It could be turned into one but that’s not what the actual words do.

        Ergo I think it was a leap in logic by Raymond. Raymond seems to want to turn a specific critique of a specific relationships mechanics into a wideband topic and that is plain-ass irritating. The initiator was the “boyfriend” whom equated paying a stripper to see boobs as the same as having sex with one’s own girlfriend. It’s not… trust me. However he seemed convinced that they are meaning his friends had a justified retort.

        The wider topic around it and the assumption that women generally sell sex to whoever can afford to pay for it is reductionist. I should know. However there are always exceptions and given all I’ve heard of economic patriarchy… well there are women whom do sell sex in exchange for what they deem are worthy commodities. Time, gifts, consumables and even sex; Likewise males have been selling sex also… some would argue mostly for sex… lol @ that business acumen. However heirs to thrones, suitable spouses, power or commodities as well as time, gifts and consumables…

        The more I read over that joke the more I am convinced that the friends were really only retorting based on the ‘boyfriends’ diminutive expression of his own relationship.

        1. If you haven’t figured it out, I’m the same Alex who wrote the post you’re talking about. I was there for the exchange, and I know the people involved. The boyfriend wasn’t the one doing the equating, it was the guys making the joke. The boyfriend was saying it was far better to be with his girlfriend than go to a strip club, and his friends were the ones joking that it was the same thing. It was a joke about the nature of heterosexual relationships, in general.

          You should really read about the commodity model of sex before commenting further.

  10. Of all games I’ve played I think that only Planescape: Torment did romances right. [Warning: here be spoilers]

    In order to develop relationships with either Annah or Fall-From-Grace, you have to choose the right conversation options. And by right I don’t mean always agreeing with or comforting them, like in Bioware games. Annah and Fall-From-Grace have very different personalties and you have to choose completely different answers while talking to them to make them trust and respect you (well, the same applies to other characters when you want to develop friendship with Dakkon from example, but let’s concentrate on romances), and there are no gifts.

    You can make some choices in the game that can irrevocably prevent you from developing a relationship with them any further (such as hiring a prostitute for when you have Grace in your party). Furthermore, you cannot after some point pursue relationship with both of them, in contrast to Bioware games.

    Sex with either of them wasn’t a finale of the relationship. Well,there are no real sex scenes with them in Torment, but there is a certain moment including biting with Annah and you can try to kiss Fall-From-Grace. Both these scenes happen in the middle of a developing relationship,
    not at its end.

    Of note is the ending of the game where Fall-From-Grace promises to find The Nameless One and to save him no matter what. Such pro-activity, even if it only hints at what happens after the events portrayed in the game, on part of female companions is quite rare in video games.

    The only problem with the game is Annah’s outfit which is a bit too revealing. But on the other hand it can be said that it suits her personality.

    1. You sure you’re not confusing Annah and Fall-from-Grace about the kissing part? Torment is ‘famous’ for that one, nothing more than a kiss because if they go further, the girl would literally burst into flames. As a Tiefling, Annah has a condition that makes her blood very hot, and it comes to boiling point whenever she’s feeling strong emotions. Actually accounts for why she doesn’t care about the weather-protection part of her outfit as she is simply immune to cold, not to mention than the most skin exposed, the more comfortable she is because of the hot blood thing. Heck, that outfits is lampshaded many times in the game : The Nameless One thinks she’s doing it on purpose to distract the targets whom pockets she’s trying to pick, and a tailor just finds it outrageous and completely impractical.

      Another point : aren’t the gifts and ‘good answers equal sex’ popularity among RPG developers blown out of proportion? The first part was really only used ‘seriously’ in Dragon Age, and the second part is always used in the greater scheme of the reputation system, which is more about acting in a way that they morally approve. Problems arise when the player is free to engage the characters in conversation at any point, as it allows to balance out a bad reputation ‘on the field’ by being all nice during the ‘personal’ conversation. Alpha Protocol dodged that part by having all interactions being ‘set’, with no way to really ‘play’ the system like that. No way to be a blood-thirty mercenary and romance Mina, as the Grand Hotel and CIA Listening Post missions would be enough to destroy any chance of having her like you. Same for the others, I think.

      1. “You sure you’re not confusing Annah and Fall-from-Grace about the kissing part?”

