On romantic subplots in video games…

Another weekend, another marathon session of Neverwinter Nights 2.

My inevitable destruction of the game was delayed by my own inevitable destruction, when I hit a patch where I discovered that I was simply too wussy to continue, due to my rather foolish multi-classing choices. So I had to start the thing over and re-play half the game at top speed as everybody’s favorite class, the paladin.

I should have just done that to begin with–I was going to be nice to everyone ANYWAY, I might as well get smite evil to go along with it.

I love paladins. I love to hate paladins. Sure, they’re humorless gits, (and why they require such high charisma scores when everyone despises them, I’ll never know) but if I had a nickel for every time the two paladins in the party are the only ones standing by halfway through the battle and still manage to clean up, slay the whatsit, and kick the plot along, I could launder my plate mail. (Yes, two is overkill, but I’ve always been a “stand there and hack at them ’til they die” sort of gamer. All that subtle tactical crap goes over my head. Bludgeon! Bludgeon!)

One thing that Neverwinter Nights 2 did not handle to my satisfaction–and it’s a minor thing, but since we were speaking of paladins anyway–is that they include the Obligatory Character Romance. It’s pretty bland–one per gender, no cross-overs. If you play a girl, your only option is…the paladin. (Or, in my case, the other paladin.) Who has all the humor and personal warmth of a dead chicken. Some of the characters are really entertainingly written–there’s this bitter, abrasive little elf I just wanna cuddle, every time he says something snide about the stench of stale beer and failed aspirations–and instead…paladin. *sigh*

(I’ll avoid even speculating what two paladins in love is like–presumably they kneel at opposite ends of the room and pray, then go out and dispense alms to the poor. Only character class where community service counts as foreplay.)

Now, the game fails as badly for the male side, I must say, so at least it’s an equal opportunity suck–apparently your only option is the druid, who has the personality of a morose chicken. Meanwhile there’s a perky little half-demon thief of great personal charm, so I assume male gamers inclined to this sort of thing are probably tearing their hair out in equal number.

I realize that such subplots are tricky to write, and I know that the gender ratio of game developers is badly skewed towards men, so it’s entirely possible that no women were ever consulted on this and that men somewhere think the tormented noble type gets ’em every time.

Possibly I’m weird, but give me Blackadder over Lancelot any day.

Generally, it’s not a big deal. I am playing for the killing and the snappy dialog, and they do it well, even if the camera work is pretty clunky. I can’t imagine a situation where this would be a deal breaker in a game. I only mention it because it’s definitely an increasing trend in video games, and if you’re gonna do it at all, DO IT WELL, DAMNIT! Jade Empire did quite a good job, and if you’re gonna go down that road, it behooves the designer to makes sure the player isn’t rolling their eyes and making gacking noises as they follow.

I mention this to James, but apparently romantic subplots isn’t a feature of Tom Clancy tactical military shooters. Who knew?

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