Despite the efforts of many to convey something meaningful, video games often miss the mark as a medium when it comes to the development of relationships. Whether these come in the form of romantic or platonic ties, it can be difficult to cultivate an honest sense of care for the bundles of polygons that populate your TV or monitor. Dragon Age: Inquisition is aiming to flip that perception on its head.
By necessity, role-playing games seem like a logical arena to take aim at the medium's weakness for relationships. With Dragon Age: Inquisition playing host to a massive fantasy world populated by characters from all walks of life, interactions are unavoidable. Rather than making these interactions cold-cut, "gameable" encounters though, the folks at Bioware want them to feel like they develop organically in a way that better represents that of real life.
Speaking to IGN, Creative Director Mike Laidlaw explains that games too often fall into the pitfall of overly-incentivizing the development of relationships. Rather than being about the achievement, stat increase or sex scene that comes at the climax of a budding relationship, the player should instead care about the characters in their own right. In this, he feels that The Last of Us nails that feeling of a meaningful bond that is a reward unto itself.
“It says these are real people and it’s okay to care about them. I think to some degree there’s a joy to escapism when it’s okay to care. That is something that I think is kind of a single-player phenomenon.”
Often, it seems as though games assume that the player will only pursue bonds such as these if they are directly linked to a noticeable boon of some sort. In Inquisition, he wants to get away from this by making the player's actions in and out of encounters instrumental in building bonds with those around you rather than feeding off of canned moments that fall along a basic array of possibilities.
He highlights this by presenting the idea of taking down a dragon. In celebration, the player's party expresses an interest in sharing some drinks. To some, this act could represent the strengthening of a friendship that extends onto the battlefield or it could initiate some coy flirting. Rather than having interactions fit into a simple a+b=c formula, Laidlaw wants these relationships to feel as though they develop organically.
“Let’s not have gifts that buy affection. Let’s not have sex be the end goal. Let’s instead try and reach for something that’s like genuine affections and let you go up and say, ‘Hey you, we’re going to kiss now.’ And let players enjoy that, and feel like, yeah, that’s a real thing.”
It's an intriguing idea to lead the idea of relationships away from mechanics that could be seen as exploitable or "gamey" constructs. While gamers will always find a way to min-max a system in order to attain the ideal result, this is a step in the right direction. It is clear that a great amount of thought is being put into filling out the relationships - both romantic and platonic - in Inquisition with a larger spectrum of sexual orientations becoming a bigger part of the experience.
With each writer on staff lending their opinions as to how they feel each character would react to any given situation, this is quickly shaping up to be one of the most comprehensive attempts at making players care about their companions in an epic fantasy game. While this has been shown to work on smaller-scale narratives like The Last of Us, it will be interesting to see how it progresses when Dragon Age: Inquisition launches.
Romantic or not, do you think rich, believable relationships better immerse players in game worlds? How would you like to see Bioware handle inter-character bonds?
Dragon Age: Inquisition launches on November 18, 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
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