To the laymen, the phrase “romantic video games” may seem like an oxymoron. Long-prevailing stereotypes see gamers exclusively as acne-ridden, petulant man-children dwelling in their mom’s basement, no personal hygiene or sexual partner in sight. This may be occasionally true, but there is so much more to it than that, and in fact I can think of few things more romantic than enjoying video games with a partner. Here are my picks for games to experience with your partner to help the two of you achieve a closeness of unparalleled profundity.
Romance is subjective; what warms the hearts and loins of some may do nothing at all for others. It is true that the following games don’t fit the traditional parameters of romance. Indeed, Ryan Gosling isn’t going to whisk you into his loving embrace and kiss you so deeply that the solar system ceases its heliocentric nature and instead begins to revolve around the gravity of your passion in any of these games.
Instead, in each entry the romance is derived from forces more individualized and abstract than that of “The Notebook.” While each one is evocative in its own specific way, they all rely upon an underlying and essential characteristic that is intrinsic to the experience of playing games with the person you love, that sharing a hobby with your favorite person in the universe is inherently romantic. I can’t think of anything more special than sitting with your best friend and equally submitting yourselves to humankind’s greatest artistic and technological achievement: video games.
So please, indulge me as I dive headfirst into the deep end of my love language for both my partner and my favorite pastime. Love can be felt anywhere, and each of these picks absolutely are romantic video games to me, even if they don’t appear that way on the surface.
This 2015 breakout hit from Supermassive Games takes the frustrating yet entertaining gaslighting of watching a slasher movie in judgmental awe as you scream at the screen because of the characters’ increasingly moronic decisions and turns it into a game. Instead of yelling “You idiot!” at the television ad nauseum with no results, this game says “Now you’re the idiot.” It forgoes traditional combat for a choose your own adventure structure where your decisions impact the outcome of scenes, the relationships between characters and who lives and who dies.
While this is technically a single-player game, the emphasis on decision making means you can both be equally engaged no matter who holds the controller. The romance manifests itself here in two ways. The first is just the way that watching a horror movie with your significant other can be romantic. Cuddling up under a warm blanket, lights off, tensions high, is a great way to feel close to your partner. Every jump scare brings you closer to oneness.
The second way, which only interactive media can provide, is the litmus test of decision making under duress that can be a great predictor of future problems in your relationship. I’ll never forget the look on my partner’s face when I chose to let a character fall to their impending doom. Confrontation is an integral part of intimacy, and how you two reconcile the tension can speak volumes about your relationship. Strong bonds will surely thrive, but if it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t meant to be.
This is the “A Walk To Remember” of this list. Indie developer Ovosonico’s short, narrative focused puzzle game is a poignant rumination on grief and the selflessness of love. To say anything else about the story would spoil far too much, but frail masculine egos should be warned: this is a tear-jerker.
Based on artist and director Jess Cope’s mesmerizing music video for the song “Drive Home” by Steven Wilson, the art style, presentation and soundtrack will bond you with these characters immediately. The game says so much about our ties to one another while the characters say nothing at all. If this game doesn’t make you want to hold the love of your life tightly and never let go, then I don’t know what will.
Finally, a game you two can actually play simultaneously! True local co-op has become a bit of a lost art, but this game just begs for you to clear out the living room and dance the night away. It doesn’t really matter which game in the series you play as they’re all fundamentally the same. You attempt to copy the moves on screen using some sort of motion sensor, whether it’s your console’s camera or a Nintendo Switch joy-con or even your phone in hand.
The beauty of “Just Dance” is that it can be an amorous experience regardless of skill level. It is my understanding that there are people in the world who are actually good at dancing, and I can only imagine the ascending passion of two lovers synchronized in a fluid state of rhythmic entanglement together.
For me, however, the act of shaking what my mother gave me is a comedy, not a romance. I have the rhythm of an amateur drummer but the grace of a newborn deer with ice skates on and an inner ear infection. Flailing my limbs about in rapid succession to some Ariana Grande must look like some “The Three Stooges” level slapstick, but there’s a tremendous intimacy intrinsic to making such a fool out of myself in the presence of love.
The “Life Is Strange” series has gained a level of notoriety for basically being the Tumblr of video games, but that might be good or bad depending on your perspective. Yes, cringe-inducing dialogue permeates the series in a way that makes you picture a room full of 35-year-old writers inquiring “Is this how the kids talk these days?” but when you look past the corny slang you’ll see a series that’s simply oozing with heart.
This prequel spin-off of the first game focuses primarily on two characters meeting and falling for each other with a heart-warming and evocative immediacy. Much like “Until Dawn” there is no actual multiplayer, but choosing dialogue options is a fun exercise in cooperation all its own. Sure, this means you can technically decide that the burgeoning love between the two characters is completely platonic and not romantic, it is still nearly impossible not to get swept up in the earnestness of young love.
In my estimation a list of romantic video games would be incomplete without a life simulator, and while I could have gone with something like “Animal Crossing” or “Stardew Valley,” I’m opting for the series that “woohoo-ed” and gave birth to the genre. Whichever game in the series you play really depends on availability, but the concept is always the same. You make some characters and hold their hands through their lives.
What’s great about “The Sims” is that it is really only bound by the limits of your own creativity. If you simply want to imagine the life with your partner that you’re just not ready for yet, with a beautiful home and a few children puttering around, then that’s what the game is for you. What’s more romantic than fantasizing about the future you’ve always wanted?
You could do that, or you could enter the “motherlode” cheat for as much money as you want and let the social experiments begin. Maniacally laugh with your partner as you remove the ladder from the swimming pool and watch your characters drown. Flirt and copulate with any Sim who will have you and watch the web of deceit ensnare the entire neighborhood. The game world is your playground with which to enact your strangest whims, and doing so together with your significant other is the kind of bonding that only games can provide.
I’m concluding this list of romantic video games with the most absurd entry to emphasize my point that romance may be found in the most unlikely of places, because this game is utter co-op nonsense, through and through. With your partner, you will be solving puzzles using a physics-based system that can only be described as “Gumby on a bender.”
Whether you spend your time genuinely putting your minds together to solve puzzles or just grabbing each other and throwing one another off ledges, this game offers hours of uproarious laughter and bonding.
While this game is about as close to the opposite of traditional conceptions of romance as I can imagine, an evening spent in this preposterous world with the love of your life can be a euphoric exploration of the depths of intimacy. What a wonderful thing it is to share virtual adventures with the person with which you want to grow old. All video games are romantic video games if you’re in love.
With summer just around the corner and warm weather approaching, it is time to ditch the coats and bring out…