I used to not like Jim Sterling much... but then in the last year he has been on the ball hitting key issues with perfect accuracy each and every time.
This week he's wording perfectly exactly why I completely avoid romancing anything in a Bioware game.
So again, I have to say: THIS! FUCKING THIS!
(Also, that part about the SR4 satire makes me want to play it even more)
I think the real problem with sex in Bioware games isn't so much the sex scenes themselves (though they can be awkward as heck...) or even the fact the sex comes as a culmination of a fairly simplistic romantic conquest. See, Jim correctly points out how shallow the romancing process is, yet he seems to mainly focus his criticism on the overall structure. But even if you kept the structure exactly the same but had better writing so the lines during the romancing process weren't so abrupt and wooden then maybe it wouldn't feel so shallow. Ideally you should be able to enjoy the process of getting closer to another character. I don't think anyone who enjoys these aspect of games is really in it for a couple minutes of awkwardly animated and largely obfuscated sex scenes at the end. It should be more about the journey than the destination.
The other major problem is how isolated these romance options usually feel from the rest of the game. Outside of the romance subplot itself nothing really changes. This is one area where visual novel type games that focus specifically on romance often do much better. As romance is the whole point, the story can branch off in entirely different directions based on your decisions in that regard. In Bioware games the romance is usually only a sideshow and they don't want to take the time to significantly change dialogue in the core game depending on romantic developments. From a manpower standpoint I understand that, but sometimes I think they spend far too much effort on giving options (everyone is bisexual!) and not enough time on the quality of those options...I would rather see a game where there were only one or two viable romantic possibilities that were fully explored with actual, meaningful character development than doing it with everyone just to tick some checkboxes.
Also, "affection" should never be measured as a single parameter. That inevitably leads to shallow behavior. The very idea that you could do something that a character hates but then "make up for it" by buying them a bunch of gifts or something is flawed. This is fundamentally the same problem I have with morality systems that try to put good an evil on a single line. It leads to situations in games where you can slaughter hundreds of innocent civilians and then donate a bunch of money to the local orphanage or something and still be considered "good". Sorry, but the latter should never make up for the former, regardless of how much you donate. And although less extreme, the same sort of reasoning really should apply to a lot of decisions made in the romance process as well.
First, I loved that video for being quotable beyond belief. I loved it. I love the way Brits talk sometimes.
Second, I agree with all that; but the obvious limit is time and money to implement all that jazz, to make romance a big process, to have it tie into the game better, change scenarios, and maybe even impact the game (then you're looking at just *numerous* changes in script and new scenes). I definitely think they can make it a more involving process, but I don't know to what extent game dev's will go for it... But I'm sure you know that as well.
I definitely do hate how romance in games is generally a "step by step process". You meet, say the right thing, give gifts, get laid. It does simplify the whole thing and cheapen the relationship and the character in the meanwhile. I kind of like the Star Ocean games all of a sudden for their approach. They showed NO physical stuff except maybe
in the ending. It feels a bit more realistic in that you use the journey to build the relationship, then the epilogue rewards you for it with an appropriate ending (SO2 has three variations of the Claude/Rena relationship: One in which they're friends, another they're married[?], and the third states that Rena's expecting his child [weird visual in my head ew ew ewewewew]).
Frankly, I don't want sex in my games. Not because I have moralistic values against it or I think it's "sacred" or any of that business... but because it's just fucking weird and awkward when two wooden puppet models try and "do it" (mo-cap is still kind of "young technology" I think; so 3D models either clip or float against one another, lacking that passionate bonding real sex or even just hugging/kissing has; and games like Heavy Rain and Mass Effect are still unrealistic 3D imitating real-life -- so to me, it just kinda hits an uncanny valley of doing something intimate but looking too phony to pull it off).
And also, like Jim said, these relationships just feel far from realistic, it's more strictly goal oriented of getting weird NPC to bond with you in the most scripted way possible.
PS: I still giggle a bit about "friend zones"; they're sad and funny at the same time; but I really hope people aren't that naive to think romance in the same way games demonstrate as Jim implies.