Love, like a bracing shot of February flu, is in the air. If you’re inoculated to the seasonal spirit, and you find your calendar as clear as your heart, fear not – there are games. Games, it must be said, cater more to the noble cause of automatic weaponry than they do to the twang of Cupid’s bow. But even games that deal in dour moods and cruelty can find time to melt the heart. Let’s take a look at some of gaming’s most memorable dates, and, in so doing, lift up our spirits and seek guidance.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
How odd that a game about the proliferation of nuclear missiles in Cuba should find the time for its hero to go on a date. With a name that’s suggestive of all manner of perversion, Naked Snake finds himself, late in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, charged with his most challenging mission yet, entitled ‘Date with Paz.’ Snake, at 39 years of age, the first flecks of grey in his beard, one eye missing, and possession of a walking battle tank, sees fit to court a 16-year-old named Paz. How should such a creepy setup conclude? You might think a prison sentence, but no; it ends with Snake enveloping them both in a cardboard box with a pink heart pasted on the side. And they say romance is dead.
For most of Fahrenheit, romance had certainly been put on ice. The title, however, contains a clue that points to things hotting up. (My apologies to the folks who were fobbed off with the ghastly ‘Indigo Prophecy.’) Who would have thought that Carla Valenti (another name, another clue!), a charismatic, capable detective would have succumbed to the limp charms of Lucas Kane, a man as pale as paper, sporting an unwise, orange-brown shirt, and spouting dreary tidings of apocalypse. The answer is David Cage. More than that, we are given analogue-stick-control of all the thrusting. What a perfect picture of a dream caged: the mysteries of human connection measured out with a DualShock.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The BBFC gave Fahrenheit a 15 certificate for containing ‘moderate horror and sex’ (although I would amend that to ‘moderate horrific sex’); whereas Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas received an 18 rating without the messy results of its romance making the final cut. I’m speaking, of course, of the Hot Coffee controversy. Such was the name given to a mod that allowed players to access a sex minigame lodged in developer Rockstar’s code. Whilst the game’s protagonist, C.J., is capable of many passionate encounters with a number of different women, his first, Denise Robinson, is introduced in the mission ‘Burning Desire.’ What better name for the firestorm of controversy that surrounded their forbidden love?
Final Fantasy X
If nothing else, Final Fantasy X is proof that love can blossom without sinking into smut (which isn’t to say that it doesn’t spiral into the surreal). Taking a break from their quest to defeat Sin, heroes Yuna and Tidus experience a touching moment. Yuna encourages Tidus to laugh away his troubles; if only she knew what she was about to unleash upon the world. I would heartily prescribe this as a rescue tactic on a bad date. If things aren’t going your way, if the small talk has spluttered to a halt, then try emergency laughter. If this doesn’t win your date over, you’ll likely be ejected from most restaurants; in which case, your failing date will be over much faster. You can’t lose, really.
Who says staying home and playing video games might hamper your love life? Granted, you could argue that being married to someone, as far as dating goes, is cheating – what with a certain measure of success guaranteed from the start. But even though Nate and Elena are married in Uncharted 4, their evening – early on, in chapter 4 – contains the essential hallmarks of romance. Dinner, drink, conversation, distraction, dissatisfaction, and quietly seething resentment. It’s when Nate fires up Crash Bandicoot that he and his wife relax and the strains on their relationship are eased. There’s a lesson after all, then: when trouble looms, when things threaten to get too real, bandicoots and boulders are the answer.
Speaking of strain, if you journey back to the blinking beeps of the medium’s origin, you’ll find the most breathless romance of them all. The original long distance relationship, caught in a ceaseless dance of wits and acrobatics. It’s a touching thought that the very origins of video games are steeped in romance, two young lovers rendered as lines of unblinking passion and pixels, firing an endless spark between them. The real genius of Pong, though, is that it captures not just the first blush of love but the subtle undertones of heartbreak: the competition, the point-scoring, the defeat. It serves as both a sombre hymn to and a pulsing celebration of love. What else could you wish for this Valentine’s Day?