What Games Taught Me About Having Two Girlfriends At Once

What Games Taught Me About Having Two Girlfriends At Once

Sometimes, when we are lying in bed — after the giggles subside and our hands finally give it a rest — my girlfriend likes to joke about how video games prepared me for a life where I “go out with all the cuties”.

Cuties, as in, cute people — gender doesn’t matter to me. And girlfriend as in… one of my girlfriends. I’m poly — short for “polyamorous”, which basically means that my partners and I are consensually not exclusive (not to be confused with “polygamy”, which centres around marriage). In other words: we can date or sleep with other people, provided we talk about it with each other first. This way, we can all negotiate what we’re comfortable with as well as talk about any insecurities and jealousy. They’re not conventional relationships, but thanks to the level of transparency, support and understanding my dating life requires, my current relationships are definitely the best ones I’ve ever had.

I’ve been poly for a few years now, but it wasn’t until recently in which I’ve actually meaningfully explored it. Before, poly functioned more as the understanding between my partner and I that I could have other relationships if I wanted to. Nothing beyond flings and casual encounters with other folks materialised for a couple of years, though — and so there wasn’t much negotiation about what what me and my partners were comfortable with when it came to other serious relationships. There was just the transparency of who else I was casually interested in and sleeping with.

Games, along with anime, are some of the only places where I regularly see non-monogamy represented at all.

Things are different now. Two girlfriends — two people I am interested in seriously seeing in the long-term — means a lot of juggling, a lot of talking, a lot of negotiating, and a lot of compromises. We’re talking like, the kind of issues and scenarios I can’t really turn to Cosmo about and get shitty advice for. So this all feels new to me. Sure, I have plenty of friends who are also poly — and are also willing to offer me a lot of advice — but navigating polyamory can still feel like a minefield, even for people with experience (and even when the people involved are super loving and caring).

For example:

  • When your family asks you about someone special, how do you break the fact there’s more one “special person”?
  • If your partner is seeing other people, how do you stop yourself from constantly comparing yourself to their other partners?
  • How do you respectfully and safely suggest/carry out threesome that involves multiple girlfriends?

Discussing this sort of stuff can be a bit of a headache — there’s a lot of stigma about the sort of people who gravitate toward the lifestyle, even though love is not a finite resource. And its not like most mainstream media has given me much to work with, either. In a show or movie, its perfectly plausible for someone to have strong feelings about multiple people at once — but for the sake of (a very specific type of) drama, characters are still forced to choose. Katniss from The Hunger Games struggles between Peeta and Gale. Bella from Twilight goes between Edward and Jacob. These tensions — the will they or won’t they, the who will they choose — are so strong that you could almost say that monogamy is one of the biggest villains in popular media. It’s kind of unfortunate — imagine how much more interesting things could be, drama-wise, if, say, Ashley didn’t walk out on Shepard in Mass Effect 1 when a player suggests that maybe he shouldn’t have to choose between her and Liara? I’d take that over the boring Reaper storyline any day.

Actually, it’s interesting. Games, along with anime, are some of the only places where I regularly see non-monogamy represented at all. Anime has the “harem” genre, which typically means a character is surrounded by love interests. Visual novels and other games that are heavily influenced by anime sometimes provide a “harem” route for players, which is basically a playthrough in which one can have multiple romantic relationships. The thing about these depictions is that they’re usually more in the realm of fantasy than they are depictions of healthy negotiated relationships. They’re more interested in titillating you with the idea of a bunch of gorgeous women all fawning over you than they are in presenting you the messier, complicated reality of having multiple serious relationships.

Beyond visual novels, it’s not uncommon for games that include romance to give players a chance to romantically pursue multiple people at once. Actually, thinking about it now, I almost kick myself for not realising I was poly sooner: my antics in games over the years are always very telling.

There was this one time in Fable 2 where I set out to romance every single villager in every town. I mean, why not? I was curious if the game would let me do it. I’d spend hours going up to people and wooing them with kisses and hip thrusts, I’d spend all sorts of money on gifts and taking people out on “perfect dates,” I’d pore through their preferences and try to cater to their every desire. Eventually I couldn’t go into any town without having a small army of lovesick villagers asking me to take them someplace quieter, or more sweetly, asking for my hand in marriage.

