BioWare adventures are known for their romances. It's one of the first thing players talk about with their friends; "Who did you go for?"
So I was mildly surprised to discover Dragon Age writer David Gaider isn't too keen on them. He discussed the topic at length on his blog.
"Romances are a side show, not the main game," he wrote. They're not critical to the main quest path, he stressed - they exist to add depth and to coax emotional investment.
"Romances are a nice extra, and naturally we're always going to struggle with how to do them right, but they're well down the list on things I need to concern myself with," added Gaider.
"I could, in fact, happily have a game without any romances at all... or spend an equal amount of time developing relationships with followers that are non-romantic."
Point two: "I dislike the idea of every character being sexually available to the player."
He believes it promotes objectification, and said that in the The Witcher 1, collecting the naked women playing cards "rendered every female character in the game into a puzzle to be solved".
"As soon as the player is aware, it's possible you are in fact encouraging them towards a certain type of behaviour," he noted.
There's a perception, Gaider said, that romances are something only women want in the games, which he said was codswallop.
"I would, however, resist making the romance elements of our games more prominent without also changing the nature of that content," he added:
"Adding an element of failure, for instance, or by having not all characters be available to all player characters (they're attracted only to certain types, for instance). Adding different types of romance: tragic romances, romances where your partner cheats on you, romances where the character is already involved in another relationship, characters that don't know how to relate to someone else on a romantic level or aren't interested in such.
"It needn't all be unhappy, of course, but were I to cross the threshold of making all followers possible to romance I'd at least want to change the approach into something more plausible.
"To me, the idea that a player should get their followers and then simply select one or more companions to be their romance, and that romance is their cuddly bunny for the entirety of the game and plays out exactly as they wish, would be the worst of both worlds. It would be wish fulfilment on a level that reduced the characters into romantic playthings - sex dolls, really. And I have no interest in creating that, even if there are people who think it'd be grand."
He wondered out loud whether people would like their romances a bit grittier. But the evidence he's had so far suggests not; those people who romanced Thane in Mass Effect 3 expected to be able to cure and save him rather than watch him die. "He's my romance, he can't die!" boo hoo etc.
"So, no, I'm quite fine with selecting a few characters and having them be romantic options and letting the rest be simply what they are," he wrapped up.
"My preference is that the romances cover a range of styles and sexualities as evenly as we can, and that they have comparable levels of content, and leave it at that.
"If someone doesn't find something to their liking in that particular game, chances are we'll have a whole different batch in the next game (I do find it rather amusing how people always assume we'll write exactly the same characters in the next game as the current one - even though we never have, the assumption is the same after every game).
"In the meantime, there are hopefully friendships and rivalries among the followers that you can develop, and reasons to appreciate each of them beyond whether they can be sexed to your liking, as well as that whole other thing we wrote.
"You know. The plot."
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