I recently spent some time at Coldwood Interactive, the creators of Unravel. Unravel is a game about a little character made of yarn. ‘Yarny’ is a little figure that ties people and memories together with the very essence of his being. An essence that is not only delicate, but finite. In fact, Yarny literally unravels as he moves onwards. Ultimately, Unravel is a game about love. According to its creator Martin Sahlin; love figured into its conceptualization, it took a huge role in its development and it pushes the game along as one of its central themes.
Playing the game and speaking with its creators over the past week has made me think. How many games are about love? I don’t necessarily mean the simple concept of romantic or familial love — although they are certainly included — I’m talking about all manner of love; love as an overarching theme. Surely they are out there. Unfortunately, I personally can’t think of any other than The Last of Us.
The Last of Us made a good run at the irrationality and selfishness of this part of the human condition. Admittedly I’m uneducated on its content though as I didn’t enjoy the gameplay and subsequently didn’t finish the game (*turns off fan in preparation for all of the airborne excrement*). It did, however, have a compelling story, and the actions of one of the characters in the game’s final scenes (discovered during research for this article) fit this theme that I am trying to capture.
It seems that the majority of games seem to be almost centered the complete opposite. Games are generally about anger, hate and conflict. They lean towards an enmity. They encourage, if not require, violence. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not at all. In fact, I really enjoy a lot of these games. They —as I’m sure is the case for most people— make up the majority of the games I play, if not all of them. But why does this theme dominate the gaming world?
Considering it is one of humanity’s most driving and central emotions, love is conspicuously absent in video games.
Games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, etc. often have romance based side quests or plotlines. However, these iterations usually feel as if they are aimed at achieving the goal of sex rather than growing any meaningful attachment to the character/s. Even if they are interpreted differently, these aspects of the games can be boiled down to side missions. They are a part of the game that is far from the focus. Again, that’s okay. This isn’t a criticism, it’s a comparison. There are also games such as visual novels that are often heavily focused on sex, love and romance.
As previously stated, most games seem to be driven by conflict, or enmity. The protagonist is driven to defeat the enemy, to overcome the set obstacle for some kind of duty/responsibility to some greater cause. That greater cause is rarely explored in detail, other than that it is the “right” one. These causes often inspire great acts of loyalty and sacrifice simply because they are “right.”
So why aren’t there more games in which the protagonist is driven to their actions through the bounds of love, whatever type of love it is? Surely this is more believable and emotionally evoking than the age old and oft repeated trope of the selfless hero making incredible sacrifices because it’s the right thing to do?