        There are two different scenes. In one TNO can try to kiss Grace which leads to his death. That scene is only available when your TNO is not smart enough to realize danger of doing this (i.e. he has low wisdom). Another one occurs in a conversation with Annah. It involves an exchange of naughty words, her biting TNO’s neck (he can bite her back), and slapping her tail against his leg. I don’t really remember if there is any kissing.

        About that hot blood thing. I don’t really remember any part where it is said that it can actually be harmful to her. Then again it’s been two years since I played Torment.

        The problem with “good answers equal sex’ is that in most rpgs those good answers boil down only to being sympathetic with the characters and helping them solve their problems. Nothing else is required in order to develop a romantic relationship.

        1. [Spoiler]

          I remember the bitting with Annah, although if I remember it right, it wasn’t really romance, she was just playing with The Nameless One (after he complimented her I think), and she didn’t like it when he bit back.

          The kiss I refer too is after you meet Ravel, you can confront her on some of the things she and Ravel said, and they can end up kissing. After a moment, The Nameless One has the knee-jerk reaction of letting her go because she’s starting to get burning hot. Annah gains some resistance to fire and she refuses any further contact of that sort with the protagonist because she’s afraid of her body’s reaction.

          On the “good answer equals sex”, I think I can see the problem, but how could it be resolved? Take away personal quests and possibilities to ask for your companions’ past and story? Reduce meaningful interactions to subjects decided by the player, after witnessing something in game? Go the Chris Avellone/Josh Sawyer (and probably Obsidian as a whole) route and just get rid of romances completely?

          1. I think I can see the problem, but how could it be resolved?

            Dragon Age 2 did pretty well with this, like I mentioned above. The diplomatic option isn’t always the one that will increase friendship. The characters sometimes take those options as patronizing or insulting (often you can tell they will sound patronizing just from the short text on the dialogue wheel). Some don’t like it when you joke about serious things; Isabela hates goody-two-shoes characters who are too serious and helpful. Sometimes the aggressive options have you getting angry on the character’s behalf, which they appreciate. This is why the dialogue options are described as “diplomatic” and “aggressive”, not “nice” and “mean.”

            Add that to the fact that friendship and rivalry are both ways of building a relationship (even a romantic one) with the characters, and it becomes a lot more complicated than “be nice, get laid.”

            In DA:O, on the other hand, Morrigan was the only character who doesn’t approve of sympathy at first, but she eventually comes around.

            So the answer to your question, in short, is more creative dialogue options and more varied reactions to them on the part of the characters.

            1. I suppose you’re right, but for me this is still pandering to the character’s preference in order to improve your standing with them. In Alpha Protocol, for example, I don’t see too much of a difference between playing a nice, caring character when around Madison and an aggressive, violent, commanding jerk when talking to SIE (well, except the end result if they hate you). Although I think I’m talking based on words you used two years ago (the right answer leads to right effect thing) rather than the core of your argument, and I actually agree with you.

            2. I see what you’re saying. Ultimately I think the player has to have some responsibility to role play. If the player has any options at all, there are going to be folks who try to game the system, and I don’t think there’s anything you can do about that. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. But if a player doesn’t want to game the system, then they shouldn’t do it. Does that make sense? XD

              (Like, for example, I read a post where someone who played Heavy Rain complained you could sleep with Madison even though it made no sense for the character. If it didn’t make sense, why did they do it? And just because it didn’t make sense to them, doesn’t mean another person hadn’t played the game and thought it made total sense with the way they’d played the character. IMO this is essentially cooperative storytelling between the developers and the player, and the player has to do their part in order for things to work.)

            3. @Alex

              “I see what you’re saying. Ultimately I think the player has to have some responsibility to role play. If the player has any options at all, there are going to be folks who try to game the system, and I don’t think there’s anything you can do about that. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. But if a player doesn’t want to game the system, then they shouldn’t do it. Does that make sense? XD”

              I disagree, it’s just modern computer RPG decided to give players everything, abandoning its heritage of tabletop rpgs. That’s also the reasons why romances are such bland experience, it’s not player responsibility, it should be game’s responsibility to teach and sometimes “force” properly role play character as it is role of GM to do so.

            4. I completely disagree. A GM is a human being who has a much more sophisticated understanding of language and human nature, and a person whose mind can be changed by the player if they initially think an action is out of character. A video game is a computer program that can only understand what the programmers let it. There is absolutely no way for a game developer to be able to account for every single roleplaying possibility.

              Given the choice between being always in character but having options cut off from me, or having the responsibility to stay in character on me but being able to have a more nuanced characterization that the programmers didn’t necessarily account for, I strongly prefer the latter.

