Is It Love At First Sight? 3


They say it takes mere moments to form an impres­sion of some­one upon meet­ing them for the first time. Although true in all intro­duc­to­ry cir­cum­stances, this sen­ti­ment is often voiced in rela­tion to meet­ing some­one via a first date. This is where all the magic hap­pens, or fails to; where awk­ward phras­es and move­ments either ease into com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tion or reveal how vast a divide can be between two strangers. Sometimes the two lack the pheromone-induced spark of attrac­tion, or per­haps she spends just a lit­tle too much time talk­ing about her var­i­ous psy­cho exes and her dozen kitty-witties. There are many dif­fer­ent ways to describe the high­lights or fall­outs of a first date, and these descrip­tions also work when we talk about the first few hours of the video games we play. Many grab your atten­tion instant­ly and grow to a love wor­thy of a heav­en­ly shout, where­as oth­ers offend so badly that the disc is sleeved with­in the first hour. I have been spend­ing the past year or so exclu­sive­ly play­ing Western RPGs, a genre well-known for its lengthy intro­duc­tions, so luck­i­ly, I have sev­er­al exam­ples to explain how I even­tu­al­ly found “Video Game Mr. Right.”

During a first date, after the hand­shake and some awk­ward intro­duc­to­ry small talk, it may become obvi­ous that the inter­est­ed par­ties lack the appro­pri­ate chem­istry to facil­i­tate a pas­sion­ate out­come. After sev­er­al failed attempts to man­i­fest a con­nec­tion using such stim­u­lat­ing phras­es such as “So, what do you do for a liv­ing?” and “How about that local sports team?” both par­tic­i­pants start covert­ly glanc­ing at the time and the exit, painful­ly aware of just how wrong they are for each other and wish­ing to dis­cov­er a fast for­ward but­ton some­where near the salt and pep­per shak­ers.

I was first intro­duced to Torchlight by fel­low gamers, avid fans of the PC title who swore that I would love it, a true video game blind date. After some min­i­mal inter­net search­ing, I found many review­ers and play­ers who laud­ed Torchlight as a fan­tas­tic dun­geon crawler, so I start­ed a cam­paign with glee, hop­ing to become fully immersed in the same amaz­ing expe­ri­ence as every­one else. But after sev­er­al hours of check­ing off quests and root­ing around for gear, it soon became clear that the game was utter­ly bor­ing. The fea­tures were appeal­ing, with bright col­ors and smooth­ly ren­dered graph­ics, and the loot gath­er­ing was mild­ly inter­est­ing, but alas, Torchlight lacked the cap­ti­vat­ing spark of other games that employ sim­i­lar mechan­ics, and I found myself going through the mis­sion motions while covert­ly check­ing a FAQ to see what per­cent­age of the game was still left uncon­quered. Like the rud­est par­tic­i­pant on a rec­om­mend­ed blind date, I even fell asleep dur­ing a quest­line, and awoke some­where in town. As a lover of clever and meaty nar­ra­tive, I real­ized that I can no longer invest based on style alone, and need some­thing deep­er and more com­pelling in a sto­ry­line in order to seek out suc­ces­sive nights with a game.

At some point dur­ing a first date it may become clear that although the per­son in front of you is charm­ing, attrac­tive and seems gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed in get­ting to know you bet­ter, the real­i­ty of a rela­tion­ship might never hap­pen. Maybe he already dated your best friend, owns a pick­up truck, is aller­gic to kitty-witties, or has some other rela­tion­ship damp­en­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic, but some­how you know that it is not meant to be, cre­at­ing a truth out of the excuse “it’s not you, it’s me.”

