With Valentine’s day on the Horizon, I thought I talk about my experience of Love in Video Games. It is not new for games to have a romantic sub plot or if they are feeling especially brave, to base their whole mechanic around falling in love. It doesn’t matter if its fantasy worlds on a quest to slay evil or inter galactic politics, video games still have time to play match maker with our characters and a limited number of NPCs. Tifa Lockheart, Alyx Vance or Samus Aran are to name a few famous gamer sweet hearts but I’m here to talk about an unorthodox flame.
Resident Evil 4 is a top notch game. Revolutionary in it’s game mechanics and adored by gamers everywhere. Resident Evil 4 even provides for both sexes in the fan service department by re-introducing the Asian Beauty Ada Wong and Emo-Pretty Boy Leon S. Kennedy. But the lady that caught my eye was Ashley Graham.
A simple google image search of this name and people can see that she is no slouch in the looks department. Young, blonde, subtle fashion choices and “armed with ballistics” she is the epitome of the American Girl Next Door. Her fiery temper and constant shrieking for help may have turned gamer’s towards Ada Wong but it’s Ashley’s role in Resident Evil 4 is what enticed me.
To me, Resident Evil 4 biggest strengths was creating an extremely hostile and isolating world. There was danger around every corner and the only friendly face was a hooded merchant that mysteriously appeared from time to time. I was alone.
And then along came Ashley. Rescuing Ashley and having her tag along in game should have been the death penalty of this game; turning it from survival action to prolonged escort mission. It should have caused me to HATE Ashley for ruining my enjoyment by being a constant thorn in my side. But it did the opposite. Having Ashley by my side made the world slightly less isolating but retaining the vulnerability of survival. She added support emotionally by cheering when I made a good shot but still being something I needed to think about and protect.
Resident Evil 4 does a great job when it comes to Ashley being a bearable escort. Escorts are typically dumb, annoying and get in the way of the gameplay. Ashley takes a back seat and lets you get on with the combat while she hides in the dumpster. This says two things about her character. She is smart enough to know Leon will get her out of Spain safe if she follows his orders and isn’t stubborn to argue about hiding in a garbage dump. It goes against the stereotypical affluent American blonde by making her competent and a more likeable.
When she was captured and the infamous “LEON HELP!” scream rattled through the speakers, my heart skipped. Losing Ashley and being left alone in rural Spain is a thought that seemed like hell to me thus giving me an external incentive to rescue her. The game wants me to rescue Ashley because it’s Leon’s mission but I want to rescue Ashley because I don’t want to be alone again.
The great part of this virtual love is that Resident Evil 4 did not intend for this type of relationship to form. Games like Persona that have a romantic element feel a lot faker. They give you a select number of romanceable characters and have you jump through hoops to attend their affections. This is flawed when translating Love into Code. In real life, Love isn’t limited to a certain number of people nor about talking to them everyday and making context sensitive choices. Making it play in this binary fashion diminishes the effect of Love.
Resident Evil 4 in an indirect way made me feel for Ashley thus being a more organic representation of Love.
To this day I have never finished Resident Evil 4 because I was too afraid of facing that Regenerator but when discussing Romances in Video Games I couldn’t think of one character I felt for. Attractive NPCs are a dime a dozen, apart from being attracted to their virtual assets there is not much else. They were always characters falling in love with the player character or vice versa but the player isn’t part of that equation. I was the omnipresent third wheel playing match maker or seeing it all unravel before me. But then I thought of Ashley and how she made playing Resident Evil 4 slightly better.
Sometimes Love does come in the most unexpected of places