I wasn’t just some Don Juan, though: I was also a huge thief (of things that aren’t hearts, I mean). I remember walking into a shop, intent on stealing some potions…only to have my very own loves turn against me after witnessing robbery. Even though I was carrying awesome equipment, there were so many villagers that they easily overpowered and killed me easily — the lesson here being, I think, that love keeps you honest. Also: don’t sleep with everyone ever, because someone — likely you — is bound to get hurt. And: don’t steal stuff, you jerk.

There was also that one time I played through Persona 4, the role-playing dungeon crawler with some life-sim elements. My goal: romance everyone. Natch. The thing about Persona is that you have to choose how you spend your time wisely — some characters can only hang out with you on certain days. Scheduling can become a slight nightmare when you’re trying to juggle twelve different people, some of which will want to hang out on the same day as someone else — and you can only do one thing outside of school every day. It’s kind of similar to real life, actually, except that in my case, you have to substitute “school” with “a job.”

On top of forming friendships and romances, you also have to make sure your character has a part-time job and does extracurricular activities — you know, so you can have a well-rounded life — and you also have to clear dungeons and save the world. No biggie, but choices must be made. I was so dedicated to making it work, I made a chart that detailed the perfect schedule in which I managed to keep everyone happy. I don’t even keep a planner in real life, but that’s how important having a billion girlfriends was to me, apparently. PRIORITIES.

The thing about relationships in Persona 4 is that, although it lets you romance everyone of the opposite sex, all the characters act as if you’re exclusive with them — as if they’re your one and only true love. That dishonest premise kind of makes you an arsehole if you choose to not remain true to a character. Thing is, even if you’re not inclined toward non-monogamy, many of us do have the compulsion to see everything we can while playing a game. Why replay a 70+ hour game to see the different romances available to you when you can get them all at once, even though the choice is kind of gross?

In Persona 3, by contrast, it wasn’t so easy to swing a ridiculously active love life. Once you fully romanced a character, if they ever found out about someone else, the character would get mad at you. You’d kind of have to beg and promise you’d be a better partner to get them back. Characters could find out you were cheating on them in Persona 4, but all it meant was some kind of silly scenes where a girlfriend would start bickering with another girlfriend. Despite these scenes, your relationship with either girl was never impacted — a far cry from the intense conversations you might have with a partner about their feelings about another partner.

Games like to make you choose a single partner, unfortunately.

More often, though, games like to make you choose a single partner. You pair characters together for long enough in Fire Emblem: Awakening, for example, and they can get married — which closes them off from any other relationships with other people. It’s kind of a bummer, since the romance portions are the best parts of the game if you ask me.

Sometimes, you can work through these sorts of limitations: technically you’re not supposed to be able to fully romance more than one character in franchises like Mass Effect and Dragon Age in a single playthrough. Not without doing some horribly convoluted stuff first, though — like making sure you do quests in a certain order, making sure you talk to people at very specific times and you answer in very specific ways. I’m not even sure you’re supposed to be able to have, say, both Morrigan and Lelianna completely in love with you in Dragon Age, but there is a way to do it!

It would be nice to not have to consult a FAQ to figure out how to honestly and respectfully romance more than one character in a way that seems more mature than the gross, underdeveloped fantasies of a 13 year old boy. This isn’t a call for the catering of a small minority of people who have a certain lifestyle, to be clear. It’s just that stuff outside of non-monogamy can present interesting situations for people to safely explore, and if games really pride themselves in interactivity, providing another choice for someone can only be a boon, right? And lets not pretend like fandoms on Tumblr don’t already make ridiculous saucy love triangles/octagons/pentagons/etc among characters.

Real people aren’t machines you can insert kindness coins into until they’re in love with you.

Based on what they’ve provided so far, though, I wouldn’t say games have taught me much that is practical about how to approach polyamorous relationships…not beyond the idea that scheduling can be really hard sometimes. Sure, I’m happy that games are sliiiightly better than other media when it comes to depicting stuff outside of monogamy, but heck, games aren’t very good at depicting monogamous relationships either. To loosely quote a friend, real people aren’t machines you can insert kindness coins into until they’re in love with you, like you typically can in games. And I don’t have a FAQ to consult when I have to figure out how to tell my girlfriend that the idea of her sleeping with a mutual friend makes me feel weird, or a guide on how to talk to my other girlfriend about my fears that she might like her other girlfriend more than me.

