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BioWare team discusses how non-standard relationships could work in future games

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Posted on July 21, 2014 AT 02:01pm

During their panel at the recent GaymerX2 event, a team of writers and editors from BioWare discussed the challenges of building romance into their games—and answered some questions about the potential for more non-standard options for that romance.

Heading up the “Building a Better Romance” panel was David Gaider (lead writer, Dragon Age), Karen Weekes (editor, BioWare), Patrick Weekes (writer, BioWare), and Robyn Thegerge (development manager, BioWare). After the main portion of the panel was over, the hosts opened up the floor to questions from the audience, and some very interesting conversation came from those questions.

The first possibility asked about was polyamory, and Gaider said that the option to have multiple romantic partners had been considered, and that the team didn’t have any personal opposition to such an inclusion.

The problem? “The scripting destroys you,” explained Gaider. An NPC that was able to be involved in a polyamorous relationship would only be able to be a part of that, and not any monogamous pairings, as otherwise the amount of dialog, coding, scripting, and other considerations would simply be too great to be feasible.

One source of that complexity is the desire of the team to make sure a character’s sexuality is actually part of who they are, and not just a variable that can be set. Gaider brought up the example of Isabela from Dragon Age: Origins, who is portrayed as a bisexual woman—as opposed to a character whose sexuality is determined by whatever gender the player picks for their main character. That’s one of the reasons why all of the available romantic options aren’t bisexual, the panel explained: a character’s sexuality is one of a variety of things that make them who they are.

Another question asked about romance gating beyond just gender—in other words, having other reasons why a particular character may or may not want to become involved with you, beyond the simple question of which gender each of the parties involved are. Gaider suggested that, for example, a character could be crafted to only be interested in the protagonist if they supported a group like the Templars or Mages. Again, however, he explained that the challenge of doing such things came back to the workload involved.

“The problem, at the end of the day, is that a lot of times doing what is more realistic or adding more variation into the romance, it means that we have to write more, and there is only so much writing that we can do. Writing is very expensive,” Gaider admitted.

As a follow-up to the question about polyamory, another audience member asked about asexual relationships. Gaider acknowledged that the challenge there would be in figuring out what exactly that meant, and how it would be conveyed, a conversation that would need to happen first.

Couldn’t you just take a standard romance storyline from Dragon Age or Mass Effect, and simply leave off the sex at the end? “That may be the easiest way, but I don’t necessarily know that that would be the most respectful way,” said Gaider.

If you’d like to hear the full BioWare GaymerX2 “Building a Better Romance” panel, the YouTube video for it has been embedded below. (Audio only.)

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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