Winter brings romantic holidays and parties with mistletoe and Dean Martin singing “Baby’ It’s Cold Outside.” When the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve, we pucker up. And then a month later, we send sappy confessions of love and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Love is a beautiful thing, but I despise all this commercialization. Mistletoe is an overrated garnish. And I can’t justify spending four bucks on a Hallmark greeting (no matter who the recipient is) that reads “I think I might be a squirrel because I like you and you’re a big nut.” But I have to face it; love is everywhere, including in video games.
Video games translate the language of love in various ways. For example, dating sims, popular especially in Japan, typically involve a male avatar considering a slew of single ladies and choosing one to date in the hopes of achieving a committed, romantic relationship. Dating tips from these games include:
1. Time limit: Your avatar has anywhere from one month to a few years to win a lady over. Plan accordingly.
2. Cute factor: Find out if your avatar hits the gym on a regular basis. If not, take a hint from MTV’s Jersey Shore, “gym, tanning, laundry.”
3. Charm factor: Notice whether your avatar typically uses one-liners, and make sure he remains fresh and clean.
Popular dating sim titles include Ciao Bella, SimGirls, Summer Session, and the Harvest Moon Series. In the Harvest Moon Series, your avatar dates, learns the prospect’s likes and dislikes, showers her with gifts, and eventually proposes. If the love interest does not reciprocate your avatar’s feelings, he has a chance to try again with a new fling. Dating games offer players more replay value.
A big part of dating is the chase, and PassionFruit Games offers just that in their Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box. The game sets your avatar, Dela Reese, in the midst of Marjorie M. Liu’s novel Tiger Eye. Dela purchases a riddle box in a Beijing market only to discover a warrior stripped of all his powers is trapped inside. As a single woman, Dela undertakes the mission to save the warrior and win over his heart. I like the idea of a strong female character, but the story also includes a warrior with Fabio-like hair and bod, a heroine with psi powers, and lots of happily-ever-after scenes. But the riddles and puzzles have proven popular. In 2009, the title won Yahoo’s “Game of the Year” for the hidden object-style games. However, I remain too troubled by the plot to enjoy the game.
Dating is not all fun and games in video games. In Dinner Date, Finnish independent game designer Jeroen D. Stout ventures to the darker side of dating—the no show. You embody the character of Julian while he waits for the beautiful girl he invited to come over for dinner. Julian’s mundane gestures—tapping on the table, glancing at the clock, eating a piece of bread—send his mind racing. What begins as a feeling of rejection from the no show date transpires into a series of thoughts of work, his boss, his fascination with Byron, and his friendship with Jerry, who pushed him to take the date. And as you occupy Julian’s brain, you get a better sense of his character flaws. In an interview with Paul Wong from NPR’s All Tech Considered, Stout explained that he wanted players to explore feelings that they don’t tend to reveal to their friends. But don’t expect this to resolve your own personal dating dilemmas, as the game is just twenty-five minutes long.
Despite all these opportunities for video game romance, I’m just not that into it. However, many people, especially in Japan, find the genre intriguing. For now, I’m content to show my significant other love through simple, everyday gestures, like shoveling the driveway before he leaves for work or watching a Star Wars movie with him, despite my disinterest in either activity.