When they announced that The Witcher 2 was being port­ed from the PC to the 360, I was over­joyed. I pre­fer to play exclu­sive­ly on the 360 and lack a gam­ing PC, so I was quite pouty about this out of reach ‘Rated M for Mature due to sex­u­al con­tent’ game. I yearned, I pined, I longed, and even­tu­al­ly it was deliv­ered to my house, where I mar­veled at the graph­ics, attempt­ed to under­stand the story-already in progress-and instant­ly flubbed the com­plex tuto­r­i­al. The var­i­ous but­ton com­bi­na­tions, menu sys­tem and skill tree are per­plex­ing, and the game­play did not flow as eas­i­ly as other, bet­ter craft­ed role-playing envi­ron­ments. I can see all of the beau­ti­ful strokes in the dia­logue and Geralt is a cap­ti­vat­ing lead char­ac­ter, but it is uncer­tain whether The Witcher 2 and I have much of a future togeth­er. Maybe it is the ease in which I am killed with­in the forests by beast­ies, or maybe it’s because I can­not stop gig­gling at them in their play­ful jester out­fits, but some­thing about The Witcher 2 fails to con­nect. As in any ambiva­lent sit­u­a­tion regard­ing a poten­tial spark, how­ev­er, maybe a sec­ond time around would muster more of a phys­i­cal response…possibly in the mid­dle of the night, after a few cock­tails, dur­ing a moment of weak­ness.

If your date shows up wear­ing a pur­ple sweat­suit and talks exces­sive­ly about his moth­er while obnox­ious­ly chew­ing gum and attempt­ing to put his clam­my hand on your knee, you can safe­ly say, “it’s not me, it’s you’.”

Having been knee-deep in Game of Thrones media for almost a year now, I decid­ed to taste test the new video game title, know­ing full well that licensed titles rarely invoke the same emo­tions as writ­ten canon, often cre­at­ing a ter­ri­ble after­taste to some­thing that was ini­tial­ly deli­cious. And Game of Thrones is, indeed, a lack­lus­ter dis­ap­point­ment, com­bin­ing poor com­bat exe­cu­tion with bland scenery and dia­logue. Instead of the full cast of famil­iar char­ac­ters, we are intro­duced to two new ones, cre­at­ing an unex­pect­ed dis­con­nect instant­ly fol­low­ing the title page. I was con­fused before I even reached the sec­ond chap­ter as to how these new leads fit into the over­all nar­ra­tive or set­ting. It soon became obvi­ous that the devel­op­ment of this spin-off game is the very def­i­n­i­tion of phon­ing it in, which as a fan of the series in writ­ten form is frus­trat­ing and sort of insult­ing. As some­one who has played many care­ful­ly craft­ed titles with­in the same genre, I could not pos­si­bly con­tin­ue with this encounter, and quick­ly moved on to more com­pat­i­ble can­di­date.

When a ini­tial impres­sion is favor­able, and sev­er­al drinks imbibed over live­ly con­ver­sa­tion, the con­nec­tion between two peo­ple may show all the signs of attrac­tion at first, but dis­solve into some­thing more pla­ton­ic over time. No mat­ter how hard each per­son tries to bring romance to the table, it becomes clear that these two peo­ple are des­tined to be just friends, regard­less of how much alco­hol they con­sume.

Of the Elder Scrolls titles, Skyrim is my first. And dur­ing the month of January, I spent 108 hours mas­ter­ing every cor­ner of it. Judged by first sight alone, I would not hes­i­tate to call it the most beau­ti­ful of games. I loved the land, the map sys­tem, my avatar and my hero­ic mis­sion. But as with any boy and girl attempt­ing to be mere­ly friends, there was always a strange, under­ly­ing feel­ing akin to awk­ward sex­u­al ten­sion. Skyrim is all super­fi­cial sub­stance, lit­tle emo­tion­al reward. The time spent with­in its bor­ders feels con­trived, as if noth­ing ever real­ly hap­pens, and all of the mas­tered quests are mere­ly ho-hum instead of intense­ly vic­to­ri­ous. Personal rela­tion­ships with the ever loyal, yet utter­ly dull, com­pan­ions lack con­ver­sa­tion and delight, and defeat­ing foes feels anti­cli­mac­tic when the quest giver apa­thet­i­cal­ly turns over a low-level bauble in exchange for a painful­ly lost loved ones trin­ket, scav­enged from the belly of some despi­ca­ble beast. The spark of friend­ship is there, as the game itself is quite enjoy­able, but hav­ing a deep and inti­mate rela­tion­ship with Skyrim, and its cast of char­ac­ters, feels impos­si­ble.

