Games can make us feel many different emotions. Fear, excitement and even sadness are common emotions in games, but what about love?
What is love?
Many people throughout time have attempted to describe what love is. Poets, philosophers and scientists have all had a go, but love remains a complex mystery.
If you're the romantic sort, love is the greatest thing ever. It makes the world a more beautiful place. Birds sing more clearly, flowers smell better and everything is wonderful. If you're not quite so romantic, love is just nature's way of getting two people together to mix DNA.
The fact that love is so difficult to describe makes it all the harder to convert into a gameplay element. To some, even the very notion of turning love into something trivial for a videogame is unthinkable.
For the purposes of this article, I'll be discussing two kinds of love. The first, and perhaps easiest to experience, is a caring, nurturing love. The second form is the romantic love that makes Valentine's Day so very expensive.
How do we create love in games?
To create a sense of love, you must give the player something to care about. Several factors make a person more likely to care about a fictional character on their screen.
Create a connection between the character and the player. Creating a common ground between the player and the character is a good place to start. You're much more likely to care if you see part of your own personality in the character.
Make the player feel important. You can foster a relationship between the player and the character by making the player feel as if what they're doing is important. For example, Tamagotchi's would get sick if they weren't properly cared for. Creating this sense of responsibility in the player makes their decisions seem important, and increases the chances that they'll care about their character.
Make the experience unique to the player. This is perhaps the biggest element into creating something special. Tamagotchi's were special to people because they weren't the same as someone else's. You become more protective of something if you believe it can't be recreated.
What about romance?
Romance is a completely different experience, and much, much harder to recreate. There are several barriers, both physical and moral. Is it right to make someone fall in love with a fictional character? Most players will be aware that "it's only a game", and won't succumb to anything more than lust for what's on screen.
A more realistic way of creating romantic love is to let the player take the role of a different character on screen, and have the romance play out between them. This approach is commonly taken in RPGs, but is often scripted and gives the player very little control over what is happening. This can create a sense of distance between the character and the player, and should be avoided if wishing to create something deeper.
The "S" word
Sex is quite popular, apparently. With adult books, DVDs, websites and more, it's only natural that games should get attention from the adult industry. The majority of sex games are overly salacious, and merely an excuse to put some porn in the form of a game. Even the Atari 2600 got some of the action (pardon the pun), with some truly awful sex games being released, such as the infamous Custer's Revenge.
With advances in artificial intelligence, and the proliferation of cyber sex in MMORPG's such as "Second Life", the future may see AI bots replacing pornographic games. It's quite plausible that such a bot may one day pass the Turing test, and fooling the player into believing they are interacting with a human may be the best way to improve the player's experience.
There is still a very long way to go, but using techniques from artificial life makes it easier to create a sense of love between a player and a character. It may never be the same as the love between two people, but perhaps that's for the best. However, at least you don't need to buy a computer dinner…
Carnival of Video Game Bloggers @ The Collected Writings of James Newton