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.