              More options are always better. I don’t need a game’s developers deciding what my character is like for me.

            5. I don’t really understand this concept of how faults in games design that i.e. allows obvious exploits can be called “more options.”

            6. Well, how would you solve the example I used, where the player slept with Madison in Heavy Rain even though he didn’t think it fit with his character?

            7. The solution is obvious but of course not simple: by designing better game that either makes sense to player to sleep with Madison or restricting such action if it doesn’t fit character.

            8. designing better game that either makes sense to player to sleep with Madison

              Some people DID think it fit with the character the way they played, so the devs accomplished this.

              restricting such action if it doesn’t fit character.

              And how would a computer be able to tell if an action fit with a character or not? How would the designers program a game so that all possible character motivations and developments are taken into account?

              My point is, if you tried to restrict actions based on a character’s prior actions, based on some kind of characterization template, there is always going to be at least one case where a player is locked out of perfectly logical character actions because it is impossible for the developers to think of every possible reaction on the part of the players. I don’t think that possibility is ever justified. It’s easier AND better to NOT restrict actions, giving the player as many choices as possible, and let the player and not the program decide what the character would do. That’s what roleplaying is about. And if the player doesn’t care enough about roleplaying to try and stay in character, then it doesn’t matter.

            9. „then it doesn’t master”

              Well it does master, because that’s why i.e. bioware’s romances are so bland, because they are available, don’t require investments or role playing. Games relay on mechanic, yes, but modern RPG games while of course cannot compare to human GM, are capable to do far more then you credit them and accept. Certainly imo favoring role-playing isn’t options limiting, not to mention that for example combat mechanic is pretty restricted unlike romances where player is two clicks from sex no matter if skipping all dialogues.

            10. My point when I said “it doesn’t matter” is that if the player doesn’t care about roleplaying, then they don’t care about being in character, so there’s no point in trying to force them. If they do care about roleplaying, then they are going to try and be in character, and you don’t need to force them. So it not only would be extremely difficult to impossible to force someone into some kind of hypothetical characterization algorithm, it’s completely pointless.

          2. “On the “good answer equals sex”, I think I can see the problem, but how could it be resolved.”

            Well, I like how it is done with Fall-From-Grace. You need fairly hight charisma and wisdom to even make her join the party so your TNO has to meet her own requirements and preferences in order to be seen as someone interesting. This means that the player in some playthroughs can’t even start a relationship with her. It would be pretty cool if rpgs expanded on this idea by for example introducing a companion who is only interested in mages, so the player who is playing as a warrior or another class is simply out of luck (or an NPC who is interested only in dwarves or people with high enough intelligence or strength, or a wealthy estate in the rich part of the city, or one who is lawful good). In short: introduce preferences on part of potential love interests.

            Another improvement would be romance interests’ preferring only characters who behave in a certain way. One NPC would prefer a player character who is adventurous and spontaneous while other a cautious and prudent one.

            1. This.
              There are ways to improve romances, while mechanic in Torment is pretty simple at least it shows a way. To make meaningful romances in RPG games, there is a need to make mechanic that favour role-playing and crystalize personality of PC.

  11. I thought Fable 3 handled romance, affection and sex slightly better than Fable 2 (where the first thing that happened after returning from ten years of harrowing torture was to have my spouse divorce me :( ). I find that my spouse is quite accommodating and tends to have welcome home gifts for me whenever I come to town, but isn’t let down when I’m only passing through and don’t take her upstairs.

    I dunno. They seem more stable? Fable 2 had very flighty NPCs. So far, the only mass likeability bump I’ve had came from becoming Queen, moving most people from “neutral” to “friends.” I actually felt I earned that one (low taxes and whatnot).

    Anyway.

    Fable’s always been stunted in its interactions with NPCs, and romances are sadly not held to a higher standard than that. Mechanis aside, it is thrilling to be able to do what you wish, get pregnant, adopt, whatever you wish. But it isn’t a relationship sim and romance is boiled down to an abstract “do a few favors and your’e in” kind of model. Which you can either take at face value for its simplicity, or as some kind of statement regarding social architecture, intentional or no. But then, men and women both are equally swayed by such things in this game, so I think it’s kind of okay.

    Closing statements: Hammer in Fable 2 is among my favorite NPCs in a game, and Chrono Cross is awesome, that is all.

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