Bioware and the Love Connection

When I first purchased “Star Wars: Knights of the OldRepublic,” I had owned an Xbox for about three days, and I wanted something toplay that wasn’t “Halo.” With a psychological rigor that would have leftSocrates speechless, I reasoned that “Star Wars stuff is cool,” and if I wasgoing to have a second game on my new system, KOTOR (as it is known to many)should be it. My first attempt at playing revealed an almost obnoxiouslycomplex RPG, and I quickly dropped it. Somewhere down the road, perhaps sick of“Halo,” I picked it up again and gave it another go-round. Somewhere around thethree hour mark, the game design clicked and I found myself in love.

 

Or so I thought.

 

            Jumpforward many years, and “Mass Effect 2” has just hit the shelves. Rabid Biowarefans, myself one of them, gobble it up without question. At about the ten hourmark, I set my sights on a female tattooed convict named Jack, deciding I willwin her heart and ride off into the sunset with her, as Bioware games oftenallow you to do. Our courtship is rushed, and right when I’m really starting tocharm her, she calls me on my seedy intentions. “If this is just about sex,then you should just f*ckin’ say so,” she sneers at me. What? I’m certain myreply options will shield me from the dark truth, but no, there it is: “Yes. Iwant you.” Jack shifts her weight and studies me, impatiently awaiting myanswer. What do I do? I mean, I’m accustomed to slaving the entire game inorder to watch an awkward but strangely erotic no-pants-dance between polygons.Is she really going to give up the goods now?

            Ina rush of passion, I consent. It happens, then it’s over, and I am speechless.I can’t believe my luck, Bioware has elected to let me bed my love early! I’mso grateful, I put her on my team for the next assignment, even though shetends to get herself killed. After the next mission, I eagerly saunter down tothe bowels of the ship where she lives, pondering where our love will go fromhere. She doesn’t want to talk. Ok, no big deal, I leave her be. Two missionslater, still nothing. Something isn’t right. Twenty hours in, I’m getting thesame canned write-off she fed me on disc one: “Shepard, you’re just pissingaround. No offense, but I don’t wanna play.” Panic sets in. She won’t talk tome! I jump on Twitter to bemoan my troubles, and immediately notice a trendingtopic on the exact same issue with hundreds of replies. This confirms my worstfears: casual sex with Jack was a critical mistake.

            Nowhere’s where a bizarre revelation set in, one that rocked me to my core: as Icontinued to bemoan my fate, lamenting this momentary lapse in carnal judgment,my wife walks into the room. I’m not sure, but I imagine that the sound of herhusband lusting aloud after someone called “Jack” raised a series of very direquestions in her mind, and she came to investigate. I explain the situation toher, so absorbed in what was happening that I don’t really consider the words Itell her. She chuckles at me derisively, and says words that are burned nowupon my very soul: “It’s just like my girlfriends and I with romanticcomedies.”

            Atthat moment, KOTOR came rushing back to me. When was it that I started to getinvolved in the game? The three hour mark, right? What was happening aboutthen? Well, I had just completed the racing challenge, and beaten up that mobboss, and…rescued Bastila. Oh merciful heavens, that’s it. Once Bastila enteredthe game and I started the romance subplot with her, I was hooked. Come to thinkof it, the same was true of Morrigan in “Dragon Age: Origins,” and AshleyWilliams in the original “Mass Effect.” And I’m not the only one: a casualglance at Twitter the night after “Mass Effect 2” was released revealedhundreds, maybe thousands, of gamers locked in the throes of doomed romance.When I talked to my friends about “Mass Effect 2,” we always inevitably fellinto an argument about who we were going after: one couldn’t keep his hands offof Miranda, another found Samara irresistible (which is sad because she turnsyou down), yet another lusted for Yeomen Chambers, and I had eyes only forTali…after Jack dumped me.

            Atthat moment, an almost brutal moment of clarity set upon me: Bioware had beenmaking elaborately disguised romantic comedies. Somehow, with their fiendishgenius, they had theorized that men are every bit as prone to vicarious romanceas women, and they decided to set upon this tendency as a business model. Theyhad been selling me my own personal “You’ve Got Mail,” dressed up in thetrappings of nerdy science fiction, for well over a decade. All my looking downmy nose at my wife’s favorite rom-coms was a bunch of hypocritical garbage. Fortwist endings, this has to rival “The Sting” or “The Usual Suspects.”

            Thesad truth is, Bioware is a maker of love stories, and men can’t get enough ofthem. We have put up a front for so long, maybe we’ve even convinced ourselves,but along comes a little game company from Canada, and our façade ispenetrated. We crave a good romance as much as anyone; we connect with thedesperate longing and the fevered consummation no less than a Jane Austen fanclub. Perhaps romance is not so feminine after all, and perhaps we are not ascalloused as we think.

            Gamingis an art form, and like any art its limitations are constantly beingredefined. Games like “Mass Effect 2” are proving, whether we like it or not,that even the most cynical among us is susceptible to a pull on theheartstrings. Have you ever looked closely at those Japanese RPGs you used to playon Friday nights instead of going out? They’re chock full of more romance andschmaltz than anything your girlfriend will make you sit through. And consider“Braid,” the indie darling from Xbox Live: a tale of love lost, a melancholicquest for redemption with echoes of Shakespeare’s mushiest sonnets. We pretendto be immune to this stuff, but the truth cannot be suppressed forever. Studieshave shown that men are less practical about relationships and romance thanwomen are, so in a weird way, it makes sense that we’d pay to experience thethrill of falling in love all over again.

            Somock that romantic comedy all you want, Dear Reader, but look to thine ownfirst. We are no more immune to Cupid’s weapons than anyone.