Ah, unrequited love — a classic theme in all sorts of media, and gaming is no exception. There's a wonderful little post over at auntie pixelante on the issue as it relates to games — and why it is so powerful. As far as I'm concerned, the whole player-game relationship is founded on unrequited love (and at least, unrequited adoration). The article takes a look at a Wii game called Art Style: Orbient, it's a meditation on the 'so close, yet so far away' phenomenon that is all over the place in classic games and newer iterations:
it reminds me, thematically, of andrew plotkin's so far (from "so near and yet so far"), where the distance between the protagonist and the object of the protagonist's desire manifests in recurring symbols of objects that must be brought close but never allowed to touch, and whose climax gives the player the opportunity to resolve this distance, but to do so causes everything to be undone.
or, more recently, braid, which actually incorporates the line "the princess is in another castle." the resolution of braid is the acceptance of the princess's absence: tim must reject his fantasy of the princess as the object of a heroic quest. the denouement is the acknowledgement that the princess is just a person, and tim's past is not a puzzle to be solved.
the theme of unrequited love suggests that to truly know the object of our desire is to desanctify the allure that gives our fantasy its power. to play past the ending of super mario bros. would be to realise that the princess is a single sprite, bereft of life or animation. there's a reason the game ends when mario meets the princess: the game is the chase, not the consummation.
When I burrow into a much-loved game or book or movie, I'm reminded of the statement that 'history is the loneliest profession' — that is, many of us have a one-way relationship with our subjects, investing so much time and energy (and often, affection) into people and things that don't give any of that back. Still, there's something about that one-way relationship — for me, it's often brought out in gaming as well as my work, but I know I've played a good game when I feel sorrow at finishing, not wanting to put away that relationship. The fact that we all have our individual relationships with games, but are still connected in a wider way (from the designers all the way down to fellow players) — well, that's pretty cool. And not so lonely.