Trying to figure out how to strike up a conversation with that special someone you’ve had your eye on? Wondering how to show your sweetheart that you really care? Wishing you could convince that smokin’ hottie with the foxy body to leap into your arms and maybe even into the sack?
In these modern times, relationships and romance can be thorny things to navigate. Thankfully, today’s most advanced video games can show all you would-be lovers and dreamers the way.
Consider this: Two recently launched role-playing games — "Mass Effect 2" and "Dragon Age: Origins" — make developing and tending to relationships a crucial part of successfully completing the game. Whether you’re jumping into the sci-fi saga that is “Mass Effect” or delving into the dark fantasy of “Dragon Age,” you, the player, must spend hours on end carefully cultivating the relationships that you have with a host of computer-generated characters found in the game.
You’ll have to figure out how to earn their loyalty and their respect. You’ll have to figure out how to motivate and inspire them. And you’ll even have the opportunity to win their (digital) hearts and woo them into your (virtual) bed. (These are, after all, Mature-rated games). Ultimately, the choices you make about how you treat these characters will drastically affect how the games play out and how the stories end.
Sure, learning about real world relationships by playing video games may sound far-fetched, but remember: Human beings have been learning life and relationship lessons from fictional stories ever since we figured out how to utter the phrase “once upon a time…” And video games are simply our most modern form of storytelling.
Both “Dragon Age” and “Mass Effect” were developed by BioWare, a company that excels at creating games that emphasize story, character and relationship development as much as they emphasize combat and puzzle solving. And though these games may have players trying to figure out how to woo a voluptuous four-toed alien who’s lived her life in a hermetically sealed spacesuit or trying to convince a pointy-eared elf with ripped abs to go for a role in the hay, the virtual affairs that these games let people live out are some of the most compelling, inspired and “real” of any ever presented in a video game.
Mike Laidlaw, the lead designer behind “Dragon Age: Origins” says BioWare’s newest games aren’t trying to thump players over the head with a message or with relationship advice. Instead, he believes that these games, with their larger-than-life stories, act more like modern fables.
And if a fifth-century B.C. slave named Aesop could teach people valuable lessons about how to live their lives by spinning tall tales about, say, a tortoise and a hare — then surely these storytellers with all the powers of modern technology at their finger tips can teach us a little something about our lives as well.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five things “Mass Effect 2” and “Dragon Age: Origins” can teach us about our real-world lives and loves.
1. Talk to the one you love
“We’re always looking for new and more sophisticated ways to improve the reality behind the relationships in our games,” says Casey Hudson, project director for “Mass Effect 2.”
The recent advent of “digital actors” has helped games rise to an all-new level of realism, says Laidlaw. That is, technological advances have allowed developers to populate their games with computer-generated characters that not only look realistic but behave in surprisingly nuanced and emotionally engaging ways.
Both “Mass Effect 2” and “Dragon Age: Origins” require you, the player, to recruit a motley band of these characters to help you on a grand quest — saving the galaxy, stopping some evil unstoppable evilness … that kind of thing. But just like in real life, getting to know these simulated people isn’t always easy. So how do you succeed?
For starters, you have to talk to them.
In both games, you use a dialog tree or a dialog wheel to communicate — that is, you decide what to say by choosing various sentences that appear on the screen before you. Whether you simply want to befriend the intergalactic assassin with the scaly green skin or you want to convince the all-powerful witch to spend a night with you in your private tent, conversation is your only way in the door.
It’s surprising how many people don’t understand that this is also a basic requirement for real-world relationships as well. If you want to get to know someone — that fly guy you keep ogling at the gym or that beautiful barista at your neighborhood caffeine dispensary — the first step is opening your mouth to say “howdy stranger, I come in peace.”
2. It pays to be a good listener
“Dragon Age” and “Mass Effect” also remind us that, while striking up a conversation is a good start, you’ll have to choose what you say wisely if you want to win someone’s heart (real or digital).
And, ultimately, the only way you’re going to figure out the right words to use when courting the cuties in these games is to work on your listening skills.
