Happy Valentine’s Day, Nerds: Gaming’s Greatest Romances

Well, it’s that time of year again. The worldwide coupledom celebration festival approaches, and people are showering slobbery praise upon the other human beings they’ve somehow managed to attach themselves to. Gamers have recently been delivered a peculiarly mature investigation of love and companionship in the block-jumping fidelity simulator Catherine, and it reminds one that the world of videogames do sometimes portray the amorous nether regions of human relationships. So, to honour Valentine’s Day in a totally non-bitter fashion, here’s some of the most notable game couplings. They’re not always good, but they’re all great. Kind of like in real life, really.

Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine Marley (The Monkey Island Games)

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There is no relationship in gaming more relevant to our current generation’s male affliction of arrested development than that between these two passionate swashbucklers. Over the course of four Monkey Island games, coiffured pirate wannabe Guybrush Threepwood meets, rescues and weds the hardened, fierce Elaine Marley, yet repeatedly throughout the series she displays more resolve, savvy and maturity than Guybrush. The responsible Elaine wears the trousers in this relationship, whilst Guybrush often flies by the seat of his, wisecracking his way through a childish obliviousness to danger and social nuance. Nonetheless, Elaine and Guybrush’s is one of the most tender gaming relationships, and despite Threepwood’s endearing buffonery he often pulls through for his woman in spectacular (and usually unexpected) fashion. She could still beat him in a fight, though.

The Prince and Farah (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time)

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Opposites attract, or so they say, and many romances blossom when two people at opposite ends of the spectrum are thrown together. The titular Prince and the Indian Princess Farah don’t exactly meet cute: he has just conquered her homeland and enslaved her people, taking her as a spoil of war. I’m no expert, but I’m assured this doesn’t really put a girl in the mood. When the arrogant Prince and the proud Farah must team up to defeat the treacherous Vizier, they are initially mistrustful of one another, delighting in pointing out each other’s flaws and failings. The incessant banter and bickering of these two is charming and well written, disguising a keen flirtation that grows deeper as they overcome more obstacles together. Their relationship reminds me of the great odd couples of golden era Hollywood screwball comedies, like Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night – a courtship filled with wit, humour and energy.

Mario Mario and Peach (Mario, obviously)

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There’s something quite admirable about a man so committed to a woman that he’s prepared to rescue her when she is repeatedly kidnapped by a dinosaur. Most men would turn and flee for their lives if that happened, but Mario, the literal knight in shining overalls, is prepared to commit unspeakable acts of turtle genocide to rescue his love. Mario and Peach’s romance is pretty much Maid in Manhattan in reverse: he is a lowly immigrant plumber, she is a fabulously wealthy princess, and even if Mario’s efforts aren’t always rewarded (you would think that rescuing a girl from a T-Rex would be a killer pass, but no, she’s in another house, go away),  there’s something encouraging about videogames positively portraying social mobility.

Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance (Half Life 2)

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Gordon Freeman is a hero to all men who play videogames because he totally pulls off the strong, silent type thing, and it works. Freeman doesn’t say a word during Half Life 2, yet the strong, capable Alyx Vance inexplicably fawns over him, and this is a reassuring lesson to nerds everywhere: a physicist can be a badass. That’s not to devalue the bond between Alyx and Gordon, because there’s is a truly empathetic friendship. Throughout the many scrapes they get into, Alyx will prove invaluable support, and Half Life 2: Episode 2 took this sense of companionship and trust to new emotional levels when it had you spend an extended portion of the game trying desperately to save Alyx’s life. I wouldn’t say that they necessarily have a romance, but it’s certainly true that many people who play Half Life 2 develop an attachment to Alyx, and their team-up is the emotional core of the game.

Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago (The Gears of War series)

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I’ve always thought that the inescapable subtext of the Gears of War games was that they were essentially about the love that these two men have for each other, yet so deeply do they repress these feelings that they can only express their love with acts of violence. Am I the only one who finds it symbolically significant that when Dom dies, Marcus kills the Locust queen for revenge? Almost as if female sexuality threatens his union with Dom. Seriously, you could write a dissertation about Gears of War and Freud.

Shepard and pretty much everyone (Mass Effect 2)

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No hero in gaming has more options than Commander Shepard, who must be some kind of extra-terrestrial Casanova, because it seems like you can’t have a conversation with a member of the Normandy’s crew in Mass Effect 2 without them coming on to you and sneaking in some suggestive comments. I don’t know, maybe people in space just love someone in uniform, but from the second Commander Shepard steps aboard the Normandy, everything that isn’t nailed down is fair game for getting nailed down, if you know what I mean.  While this may not make Shepherd the most gentlemanly (or gentlewomanly, depending on how you play the game) person on this list, there’s at least something noble in a captain taking care of the needs of his crew. Even if Shepard interprets that brief via the libido sometimes.

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