Love Is in the Pixel

Category: In Focus
Liel Leibovitz
It's almost Valentine's Day, and if your plans for the big night involve calling in for pizza and playing a video game by yourself, don't despair: Long maligned as the medium of lonely, loveless nerds, video games actually have much to teach us about romance and relationships. Here, then, are the five top lessons in love, courtesy of our favorite medium.

1. Your Princess May Be in Another Castle...

...but that doesn't mean you won't find her in the end. If you're single and watching with frustration as so many of your friends are settling down for a long evening of cozying in front of the TV with their significant other, think of Mario. Not only is he short, mustachioed, and hopelessly devoid of any fashion sense, but time after time in the original game he fought his way through strange worlds only to arrive in creepy castles and discover that his beloved Princess Toadstool was just whisked away elsewhere. He never gave up, sliding down pipe after pipe until he defeated Bowser and claimed his crush. As many bad dates as you've been on recently, none involved Koopa Troopas, so take an example from the little guy and keep on until you find love.

2. Want a Sexual Encounter, Be a Shepard

Commander Shepard, the chiseled hero of the Mass Effect franchise, comes in all shapes, sizes, races, and genders. Part of the fun is being able to shape this super-soldier as you see fit, determining everything from the cut of his or her jaw to his or her birthplace and background. And yet, no matter how your Shepard looks or even who he or she is, there's a strong possibility that the fierce commander is going to end up making love to any number of romantic interests. Why? Because Shepard has a great attitude. Man or woman, hot or not, Shepard's a warrior, confident, focused, daring. Nothing could be sexier, and, really, nothing else matters.

3. Love is an Uncharted Territory...

... so it helps to have someone along you can absolutely trust, someone who isn't just your lover and your crutch but your friend and your equal. Even the daring Nathan Drake, of the Uncharted series fame, isn't any good when forced to careen through humid jungles, frozen mountaintops, and other impossible landscapes by himself: He needs Elena Fisher, a reporter who is every bit as tough, resourceful, intelligent, and badass as he is. In a medium too often besotted with helpless princesses in need of saving, she's a great example of how much further a game can go when it has two incredible protagonists instead of just one. The same is very much true in real life.

4. The Best Gunslingers Are the Most Faithful

Try to put yourself in John Marston's shoes: you're a former bandit still at odds with the law, you're doing your best to survive in the wild, wild west, and everywhere you look there's booze and brothels to distract you from the severity of life. Lesser men might've succumbed to temptation, but Marston, the hero of Red Dead Redemption, does not. He's faithful to his Abigail, no matter what. It makes him a more interesting character, and a more formidable man.

5. Relationship is a Passage

If you've already played Passage, you know why it's one of the more celebrated indie games in recent memory. If you haven't, the game is basically this: You move from left to right through a narrow corridor. Early on, you meet another character who marches with you. You walk through a changing landscape. There are some obstacles, but nothing too difficult to overcome. You age. Then, one of you dies. Then, the other. And that's it. That's the game. That's life. And it's beautiful, because for five short minutes, you get to experience some interesting sounds and visions alongside another character, which is intimate and sweet and soothing. We should all take a cue from Passage, focus on the journey, no matter how brief, and be grateful that we've someone to share it with.

Mario and Love

Liel Leibovitz is a writer for Tablet magazine and Author of "God in the Machine: Video Games as Spiritual Pursuit " (2014). Leibovitz is also teaches at New York University and is a video game scholar.



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