Love is the most popular subject matter in virtually every medium across every culture. Much of the music we listen to, television shows we watch and books we read deal with the subjects of love, dating and romance. Personally, I’m a sucker for a good love song, though I can pass on most chick flicks and romance novels.
With that said, where are the video games about love, dating and romance? Why hasn’t the most universal subject matter made a splash in the medium of video games? I acknowledge the fact that Mass Effect has a relationship mechanic, but its a small part in a big game about shooting aliens. Final Fantasy VIII tells a love story, but its wrapped around a fantasy world where you kill monsters and level up. I am also aware of the dating simulators in Japan, but cultural differences wouldn’t allow for direct ports of those games to other regions. My question is, where is the video game equivalent of The Notebook?
I understand the fact that in relation to other forms of media, video games are still very much in their infancy. The medium as a whole is still trying to find its way and I think it has a ways to go before reaching the same level of maturity as music, film and books. But what are the factors stopping the video game equivalent of The Notebook from happening?
Is it a matter of technology? In the early days of video games, technology was clearly a factor. There’s only so much you can convey in a game of Pong. With today’s tools, creators can make pretty much anything they want just short of visuals that look identical to real life. Creators can make the the most literal translation of something like The Notebook or a more abstract game (like Flower) that conveys the ideas and emotions of love, dating and romance indirectly.
Would a game about love, dating and romance be any fun? I think that there enough existing video game mechanics that can be leveraged for a ‘love’ game. Off the top of my head, I think the Mass Effect engine could be retrofitted to work for a more realistic type of love game. Keep the big environments and intricate dialogue trees and replace the gun fights with mini-games or some other gameplay mechanics. The Heavy Rain engine could potentially reach the same goal.
The topic of love, dating and romance could also work great as an adventure game, similar to how Phoenix Wright plays. While this would limit the openness of the gameplay and story, a good story can overcome that. There are other gameplay mechanics that I’m sure would work within this context or possibly brand new mechanics that could be ushered in with this type of game. Thinking outside of my scope of gaming, could something like The Sims or Second Life work here as well?
For a ‘love’ game to work, I think it needs a compelling story. Historically speaking, video games generally don’t do story very well. This is oftentimes because story has taken a back-seat to good gameplay. You can have a good game without a good story, but you can’t have a good game without good gameplay. Most video game stories are often written as explanations for the action, rather than being integral to the experience. If this game about love were to happen, I think the narrative would have to be intricately tied to the gameplay. I’m certain this isn’t impossible to do, but it sure is a lot easier to write stories for games where you shoot dudes.
Let’s think beyond the creation of this game about love. What about the business side of this love game? Distributing games used to cost a ton of money due to the creation of discs or cartridges combined with shipping costs. In order to see an ROI, companies are much more likely to create ‘safe’ games that are likely to sell in order to cover off production and distribution costs. Creating a game about love has to be seen as a huge gamble due to the fact that no major companies are doing it. However, I’m sure there are millions of that would buy into a video game about love. Where to start? I don’t mean to be sexist, but my gut says the millions of women who play games like FarmVille and Diner Dash on Facebook. I don’t see a game about love catching it’s first break on the XBOX 360 or PlayStation 3 due to the male skew at this point in time, but is there an opportunity for a few indie developers to create a small game about love and distribute it on Facebook, iTunes or as a Flash game that garners some success? I think so.
The only other major hurdle I can think of is the stigma surrounding video games, particularly ones around Japanese dating simulators. Those games seem to get a bad rap here because North America does not ‘get’ them. They’re not designed with North American audiences in mind, which is why they come off as so weird and awkward. However, I think a compelling game about love made with local sensibilities in mind would overcome any sort of negative view the general populous would have on someone who would play this type of game.
With all that said, let’s go back to the original question. Where is The Notebook video game? I don’t know. Hypothetically speaking, I think everything we need to make that game happen and make that game or any love, dating and romance exist and be successful. It’s just a matter of the right people making the that game at the right time.
At some point, my crystal ball says that video games about love will eventually go mainstream. Someone will crack the code, and games about love will be common. It may be a few decades before this happens, but I’m confident that at some point in my lifetime, games about love will be a big deal. Until then, I probably should get to watching The Notebook movie in preparation for the ‘inevitable’ The Notebook video game.