And you know what? I like it this way, even though I don’t really know what I’m doing. I don’t have scripts to follow about how relationships are “supposed” to work, I can’t fall back on bad habits learned from horrible advice columns. In a good poly relationship, as far as I’m concerned (and mind that not all poly relationships work the same!), nothing is unspoken. I have to talk it out every time, no matter how hard or scary it to admit to insecurities, jealousies and vulnerabilities. And that’s the way it should be, really.


  • Real people aren’t machines you can insert kindness coins into until they’re in love with you.

    You know, this is the main point why women hate “Nice Guys”.

      • I see the humor in these comments, sticking coins in a vagina is some hilarious imagery. Although, maybe remove them before thrusting about in there. Painful imagery.

        But I really hope you two aren’t being serious about the “women hate “Nice Guys”” or “Girls only want money.” these are just vain people. And if every women you think you would like to go further with, falls into the category of vain, then it’s highly likely you do too, and you need to reconsider what you’re looking for in life and relationships.

        I’m currently looking for a kind of polyamory with my girlfriend and I. Where we’re both seeking another partner to join our relationship as a three-way sharing and support of emotion, where all the steps are taken as a team. And so I’m thankful for this article, it’s a cool to think that some video games like to be forward thinking on social agendas. And even just having an article written, reminds me people that society still shuns people for being different. Although not trying to be, not trying to be anything. Just trying to live.

    • What @stickman said. You need to insert real coins to make it work. You can even get a celebrity or model to love you depending on how many coins you insert to them.

    • My missus loves me for being a nice guy. I was just nice and stuck around and kept her company as friends during some hard times and we grew closer and now we’ve been happy for years. So that kindness coins things bugs me very much. :V

      The thing I dislike about it is the way it’s written and how ambiguous it is. “Kindness coins” could be taken as just being kind is not a realistic way of getting women in which case I ask “wut?”

      • I couldn’t really muster the energy to care to be honest.

        There is always no end of people ready to criticise, but in the end they are still here, reading and bringing publicity.

  • What I don’t like about the typical video game representation of this is that it always feels like only the player is allowed to be with other partners (in my experience) and that the spouse? is just so smitten with the awesomeness of your hero that he/she puts up with it.

    kinda gives poly a bad wrap

    also interesting is Jade Empire


  • Interesting that this article compares the “harem” genre of Anime with juggling relationships, because in my experience with those Anime (namely Love Hina, Tenchi Muyo, etc.) there’s never any chance at exploring a relationship – the gormless hero is surrounded by big tits on eager young women but is too inept to close the deal with anyone until his true love comes along and fixes everything for him – a fantasy that resonates deeply with geeky 15 year old boys. In video games you might be presented with options for relationships but it’s still up to the player to pursue them, or at least make decisions (even if those decisions amount to, as people have critically remarked, “putting kindness coins in until they fall in love with you/sex falls out”) that result in a preferred outcome.

    I don’t see any reason a game can’t depict polyamory, or the trials of juggling difficult relationships, but most of gaming’s attempts at romance so far have come across as pure window dressing or an opportunity to bait players with some shallow titillation. Baby steps, people.

    • the alternative scenarios to gorless hero is the one that has tits in his face constantly, but acts disinterested or indifferent until they miraculously display a tsunami of empathy towards the end where they finally close the deal…as if they were just good at hiding their emotion the whole time (a way to drag out the story line bascailly)
      the third scenario is simply the tsundere personality of one or both characters

      • I found that the tsundere character archetype typically appears in harem anime but is reserved for the “true love” character, i.e.: Narusegawa in Love Hina, Ryoko in Techi, and so on. Then again, those are the only two examples I’m familiar with so maybe my limited sample size has led me to an inappropriate conclusion. There are certainly tsundere characters that aren’t the “destined love” character.

        • While I agree with what you are saying, and would give Akane Tendo from Ranma as a replacement, I think you would find a lot of resistance to Ryoko being Tenchi’s One True Love. I suspect they intended Ayeka for that, but it is really hard to say any would. Tenchi is, I find, one of the ones that would be most given to a poly ending, and really seem much more ‘family like’ than other harem animes.

          It is interesting, I once had someone tell me they were tired of shows ending in a poly way, yet when pressed, neither they nor I could really come up with any ones that really had. Yet I’ve heard that sentiment frequently, and suspect people are lumping ‘never resolves’ in with it, which is entirely different.

