Mother’s Day: A Look At Mums/Carers Of Video Games

Today is Mother’s day in the UK or Mum’s day as I prefer, the word mother doesn’t sound right to me, sounds very formal. To celebrate I thought I’d list a few video game characters who stood out to me as great mums in video games or filled the mum/carer role well. It was originally going to be all mums but I thought of some who deserved a mention over certain mums and so this list is a bit all over but I believe they deserve a mention. And so here are some of my favourite ‘mum’ roles in games.

Link’s Grandma (TLOZ: The Wind Waker)

This small dear breaks my heart every time I play Wind Waker. She’s so lovely and she doesn’t deserve what she goes through! Not only does she have her granddaughter kidnapped by a scary giant bird and taken away from the island, but she also has to see her grandson leave for the dangerous world to go and save her. Within 24 hours her whole life is in shambles. She has no idea if she’ll ever see her grand-kids again and all she can do on the island is wait. Wait and wait. Link and his sister, Aryll, could return in a day, a month, a year or even never. In fact, when you do return to the island, the island residents tell you that you grandma has barely been out of the house and she’s worried sick. When you go and see her she is weary and restless in her sleep. She’s not even aware you’re in the room she is so exhausted. And what she mumbles really tugs on my heartstrings:

grandma

That isn’t fair Grandma! You told me to go, don’t guilt trip me now. Thankfully though if you use a fairy in a bottle it helps give Grandma a bit of vitality and seeing Link safe reassures her that he can save Aryll and that he’ll be fine. After helping Grandma she’ll have a big batch of soup ready for whenever you return, which you can store with your empty bottles. Not only that! But Grandma will send a letter to you with all the rupees she has. She gives everything to her Grandkids and she deserves some in this post. Hell, I think she deserves to go on the next adventure with Link! Her, Link, King of Red Lions and the open seas. What wacky adventures they’ll get up to!

Mom (Pokemon Red/Blue Specifically)

‘Mum, I’m 10 years old now and that scientist round the corner just gave me this gadget and told me to go look at all these strange creatures for him. He said there’s a lot of these pocket monsters that he wants to study but for some reason he expects me to do it for him. Then he gave me a lizard with fire leaking out of its tail, it’s pretty cool. He also asked what gender I am.

‘Is this like a school expedition with a group of you or are you getting paid at least?’

‘No, just me and he hasn’t mentioned anything about paying me. I’ve got this wicked flame salamander so I figured I’d just beat up other peoples monsters and take some of their money.’

‘OK then, well I’ll phone your school and let them know you won’t be back for a while. Take care and make sure you feed that iguana.’

I know the Pokemon world is very different to ours, unfortunately. But if I tried to leave for an adventure like that, it would at least 6 hours of negotiations! How far I’m allowed to travel, which people I can and can’t talk to, promises to call home every other day etc and at least a suitcase full of clothing. The Mum in Pokemon Red/Blue basically just says that she thought this day might come and she can’t stop you from leaving. No guilt trip or tears. She knows adventure is out there and there are hundreds of goofy looking critters to cram into balls! I respect that level of not getting in the way of her son/daughter’s dreams.

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Wow, don’t sound too upset mum, jeez! Can’t wait to rent out my bedroom or turn it into your arts and crafts studio.

Sarah Sisulart (Lost Odyssey)

This list is turning into Grandma’s Day but I can’t justify taking Sarah off the list. She is the carer for Cooke and Mack, her grandkids who she never met until this game. She’s an immortal being who lost her husband and upon finding out her daughter had passed, entered into a depression state, completely isolating herself from the world. On your travels as Kaim, along with Cooke, Mack and others, you end up reuniting with Sarah and upon discovering her grandkids, Sarah realises she has a new goal in life and joins the crew on their quest to save the world from evil and to look after her grandkids along the way.

Sarah.Sisulart

I spoke about Lost Odyssey in my blog post about the lack of marriage in gaming and a big reason why Sarah is here is just because the idea of going off on magical adventures with your mum, grandmum or carer is a wonderful idea to me. It sounds like great fun and a brilliant bonding experience. Sure it’s dangerous but if you’re going on a dangerous quest anyway, why not with family, as long as they are capable. Sarah is also just such a caring person to Cooke and Mack. She had never met them before, had spent the past few decades in isolation in a deep depressive state and had lost her memories like the other immortals had in Lost Odyssey. And yet, she was straight there when she realised who these children were. Fully accepting and embracing them as her grandkids, Sarah’s compassion was a much needed component in their lives and she delivers that in spades.

Isaac’s Mom (The Binding of Isaac)

Ahahahahahahah! No, she is an awful mum and an awful character in general. She deserves a mention though as a warning to not to be like her. I won’t get into it much but she basically hears voices telling her to kill her son, Isaac, and she tried to do that very thing. Kind and endearing, she is not.