Let’s say, for example, you’re playing “Mass Effect 2” and you’d like to start spending some quality time with a certain busty super soldier with daddy issues. When Miranda starts downplaying the unique personal qualities genetic engineering bestowed upon her, you can either respond with a) “You give your father too much credit. Yeah, he gave you gifts but you can be proud of what you’ve done with them.” Or you can respond with b) “That’s a tough feeling to live with. Maybe after we save the galaxy you’ll change your mind?”
If you’ve paid attention to what she’s told you about herself, you’ll know which answer will light her fire. (Hint: It’s not b).
Meanwhile, in “Dragon Age,” you will literally score “approval points” with the lovely bow-slinging bard Leliana if you spend time listening to her tell her stories and talk about her life before she met you.
And the same goes for all of you looking for some real-world love out there — being a good listener really could score you some points and score you the guy or girl of your dreams. After all, nothing shows you care like taking the time to pay attention.
3. Rune stones are a boy’s best friend
You know that old saying, “diamonds are a girl’s best friend?” Today’s video games remind us that a good way to show someone you care is by presenting a little bauble you picked out especially for them.
The noble “Dragon Age” knight Alistair will quickly begin to warm to you if you bring him the rune stones that he so fancies or perhaps a statuette or two. Bring the witch Morrigan jewelry and trinkets that remind her of her mother and you’ll soon find her casting a very intimate spell over you (one that makes most of your clothing magically disappear).
All of which brings us back to No. 2 above — if you’ve been listening to what the characters have told you about themselves you’ll be able to figure out what kind of gifts will please them.
Remember this when you’re trying to decide what to buy your significant other for his or her birthday. Will it be a pair of Pajama Jeans? Or will it be tickets to see their favorite band? You’ll know the right answer if you’ve been listening.
4. Take it slow
Some video game haters would have us believe that, when it comes to intimacy, today’s games offer nothing more than the ogling of overly endowed digital babes and lurid sex acts designed to rot the brain of every child on this planet. And yet, “Mass Effect 2” and “Dragon Age: Origins” defy these simple stereotypes, offering up complicated characters and thoughtful stories that instead suggest the deepest, most meaningful relationships only happen with time.
Take the good-boy Alistair character in “Dragon Age.” If you want to romance this righteous warrior, you’ll have to take it slow — get to know him first, win his approval with your good deeds and thoughtful gifts. Try to throw yourself on him too soon and he’ll shy away.
Meanwhile, “Mass Effect 2” allows players to take a quick-and-dirty space romp with a psychotic, half-naked, super-powered punk girl. But the experience is a shallow one when compared to what happens if you let the relationship heat up slowly. Take the time to find out what lies beneath her tattoos and deadly temper and you’ll be rewarded with a far richer affair.
When it comes to “Mass Effect 2” and “Dragon Age: Origins,” nothing is doled out to players on a platter. You’ll have to spend hours, days, weeks even, working to uncover the core of the characters and working to build your relationships with them. And when you finally do, it’s all the more rewarding for it.
And ain’t that the story of our lives?
5. Love makes the universe go ‘round
In the game “Mass Effect 2,” men really are from Mars and women really are from Venus … and the monosexual blue aliens known as the Asari are from a planet called Thessia and the space jellyfish known as the Hanar are from the planet Kahje.
But the great thing about BioWare games is that they remind us that love comes in all different forms and sometimes in unexpected places … and that that’s a good thing. The forward-thinking company allows players to explore both straight and gay relationships in their games. They present us with white-hot flings and heart-warming romances, with hookups and breakups.
And while “Mass Effect 2” tells the story of a brave space captain on a mission to save humanity and the galaxy at large from a dastardly alien race, and “Dragon Age: Origins” spins a yarn about a fantasy hero on a quest to drive a dark evil from the land, both games make one very real thing clear: In the end, there’s nothing better than having someone at your side.
Winda Benedetti writes MSNBC's Citizen Gamer column and sometimes whispers sweet nothings to the ones she loves .