From the “Just When You Think You’ve Seen It All” Department, I learned today while researching romantic relationships in video games, that a Tokyo man married a video game character in 2009. I had heard of this only briefly before but never read the full article from CNN. Apparently this young man hired a priest and held an event in a rented hall, with guests, which was simulcast over the internet and watched by thousands around the world. The character “Sal 9000” married is Nene Anegasaki, an anime-style romance-able non-player character (NPC) in the game, Love Plus, for the Nintendo DS.
I’m sure many people will see this as wacky or sad. However, I see it as evidence that romance-able NPC’s in role-playing games (RPG’s) are important to people’s gaming experiences, and can move and inspire gamers in ways that cross over into real life. I don’t believe that this man necessarily, actually believed he was marrying a cartoon character, as much as he was making a cultural statement about the importance of games and how sometimes, the emotional connection we feel to characters in these games can feel as real as those we might feel in real life, toward an actual person.
I am exploring that connection in more depth. I’ve developed a preliminary survey for gamers and game developers which seeks to find out more about why we romance NPC’s when we play games, how important those interactions are to our gaming experience, and what degree of crossover there is between our real-life sexual preferences and our virtual ones. Don’t worry, the survey is anonymous. (If your reasons have to do with boobs, it’s OK to say so. In fact, a couple people have. I’m trying to unpack the actual data, here.) What I have learned so far is that more expansive study on this could be useful to the gaming industry and has yet to be pursued. I intend to pursue it.
What I will be doing in the coming weeks is to develop and post a more comprehensive survey, with the goal of getting 1,000 respondents. I am being helped in this effort by some pillars of the gaming industry, including Jesse Schell, Sheri Graner Ray, and a couple others I am in talks with at the moment. At the end of this process, I hope to be able to publish my findings in outlets of interest to the gaming industry. This started out as an intellectual question, but has transformed into a research topic that might have some validity in the gaming industry. Let’s see where it goes!
As to the validity of Sal 9000’s marriage to Nene, at least he knows it isn’t a legal marriage. I can’t in all honesty call the man crazy. I’ve had, shall we say…unnatural…attachments to romance-able NPC’s. Most of them were written by BioWare, in fact. The veil is coming down, folks. I’m hoisting the Geek Flag here. Be kind.
It all started with Atton Rand from Obsidian’s Knights of the Old Republic 2:
Shortly followed by Sky from BioWare’s Jade Empire, who I ran away with:
Bishop, who broke my heart in Neverwinter 2 (serves me right, falling for a bad guy):
…but was replaced by the delicious emo mage, Gann-of-Dreams in the Neverwinter 2 expansion:
BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins had me pining for Alistair (played the game through three times to get the romance to end the way I wanted it to!):
…then I had to play Dragon Age 2 multiple times, to make sure I tried out Fenris, Anders and Sebastian:
Now, we have BioWare’s MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, where I am not merely Lord of the Sith, Darksworn Legacy, but also the squeeze of one Andronikos Revel, dastardly space pirate:
I am happily married in real life, to a real life man. One who is gracious enough to not be jealous, and to not throw me out on the street for my game geekiness. (He has a fairly long list of characters he’s formed attachments to, his own self. Spices things up for us, it does.) In any case…I wanted to show that while Sal 9000 took things to the extreme, I can see where he’s coming from, and I intend to study more about this relationship between people and NPC’s.
Have you had an NPC crush? Tell us about it!!! Let your Geek Flag Fly!!!