And then, instant chem­istry. Conversation flows eas­i­ly, laughs are fre­quent and gen­uine, and a con­nec­tion unlike any other is bridged. Love is mere moments away, the antic­i­pa­tion build­ing with every sec­ond.

My love at first sight moment arrived by way of the Dragon Age series. The sights and feels of the game are right from the first step, and the promised dif­fer­ences in the pro­logue encour­age sec­ond and third playthroughs before the first has even been fin­ished. The abil­i­ty to give my avatar big green eyes and a fetch­ing lady mage robe instant­ly forged a bond between us, play­er and char­ac­ter, that grew expo­nen­tial­ly over time. Dragon Age employs intri­cate dia­logue options that encour­age char­ac­ters to get to know one anoth­er inti­mate­ly on every level, even the sexy ones. This mechan­ic is my video game weak­ness, one I fall for every time-the guise of choice with­in a pre­de­ter­mined for­mat. No mat­ter how aware I am of the snaking and branch­ing code writ­ten in the back­ground of each care­ful­ly con­sid­ered con­ver­sa­tion response, I am still intrigued and ter­ri­bly con­cerned about how each word will steer the nar­ra­tive along its cho­sen path. And Dragon Age is so good at mak­ing me feel tri­umphant or dev­as­tat­ed about the minute steps I have taken in rela­tion to the big pic­ture events, much like the emo­tion­al roller coast­er of falling in love. Each word is weighed and ana­lyzed before spo­ken, each breath and move­ment mea­sured to ensure the appro­pri­ate mes­sage achieves the desired response. And the rewards make all the time and invest­ment infi­nite­ly worth­while.

And love is a many-splendored thing. Unless he hates you.

Although I loved Dragon Age: Origins to bits and pieces, Dragon Age 2 car­ries my heart. Not only did I fall back in love with the world and style of BioWare’s orig­i­nal title, but also with a fan­tas­tic new cast of non-player char­ac­ters. One high­lights of the series is choos­ing your poten­tial mate from this pool of party mem­bers, and I had my eye on Fenris, a cyn­i­cal, gravelly-voiced elf. We ban­tered, we bat­tled, we even knocked boots one sul­try night, but ulti­mate­ly my love for him remained unre­quit­ed, as he loathed all mem­bers of my class, the mages. But love is a pow­er­ful thing, and these ini­tial impres­sions can be over­come in a sec­ond, more sat­is­fy­ing, playthrough as a rogue. Human rela­tion­ships rarely get such a lucky break, how­ev­er. Sometimes the obsta­cles that keep peo­ple apart are over­looked, or com­pro­mis­es are nego­ti­at­ed to con­tin­ue the con­ver­sa­tion­al dance through these stick­ing points. And often we push through the clunky first impres­sions in video games because of a desire to suc­ceed and con­quer, but fre­quent are the cases where even per­sis­tence will not make the expe­ri­ence more per­son­al­ly reward­ing. But just as there is a some­one spe­cial in the world for every­one, there is also a unique game for every play­er, though you may have to go on a lot of first dates to find it.

Jessica Dobervich

About Jessica Dobervich

Jessica Dobervich lives in Seattle and can be found with either a trashy Assassin’s Creed novel or an Xbox 360 controller in her hand. She likes peppermint ice cream and wishes she could vacation in Rapture. You can find her on Twitter @masquerade78 or read her blog at

3 thoughts on “Is It Love At First Sight?

  • T. Dawson

    I must say, I think you’re the first per­son I’ve ever seen claim­ing to have enjoyed DA2 more than the orig­i­nal. It’s actu­al­ly quite sur­pris­ing. Not that I’m knock­ing it, I actu­al­ly rather enjoyed DA2, but just nowhere near as much as the first two titles. Not sure why — though the cut and paste level design cer­tain­ly had some­thing to do with it! — but I think it comes down to the feel­ing that in Origins I was on a grand, impor­tant adven­ture with the fate of the world in the bal­ance and in 2, I…well, was­n’t.

