Editorial: The Evolution of Relationships in Video Games

Pac-Man and Ms.Pac-Man
Pac-Man and Ms.Pac-Man

Romantic relationships, most of us have been involved or part of one. In story telling, a romantic relationship is a convenient mechanic for having characters be relatable to your audience. Over the past couple of days I have been thinking about the development of relationships in video games and where the industry started and are presently with the convention. Specifically, I am looking at three relationships in three different eras of gaming.

The first era we will start with is..

The Arcade Era

The first relationship many gamers were introduced to was the relationship of Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man. Pac-Man was an arcade game developed by Namco and licensed for distribution in the United States by Midway, first released in Japan on May 22, 1980. Immensely popular from its original release to the present day, Pac-Man is considered one of the classics of the medium, virtually synonymous with video games, and an icon of 1980s popular culture. Upon its release, the game became a social phenomenon that sold a bevy of merchandise and also inspired, among other things, an animated television series and a top-ten hit single. With the massive success of Pac-Man a sequel was quickly put into the works and what started out as a hack of the original Pac-Man became the most successful arcade game ever entitled Ms. Pac-Man. Released in 1981, this game introduces a female protagonist, new maze designs and several minor gameplay changes over the original game. It became the most successful American-produced arcade game, selling 115,000 arcade cabinets. Ms.Pac-Man‘s story is one of a couple either looking for each other or they are on the fucking run, honestly I do not remember a whole lot of detail put into the story of the meeting of the Pac-Mans but it does not really matter in the end because you get what is going on. The couple meets, they fall in love, they have baby. Simple, clean, classic. Nothing more needs to be said.

Mario Saves Peach
Mario Saves Peach

We now move onto the era commonly known as…

The Bit Wars Era

Mario and Peach. What more needs to be said about these two. They are the video game power couple. Although Mario and Peach were not always together as we know them now, first there was Pauline. Pauline is the girl Mario, known only at that point as “Jumpman”, is trying to save in the original 1982 arcade game Donkey Kong. It was not until 1985 that, the soon to be famous, Princess Toadstool was even introduced to gamers. Boy, let me tell you, when she was introduced it was like when peanut butter met jelly. In Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Mario’s quest is to Princess Toadstool (later known as Princess Peach) of the Mushroom Kingdom from King Koopa. To save Princess Toadstool, Mario conquers the eight worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom by going to the castle in each to defeat a minion of King Koopa. To reach each castle, Mario battles through three sub-worlds by defeating King Koopa’s henchmen. If Mario successfully fights his way through the castle and defeats the minion, he frees a Mushroom Retainer. Inside the eighth castle, Mario has a final fight with King Koopa and frees Princess Toadstool. The one thing I really do not like about this relationship is that Peach in most of the core games in the Super Mario franchise she is rather useless. She gets kidnapped and does nothing to escape, at least Ms.Pac-Man fought back against the ghosts. Although, in the first two Paper Mario games Princess Peach does break the mold and tries to escape from King Koopa’s Castle. Additionally, in 2006 Peach got her own game entitled Super Princess Peach, where she was the one doing the saving.

Mass Effect DAT ASS Dialogue
Mass Effect DAT ASS Dialogue

Finally we come to…

The Modern Era

With the boom in popularity of western video games in the past generation, gamers have seen less and less of the predetermined character relationships and more of the choose your own relationship. Unlike the previously mentioned relationships, the relationships in the current era feel less like true relationships and more like a series of empty compliments and mini quests to get to the shitty sex scene. Do not get me wrong though I think these relationships have brought something interesting to the table it is just, since these are somewhat in its infancy, I think many of the interactions could be better scripted. Although I do like the introduction of same sex relationships in many Western RPGs, I believe it gives players more of the true role-playing experience when they can even choose what gender they are attracted to. For examples I would have to point the Bioware franchises of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Although I do not believe these two series are the first to have these types of relationships in a game, they are however the first financially successful games that have these options in them.

In conclusion, these relationships still are affecting how we tell love stories in the modern era. Break down almost any video game love story to the bare bones and you will find the same elements that made the Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man love story so successful, but what about you readers? What do you think about relationships in video games? Like them? Hate them? Wish they were not really there like in Final Fantasy XII? Let me know in the comments.

3 comments

  1. I think Peach and Mario have a good example of an iconic relationship, but I see no reason why it is a good relationship. What do they talk about? What do they do together? What sort of fights do they have and what sort of insecurities haunt them? Of course, a Mario game shouldn’t be bogged down with that sort of thing, but thus the result is immensely shallow. Yes, Mario’s persistence shows that Peach is important to him, but in the rare times we see them together, we don’t know WHY she’s important to him. She is a plot device to justify Mario’s game.

    I think there’s no chemistry, no substance and it is all – as you pointed out – built on a largely sexist foundation. It’s not like Mario has any inherently superior abilities to Peach. He just jumps and uses power suits. If anything, Peach should be more capable with her floaty umbrella shit.

    Mario is no deep character himself, but the rare times we glimpse Peach she is shallow and trite. The worst example being the embarrassing cutscenes of Super Mario Sunshine. The Paper Mario games are slight exceptions, as you also pointed out.

    It would be one thing if it was a conscious satire of the stereotypes of the fat lovable dude linked with the vapid helpless beauty, but I don’t really don’t think that’s the case.

Comments are closed.