Thursday, May 30, 2024

5 gremlin romance options in video games that I can’t help but romance

Valentine’s Day is a time for love, romance, and to grapple with one’s terrible, terrible choices. For me, this isn’t looking back at old flames (that way lies monsters), but considering the plethora of romance options (aka utter gremlins) that I always romance in video games.

Some are unrepentantly evil. Some were fine until I romanced anyone else, and saw a terrible other side to them. Some are just plain mean. Worst of all: none of them are women. I love gremlins, and I love women, and yet I suffer to have to choose between the two.

But I do choose these five gremlins, despite myself.

Nobody is perfect.

10/10 – very much a gremlin

Astarion (Baldur’s Gate 3)

There’s a theory in linguistics that you can categorise things by how much they are like some prototypical ideal. It isn’t strictly about definitions, but understanding: A chicken and a robin are both birds, but a robin is ‘more’ bird. Which is to say, in categorising gremlins: Astarion is the ideal gremlin.

The first time you meet, he tries to murder you. In self-defense, fine – but after gaining your trust, he tries to snack on your neck in the middle of the night. Because he’s a vampire, fine – but before he was a vampire, he was nearly mobbed to death by angry peasants, and his endless, mocking snobbery heavily implies he deserved it.

And yet: within this entirely fictional setting, there is something compelling about how unrepentantly awful he is. Larian Studios are gently hitting me upside the head with his drawling RP accent and his backstory about going from being in the upper echelons of one society to the lower rungs of another to say ‘vampires are a metaphor about the parasitic upper classes’. But in my own defence, that’s not the only thing vampires are a metaphor for.

We love a man who appreciates a good hot bath

Daeran (Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous)

Daeran is very close to being a prototypical gremlin. The first interaction you ever have with him – arriving wounded to a street party – is to wonder aloud if you could be rolled into a ditch so the party could continue. Regrettably, that was also the moment where I thought: ‘oh no, I hope he’s a love interest’.

Daeran is in it for a good time, not a long time, and has a callous disregard for the lives and safety of anyone that isn’t immediately facilitating that good time. But if you are interested in a good time, unlike Astarion, it isn’t just in the immediate sphere of being catty to everyone around you. With his terrible selfishness comes an evangelical appreciation for a good hot bath. There’s a level where I have to respect including that in your definition of hedonism, and extending that to your inner circle.

We all love a bad boy, now don’t we?

Anders (Dragon Age II)

A contentious pick in the Dragon Age fandom, so I’ll set these particular stakes early: within the ‘attack and dethrone god’ genre of video games, I can’t get mad at a guy for blowing up a building. So many RPGs are about doing a revolution or sticking it to an institution. Exploding a church in a video game does not a gremlin make.

Being mean to other characters I romance, however, is a far greater sin. I romanced Anders first, and found him intensely passionate. I romanced Merrill second, and found Anders to be… intensely bad at taking rejection, issuing snide pot-shots, and criticising her religious views.

The ‘passionately jealous’ type is a horrible, terrible red flag in a real human being, but in a video game romance, I’ll happily listen to him talk about drowning the city in blood to keep the two of us safe… you know, for Merrill’s sake.

romance options video games
Shane is a good boy actually, but still ranks at least a 2 on the gremlin meter

Shane (Stardew Valley)

I’ll allow that Shane is perhaps as far from the prototypical gremlin as we could get. He isn’t evil, he isn’t cruel, he doesn’t explode even a chicken coop. His standoffishness comes from ill mental health, not malice, and his character arc about working through his depression is poignant.

I’m so invested in Shane’s character arc, in fact, that I always rush to get past that initial hump of hostility, and I’m always rewarded the same way. He writes me his letters in secret, and sends me gifts, saying he was thinking about me, and thought I might like them. And when I approach him in town, he shuts me down and begs me – offers me money, even – to leave him alone. No matter what kind of farm or playthrough I plan, it’s always a speedrun for pepper poppers just so he can deem to acknowledge me in public.

But there is no end: After the event where he reveals just how much he cares about his hens and how much joy they bring him, I once gifted him a chicken statue. And he hated it. At all turns, I am negged.

The eggiest of all gremlins

Solas (Dragon Age: Inquisition)

Here, the honourable mention: the gremlin I could not forgive, and the only explicit heterosexual on this list. (Notably, BioWare wanted to avoid the trope of the ‘depraved bisexual’.)

Like Anders, the feelings I had for Solas changed when I didn’t romance him. He biased my first playthrough with his approval of my dialogue-tree exploiting questions and the chance to show off what he knew. My second playthrough was biased by my own knowledge, and suddenly he appeared smug and condescending – and too humorless to pull it off. The magic was gone, and he was only an egg.

I affectionately call these characters awful, but the ones I love most are as awful as they are flamboyant as they are intentionally flagged as queer: the closer the portrayal of their sexuality is too incidental (or straight), the more traits like hedonism, recklessness, passion and wit drop away. What’s left is only being mean, and I’ll give myself some credit: that’s not a pitch for me!

There’s a comradery in the queercoding and all the baggage it contains, and in its absence, you should offer me a chicken coop. I will heavily drop my standards for women gremlin characters though, wherever they may be.

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