A couple years ago, I lamented over the fact that a younger version of me had dedicated to romancing Ashley Williams in Mass Effects, and just to catch you up on why this was such a regrettable decision, I have a short nine word story for you if you don’t want to read the full article.
And as we approach Valentine’s Day, it’s time to approach the other in-game romantic paths I have walked down, so join me as we pivot to the great regrets in my video game romancing. Some perhaps deserving of mockery and some, just reflections about personal growth.
Everything About the Emily is Away Franchise
This one may be a little disingenuous since the point of these text-based visual novels is to explore the human condition within in the context of social media. Ultimately, all three games play out in a series of binary paths that only have so much variation and inevitable conclusions at the end of it (although variance becomes much more pronounced in Emily is Away Too and Emily is Away <3).
Emily is Away is conducted through an AIM style chat box as you converse with the titular Emily. As a child of the 90s whose first and only AIM account was made for them (shout to mikkelroxdaparty), this was immediately evocative of an older, slightly simpler time, and I tried my best to navigate the fictitious relationship. The highs, the lows, the awkward conversations, and the ultimately doomed final farewell where, even as I was breaking, my character responded coldly. In the end, all the journey ultimately resulted in a singular bitter end.
Emily is Away Too, which continued the AIM styled mechanics this time added two romantic interests, and Emily is Away <3, which took place on Facenook, featured more choice. Each play through of the game I found myself constantly struggling between being true to myself, true to the actions of the fictitious avatar I was inhabited, and perhaps mentally trying to find a different route, a better opportunity.
The games are wonderful, but emotionally draining and even knowing that there are other realities, other timelines where things work out, it’s a little scary (if not a little silly) that I’ve been nervous to return to the games. However, that type of vulnerability is something special and maybe I’ll remedy this one in the future.
When Social Links Become Social Chains
Dating’s hard, and it’s only become harder during the last couple years between all of the different dating apps and also relearning how to socialize after differing degrees of isolationism brought on a multitude of factors. Dating has always been hard largely because it’s hard to know exactly where you stand with someone. There’s no single, viewable metric that allows you to understand exactly where you stand with a person nor is there an explicit option that is presented to you that you literally have no choice but to answer in no uncertain terms to continue (more often not, the explicit option to confess in real life is less defined, more awkward, and is entirely optional).
Of course, this is why the Persona franchise is a nice break from reality. In the same way that Animal Crossing lets you experience homeownership with a stable economy, Persona lets you experience dating with clear progression and a straight explanation of when it’s time to confirm feelings and shit.
I’ve alluded to the Persona 4 Golden situation where Valentine’s Day resulted in the heart wrenching parade of watching all of the other love interests completely devastated that I wasn’t going to spend the most romantic day of the year with them This was further compounded with Rise who I had been spending time with being the last one before my “preferred” date with Chie happen and I felt terrible.
But that was nothing compared to the specifically designed scenario in Persona 5 Royal where all of the romance lines show up at once and beat you up.
The screenshot is self-explanatory. I will be taking further questions (yes, I really should have known better).
Romancing Anyone in Mass Effect: Andromeda
To bring all of this full circle, truly one of the more baffling decisions I’ve ever made during a game was romancing anyone at all in Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Andromeda was not a bad game. It was a bad Mass Effect game, but the core combat loop with primers and detonators was cool, some of the set pieces were memorable, and the movement was enough to keep things entertaining through the main campaign. However, the hallmark of Mass Effect franchise that we like to remember was the strong throughline writing and the bonds we formed with our crewmates.
Joker, EDI, Wrex, Grunt, Tali, Garrus, Legion, Liara, Thane, Kasumi, Mordin. So many of the characters in the original trilogy were iconic characters that Shepherd could create meaningful bonds and relationships.
Mass Effect: Andromeda though? I don’t know any of their names. I don’t even know the MCs name. All I know is that at some point, I progressed a whole loyalty mission and ended up romancing/sleeping with the Asari because that felt like the most Mass Effect thing to do, but now it’s just a vague memory and a reminder of how little the characters meant at the time. Truly a regret for the ages, a vague memory of a one-night stand.
Lovelorn in 2023
Two years have passed since the greatest shame meditation that was romancing Ashley Williams. And in the intervening time, I still find myself thinking about the regrets. Perhaps two years down the line, the romantic perspectives will have shifted, and I’ll get to talk about the great joys in video game romances. I cannot think of any at this moment and very much feel like the fact I’m still lingering on past mistakes is indicative of something, but who knows what tomorrow will bring. All I know is that younger me and slightly older younger me made decisions and I recognize them as bad ones, so that’s growth. Or something. Future me can sort it out later.