    Clearly the story has ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the wider world — the fram­ing device makes that pret­ty obvi­ous — but dur­ing play Hawke is for the most part sim­ply try­ing to sur­vive as best he (yes, Hawke is male, as is Commander Shepard, and I shall have no truck with this ‘hir’ busi­ness. If the point of these games is a sort of per­son­alised con­ti­nu­ity then I’m stick­ing with mine come Hell or high water!) can. There’s no grand agen­da or loom­ing threat, just a guy wan­der­ing about with his mates doing odd jobs for cash or favours or because some­body is try­ing to kill him.

    It’s a very dif­fer­ent approach to sto­ry­telling, and an inter­est­ing change of pace from the only-you-can-save-the-world style we see in so many RPGs, but in my opin­ion the over­all effect was to make the game feel small. Hawke may have had a mas­sive impact on the world, kicked off a war and thrown the lands into tur­moil but he seems to have done it all by acci­dent, and what sense of achieve­ment is there to be gleaned from that?

    Also, Fenris? Come on. As a het­ero­sex­u­al male play­ing a male avatar, even I wound up with Anders. Who could resist?!

    • Jessica Dobervich
      Jessica Dobervich Post author

      I know I’m in the minor­i­ty when it comes to lov­ing DA2, and I total­ly under­stand what you are say­ing about the dun­geon clones and the game feel­ing small­er than Origins.

      If you are inter­est­ed, I wrote more about my per­spec­tive on DA2 here.

      • T. Dawson

        Thanks, that was very inter­est­ing. It also fea­tured the phrase “boda­cious tatas”, which I had never heard before but am now strong­ly in favour of, albeit not quite so much in con­nec­tion with peo­ple’s elder­ly moth­ers. I won­der whether mod­ern gam­ing might hold a semi-secret love for the MILF; if mem­o­ry serves, did­n’t Ezio’s moth­er end up run­ning Rome’s hottest whore­house?

        Regarding the points you made about DA2 in that blog — scaled down plot, a vast­ly reduced game world, more empha­sis on A‑to‑B trav­el than explo­ration — I’m start­ing to won­der as to whether BioWare sim­ply made a mis­take in labelling their games. Doesn’t it seem as if such a title would have worked bet­ter as an expansion/DLC pack than as a full game? My expe­ri­ences with Awakening were far more sim­i­lar in tone, plot and game­play to Origins, and the import-a-character fac­tor made it feel far more like a sequel in the more tra­di­tion­al sense. Mass Effect would­n’t feel quite so epic if we had to cre­ate a new space­far­ing do-gooder in every game, and even Assassins’ Creed has Desmond as our main char­ac­ter in every game thanks to the third-person nature of their fram­ing device. To me, at least, it seems a lit­tle back­ward to side­line the orig­i­nal pro­tag­o­nist into a dif­fer­ent title to make way for an all-new char­ac­ter to be thrust into the lime­light. I’m not par­tic­u­lar­ly famil­iar with the series but did­n’t peo­ple get *real­ly* pissed off when Metal Gear Solid did that?

        I also have to admit that I did­n’t real­ly like Hawke very much. I don’t mean as a per­son, because his choic­es and actions are my choic­es by proxy and if I gen­uine­ly dis­liked him for the way I was mak­ing him behave then it makes me seem like a psy­chol­o­gist’s wet dream, but there was some­thing about him that I just could­n’t con­nect to. For one thing he had a seri­ous­ly smarmy, self-satisfied voice that grat­ed on my nerves. For anoth­er my Hawke was a mage and a dude. My main is DA:O was a mage and a dudette, and for some rea­son when she rocked the mag­i­cal robes they looked appro­pri­ate­ly wiz­ard­ly and mys­ti­cal. Hawke just looked like a bit of a tit. As a result of not lik­ing Hawke much, I did­n’t real­ly enjoy the inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships because while I may have liked who­ev­er I was talk­ing to I was still talk­ing to them through a mouth­piece I did­n’t enjoy using. I did the stan­dard second-playthrough-with-complete-opposite char­ac­ter thing that I do with every RPG, rolling a jerkass female war­rior, but she ended up aggra­vat­ing me even more. Although in that case it was prob­a­bly more to do with the fact I made her act like a dick. Well, that and my absolute­ly ram­pant mysoginy.

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