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The Problem with BioWare's Relationships

Trent Seely

Ah, love. There's nothing quite as sweet is there? It is the willingness to transcend a more traditional relationship dynamic and offer yourself entirely to a person who can either cherish or break you. It is friendship set to music. It is the missing coup de grace. That is, unless that love is taking place during a BioWare RPG.

Before the torches and pitchforks hit the skies and angry mobs of diehard fans chant my name in unison, I'll say that I do very much appreciate the first steps BioWare took in accurately reflecting the transition from friendship to romantic interest. Not only did you, the player, have some agency in who you chose to spend time with, but BioWare went so far as to reflect the romantic interests of numerous players by including male and female protagonists as well as heterosexual and homosexual romance options. The intent was very earnest from the start, and believe me when I say that I feel as though it was necessary. My only complaint, and it is a major one, is that the buck always stopped at sex. There wasn't much else.

The general progression of any romantic relationship in a BioWare title follows as such: (1) you approach a party member or they approach you, (2) you badger them or they bother you enough about their past until you can safely assume that they have no more secrets, (3) gifts are exchanged or favors are asked of your character, and (4) the eventual sex scene. It could be argued that dating and romance in real life can follow the same trajectory, which is fine, but why are relationships in BioWare RPGs just a fast-track to sex? Why should they have to stop at physical intimacy? And furthermore, why can't love or romance exist between characters in these games without sex?

It seems to me as though, to BioWare, love only comes in the passionate variety. As if the only strong relationships that can form between you and your party members are ones that are driven by intense feelings and sexual attraction. I'm all for feelings of longing and desire, but what about compassionate love?

Romantic relationships are often driven at first by feelings of intense passion. Those feelings tend to not remain as intense over time; passion usually will fade away. I, however, would argue that some the best relationships, romantic or otherwise, tend to be based on compassionate over passionate love. This is to say that feelings of mutual respect, trust, and affection take precedence over that of physical desire. To that point, I would prefer a greater emphasis on compassion in BioWare RPGs.

After creating the basic relationship formula of "Action A + Action B + Action C = Sex," BioWare stopped developing the interworking of fondness between characters. Sex somehow became the end game. But what about after sex? Wouldn't you expect a character that has been physically intimate with yours to be more caring or thoughtful in all future interactions? Wouldn't he or she be more concerned if your character came close to death or suddenly started romancing another party member? It seems to me as though we're missing out on something.

A greater emphasis on the strength of the relationships your protagonist has formed could open the game up to more in-depth character development and stronger emotional notes during plot events. Your character and love interests could be thrown into situations which not only fully demonstrates their degree of mutual compassion, but also tests the strength of that love. Dialogue trees and context-sensitive scenarios that play off the relationships you've developed could enhance certain character interactions and maybe even affect the flow of the narrative. There a huge degree of freedom in where you could take this concept creatively. BioWare just has to take things a few steps farther.

I don't think the right direction in building the relationship system out is for BioWare to add extraneous things like marriage or kids. I just want to get a sense of realism in character interaction, regardless of whether they've already had sex or not. I just want to know that sex isn't present simply for the purpose of making an RPG more provocative. There is no reason why the same writers who in the past created unique dialogue trees and plot events based on passionate encounters can't push the envelope and demonstrate that the characters you care for can be respectful, trusting, and affectionate outside of the bedroom. Maybe someday they will, and this system will finally have depth outside of fan service.

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