          • If I’m honest my recollection of Tenchi is extremely poor and I think you’re right about Ayeka. Ryoko is almost something of an antagonist now that I think about it. Of course there’s a few different iterations of Tenchi and they all end fairly differently from what I do remember.

            Ranma is a much more apt (and earlier) example of the tsundere love interest dynamic than Love Hina, though that doesn’t really count as a harem anime since Ranma more or less rejects the other two sisters outright and the romances is only really ever about Ranma/Akane with some occasional attempted intrusion by Shampoo (and that other guy whose name I don’t recall vying for Akane’s attention).

            [I wrote some stuff here about polyamory and Fruits Basket which “never resolves” but that refers to my experience with the Anime which is woefully incomplete and after checking wikipedia it turns out the manga has a distinct ending with no polyamory]

        • i actually mean tsundere for both male and female characters

          not sure if there is a male form for the word

          but toradora is a good example where they are constantly fighting

          its not just the girl whos being stubborn and dishonest with herself, the guy is too. People always overlook that

    • There are a handful of “harem” anime where the protagonist has one true love who is obvious from the beginning and that never changes. All the other girls in the harem try hard but obviously have no hope.

      Ai Yori Aoshi is like this. I think Vandread and Familiar of Zero also fit the pattern. I suppose these could be termed “queen and harem” anime, except that the other female characters don’t even get the lookin that a historic harem did.

      • I fukn hate anime where the guy is oblivious

        To love Ru is the best example

        hot busty alien princess does her best to go for you for like 5 seasons, saves your life countless of times, protects you from her demonic lord father and you fend off her advances everytime because you want to date a shy human girl WHO YOU STILL DONT MAKE ANY MOVES ON WTF

  • Maybe there should be a game that’s JUST this. I’m not sure that you’d able to throw in multiple relationships in anything but a ridiculously long game (it actually annoyed me in Skyrim) because it does get a bit creepy if you can just move on from one to the next and undermines the emotional value of the character. (This is what annoyed me in Skyrim, your partner had no pesonality but you were stuck with them) I say the game needs to be actually about love to explore this is because everyone is different and each have different “rules” for their love life which they usually have to compromise by the time they work out what they really want. That sort of journey in a game would be totally interesting to me. One about romance that’s not necessarily about choices but compromises we make to push ourselves forward and the world, our partners and potential partners that react to it.

  • Polyamory isn’t something I understand or have come into contact with personally. But it seems like something with a reduced risk/reward system, because more seems to be permitted. In a conventional relationship paradigm, the boundaries are easier to recognise (and therefore code into a game), and easier to identify a risk/reward system a player can predict and work within. Polyamory sounds like it would be insanely difficult to write an interesting story for, and keep it suitable for the relative simplicity of most video game mechanics and structures.

    Because polyamory is not a conventional relationship paradigm, most people will be unfamiliar with the intricacies of such a system – therefore, when putting together a game, you either need to hold their hand or lose their interest. You either sacrifice complexity or accessibility.

    Still, if it could be done right, I’d play it, just to see what the hell it’s all about.

    • It would certainly be harder to write for in a game, because games avoid a primary and key important aspect of poly relationships (Or ,honestly, any real relationships), communication. Games usually only scratch the barest surface of what is entailed in a ‘real’ relationship, and focus more on ‘courting’, ending with the people involved getting together. Poly relationships are rarely so simple.

      Interesting article, though. I’m poly myself (Been married 18 years, been with my girlfriend about 6) and couldn’t imagine being otherwise. It is part of who I am, and I couldn’t be otherwise. Other people are monogamous and couldn’t change. I suspect that ultimately, most people are more on a spectrum, like gender and sexuality.

    • Oh, fuck right off.

      How dare she talk about her life experiences in an interesting way! Someone might learn about a life that isn’t their own!

        • This is an interesting article about an experience many have never and will never be able to live. If you don’t like her stuff, don’t click on it.

          I don’t even mean that in a “fuck off” type way. Vote with Gawker’s wallet. If everyone who disliked her stuff just stopped clicking on it, her hits would fall and management would have to decide if they wanted to keep her on. I’m happy to give the click to this article. It’s not bullshit clickbait, it’s a well thought out article about a personal experience. It’s ok not to like it, just don’t go pooping on people’s parades. Not only does it not help you, it makes the experience for people who do want to read it shitty.

