But when it comes time to seal the romantic deal in a BioWare game, do things really need to be so awkward? Because damn, things have gotten weird. As Tom Bissell puts it in his Grantland critique of the game — “In fact, could we, as gamers, maybe politely band together to convince BioWare to can the sex scenes entirely, at least until the technology exists to make a non-hilarious one?”
I’m with Tom on this one. Every sex scene I see in a BioWare game (or in most games, for that matter) is goofy on a fundamental level that needs to be addressed. Well, every scene except one.
I’m not a programmer, but the problem here seems to come down to a difficulty rendering contact between two characters. In every Mass Effect game (including 3), scenes of physical intimacy wind up looking like two weird puppets attempting to dance together. Arms wrap around torsos but remain 10cm from making contact, faces weirdly bump together in a pantomime of a kiss.
These scenes become an exercise in artful omission — in Dragon Age: Origins, sex scenes were a series of carefully composed shots separated by fades to black, with kissing blocked by the back of a head, most physical contact taking place just out of the frame.
Eventually, every BioWare game fades to black. And thank goodness for that! I love Allistair and Morrigan, but I don’t want to watch my avatar explore their “uncanny valley,” for any longer than necessary, ifyaknowwhatImean.
And yet while the fade-to-black represents an awareness on the part of the developers that their tech isn’t quite up to the level of even portraying basic physical contact convincingly, they almost always wait too long to cut away. We see just a bit too much, we’re jarringly reminded of the awkwardness what we’re seeing.
But one game got it right — Jade Empire. I actually have a firmer memory of the culminating romance scene in this game than any other BioWare game, and it’s not because I saw some hot ripped abs or some steamy side-boob. It’s because the scene was actually somewhat romantic and it didn’t show me too much. (I believe Baldur’s Gate did something similar, though that game wasn’t rendered in nearly as cinematic a style.)
Furthermore, and this is a bit granular, but look how that Jade Empire kiss operates, for lack of a better word. Her hands actually touch his back, and the whole thing feels like two people going in for an old-school style cinematic kiss. It’s not perfect, but the illusion is at least convincing. And then… fade to black. Did we really need to see more? Would the story have been improved in any way by seeing Sky and the protagonist mashing their weird half-naked bodies together?
No, I don’t really think so. The technology does exist to make these scenes work: Look at this genuinely hot scene from Uncharted 2 between Drake and Chloe:
(Skip to 3:15.) Here, a scene in which two video game characters are in the same room and actually appear to be touching. Probably because they were — the Uncharted games are now famous for shooting their mo-cap scenes with the actors voicing their lines as they act out the scenes.
I think there’s something to be said for leaving those scenes on the cutting room floor until BioWare is ready to make them look less laughable. As Jade Empire demonstrated, a video game love-scene can have a sweeping, enjoyable bit of romance. It doesn’t need to be grimace-inducing or embarrassing.
After all, if this (Spoiler-filled, incredibly NSFW) Mass Effect porn tumbler tells us anything, it’s that fans of these games do just fine if left to their own imaginations.