It's no secret that video games can be violent. In fact, since their inception that's essentially what they have been, weaving tales featuring guns, swords, fists, lasers, and other blood-spilling weapons. But as the medium grows older and expands its reach, game creators have started to push their projects in ways that might surprise most people. Since today is Valentine's Day, let's take a look at how a few video games deal with some of humanity's more tender impulses.
Our journey begins with "Chulip," or, as it's sometimes known, "That Kissing Game." The title puts players in the role of a young man who fantasizes about kissing the girl of his dreams while his father drives them to their new home in a small village. When he finds the very same girl in his neighborhood, she instantly rebuffs him, claiming he's not only poor and stupid, but also an extremely poor kisser. The only way to win her affections is to boost his experience by kissing as many of the town's residents as possible, which is actually kind of heartbreaking if you think about it.
Rejected but undeterred, the man embarks on a quest of promiscuity that involves trying to sell stuff he finds in the trash and contacting aliens, as well as helping out villagers in order to woo them into accepting the soft touch of his lips. Kiss at the wrong time, and they will hurt you in profound ways. "Chulip's" conception of love isn't exactly ideal, but it's actually kind of relevant, considering the recent state of China's bachelor class.
Now here's a game worthy of Jungian analysis. "Catherine" has players take the role of a man named Vincent, who can't decide whether to cement a five-year relationship or ditch it for an uninhibited blonde bombshell that appears out of nowhere. The game has two fairly separate segments that end up gelling quite well.
Story-intense chapter sections force the player to influence Vincent's mindset by deciding what to text each girl and what questions to ask of other characters. Meanwhile, as Vincent dreams, players must guide the man through block-sliding puzzles in order for him to run away from whatever phobia freaked him out during the day (these range from commitment issues to more... lecherous fears). "Catherine" could have gone very, very wrong, but strong writing and focus steer it clear from pandering, helping it tell an effective story about a directionless love life.
Let's Go Island / Let's Go Jungle
A couple gets married, sets out on their honeymoon, and lives happily ever after... unless they're captured by pirates and ambushed by waves of killer sharks! Saving dolphins, running away from giant bugs, beating back said bugs with golf balls, the game throws one crazy situation after another at the couple playing, tracking how often the two players lock on to the same target and stay in sync during the action. At the end of each level, it then rates your compatibility before offering either kind words of encouragement or advice on how to make your relationship healthier.
Unlike the previous titles on this list, "Let's Go Island" (and its jungle-themed predeccesor) is built with two players in mind, making it a perfect date game, if you can find it at an arcade.
Rather than explore romantic possibilities, "Journey" focuses on the strength of camaraderie as individuals move through an incomprehensible world. Players begin their quest alone, but are more than likely to meet other players throughout the game. Users can't talk to each other, they can't chat, and they don't even know what the other player's username is. All they can do to communicate is jump around and press a button that releases an audible "chirp." Sometimes people help each other, sometimes they run away, and sometimes you and one other person play the entire game (about two hours) at each other's side. By the time the most powerful moments of the third act are over, your idea of what games can say about companionship might be changed permanently.
Shadow of the Colossus
Here's a title that's less about romanticizing love and more about its potentially destructive nature. An unnamed wanderer is tasked with killing 16 colossal giants in order to bring a woman back to life, but everything else when it comes to story is conspicuously left out. Who is this woman? We don't know. Are the game's giants evil? Doesn't seem like it; in fact, the player is often the aggressor in every situation.
When "Shadow of the Colossus" first shipped, the question Sony's advertisers asked was, "How far would you go for love?" It's a question that comes up a lot as each remarkable creature falls under your blade, but our protagonist's answer isn't satisfying. The wanderer's passion can't be questioned, but as much as love can hurt, the player doesn't usually end up on his side of this debate.