          • Not everybody comes to these articles through the front page. A lot of people come in from back doors where they don’t necessarily know it’s a Patricia article because all they saw is the clickbaiting headline or lead paragraph obviously aimed at drawing in the lowest common denominator. But analytics don’t give a damn; a click is a click.

          • No, I’m saying the headline and lead paragraph taken out of context – as they often are when linked to – are likely to attract a larger audience than just those who would appreciate the article.

          • I still don’t see why that’s a justification for insulting the author.

            The only way to control that would be to stop clicking on sensationalist headlines. Yet here we are. Here you are. Having clicked the headline.

          • @pokedad No, never did I say anything about it justifying insulting the author. In fact, I quite liked the article. What I am saying is that your idea of “voting with Gawker’s wallet” simply does not work because if a person (rightly or wrongly) feel tricked into clicking on an article you don’t actually want to read, the system still rewards the author. They still attracted X amount of traffic whether 90% of readers loved it or 90% of readers hated it.

          • Honestly, if readers have that much of an issue with how the site is run, there are a million other sites. Kotaku has been more of a news-y blog than a news site for years, now.

            Fact is, people who come here just to say how much they hate X are here for rage porn and nothing else. They contribute nothing to the discussion and actively encourage perpetuating the things they hate by continuing to click and comment on them. They should just not be here.

        • Wait, you were being sarcastic? I have removed my upvote.
          EDIT: I have since replaced the upvote with a downvote. I hope to do business with you again.

  • Polyamory? I haven’t seen a game yet that explores monogamy or any realtionships all that seriously or in any real depth.

    I keep reading that love isn’t a finite resource, whereas I don’t see why that should be the case.
    Lust may not be finite, you can twist your head at everyone that walks past and imagine a tryst, but love is action, not intentions. You can’t be ‘friends’ with 500 people, outside of the shallow facebook definition.
    Real friendships take effort, make you take time out of your life to connect one-on-one, not just broadcast your life to whomever might care. So intimate relationships take more effort, if they are to be rewarding and meaningful, and you only have so many hours in the day.
    I’d say love is very finite, for a lot of people, being properly in love with one person is more than they can manage.

    • Interestingly, Catherine, probably the best mainstream relationship-focused game out there, is on sale this week on XBL for $19.95 (or $10 on the US store). It’s not especially in-depth, but it raises some interesting questions.

  • It’s worth noting that Persona 4 Golden adds a few things to address players who date every character at the same time. It definitely runs with the ‘doing this is bad’ angle.

    • Valentines day definitely tries to make you feel like an asshole. Luckily for me it’s Chie all the away so I never had to.

  • Games also taught me how to murder people and enjoy myself while doing it imagine how much more interesting things could be, drama-wise, if, say, A̶s̶h̶l̶e̶y̶ ̶d̶i̶d̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶w̶a̶l̶k̶ ̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶S̶h̶e̶p̶a̶r̶d̶ that happened in real life too Just because things happen in games doesn’t mean they’re going to work irl

  • Games, along with anime, are some of the only places where I regularly see non-monogamy represented at all.

    You mean aside from movies, TV shows, magazines, books, etc?

  • Not in my wildest dream could I even consider this. I’m not saying it’s inherently a bad thing to do, to each their own, but it just feels… Way less special…

  • Games like to make you choose a single partner, unfortunately.

    Emphasis mine. I’m not sure that it is “unfortunate”. Media products released to mass public cannot possibly cater to all life-styles and life choices. It would walk into the business of embracing too much and gripping too little: For each poly-amorous (or similar) person in the world that would go ” Huzza! This game allows me to replicate my gender/preference/relationship choices from real life, I feel validated and acknowledged!”, there will be several many others that simply would be weirded/disgusted/confused by it. I believe that the writer herself would be among the first to understand that poly is a life style not suitable or indeed, achievable to the vast majority people.

    Some flexibility must definitely exist for most people to be able to project themselves and interact in a meaningful way with the media product in question, but it is unrealistic to keep demanding rare personal preferences to be equally represented as the norm -not for reason of ethics or morals, but of common sense.

  • I’m so sick of you polyamory or polygamy assholes trying to get rid of monogamy. It’s really rather sickening. I can’t understand why you people constantly try to promote polygamy or polyamory or whatever. I personally can’t stand the thought of having sex with someone other then my partner or the thought of her having sex with someone else. If you do that fine, but there is no reason it should be the standard and what everyone should do just because you like it.

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