Isaac mom

The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3)

The Boss is one of those characters I don’t particularly like to discuss much. Not because I don’t think she’s a great character, as I think she is one of the greatest video game characters ever created. The problem is that she has a very important role in Metal Gear Solid 3 which when talked about, is major spoilers. I know Metal Gear Solid 3 is over a decade old but for those who haven’t played it, I highly recommend you do that or even just look up on Youtube what makes The Boss so amazing. My words won’t do it justice as Metal Gear Solid 3 is a high point to me in storytelling in gaming. The Metal Gear Solid series is over the top and cheesy at times but I think the overall theme, settings and plot of Metal Gear Solid 3 is nothing short of premium quality. For those who have played it, you probably understand why I’ve put her on this list.

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For those that don’t know about The Boss’s significance to MGS3, I’ll just speak about her relationship with the main character, Naked Snake. The Boss is Naked Snake’s mentor. She is described as the greatest soldier. At the very start of Metal Gear Solid 3, she defects and joins the enemy side. After that, you don’t really see The Boss but The Boss is mentioned constantly in conversation with Naked Snake’s support team. Not only that, but the times when Naked Snake does see her, even if they don’t speak, you can see Snake’s adoration for her. This could be misconstrued as a lovers look but I don’t believe that is the case. He respects and admires her, Snake is who he is because of her and her teachings. I’m going to end it there because I do think it’s hard to convey the dynamic between them in a few paragraphs. MGS3 is hours long and a lot of that is exposition, cutscenes and radio chatter. I would only do it an injustice to boil it down here.

Yoshi (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island)

Okay, hear me out on this one. Yes……it’s a dinosaur. I’m aware of that. But a dinosaur deserves recognition too. There’s no Dinosaur Day! I mean there is, according to Google it’s June 1st but we don’t celebrate it. Nearly every day seems to have some random holiday or celebration assigned to it. Now, we could discuss the Yoshi species gender habits or if the Yoshi in this game is THE Yoshi as this game is a prequel to the Mario timeline we all know. But for all intents and purposes we’re going to say that this is THE Yoshi and is generally regarded as a ‘he’ although this is still up for some debate according to some websites.

At the start of the game, Yoshi’s Island, Kamek attacks a stork carrying 2 babies to their parents. Kamek swipes one but the other baby plummets to the ocean below. Luckily the baby lands on an island. More specifically, it lands on Yoshi’s back on his home island. Now, we’re talking about a dinosaur here. A friendly dinosaur but a dinosaur nevertheless. We’ve seen and controlled Yoshi and used his majestically long tongue to devour all matters of flora and fauna. There was no other creature around to see the baby land on Yoshi. No witnesses. Not only that, this baby nearly broke the poor dino’s back!

Yoshi
Walking along, minding his own business and then WHAM! Terminal velocity baby to the hump.

So rather than wolfing down this innocent child, Yoshi decides to check the blanket that the baby was wrapped up in and inside he finds a map. After going back to his base to show the other Yoshi’s his meal, I mean…..new friend, the Yoshi’s discover that Baby Mario can sense his kidnapped brother, Baby Luigi. With that knowledge, the Yoshi’s decide to reunite the two and set off on an adventure across the island. How beautifully innocent and kind is Yoshi! This is his home but even he knows the dangers that lurk across the land and yet, his sole goal becomes to care for Baby Mario, save Baby Luigi and reunite them with their parents. He has no obligation to do so but Yoshi becomes the carer and protector of Baby Mario. Whenever Baby Mario gets knocked off Yoshi and starts to bawl his eyes out, Yoshi always grabs him and secures him to the safety of his back. And instantly, Baby Mario stops crying because he feels safe and loved by this wonderful creature.

Again, the Yoshi in this game is probably THE Yoshi and male but to me he is a guardian to Baby Mario, and even to Baby Luigi if only for a brief period. He is a dinosaur and so is an ‘it’ but an ‘it’ deserving to be praised for what it did. But let me know your thoughts on these choices and if you can think of any stand outs then let me know in the comments. Looking back on my 2 decades of gaming I honestly couldn’t think of many mums in video games so I’m intrigued to hear ones I’ve missed or forgotten. Thank you for reading and to any mum’s who read this on Mother’s day, I hope you have a great day and get spoilt.

Devil May Cry V Review

DMC V is the latest instalment in the long running action series from Capcom. A return to its original version instead of the 2013 reboot. A return for the better, I believe. Don’t get me wrong, I never hated the 2013 Dante or Donte as some like to call him, but I also never really cared for him or the world around him. The characters of OG Dante and Nero were always characters that I enjoyed watching in over the top cutscenes and felt good to play as in game.  It’s over 10 years since we last played as OG Dante and Nero and so how does their return fare? I can happily say that after 10 years, they haven’t lost their touch.

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My main man Nero! This is how you do a Metal Gear Solid 2 Raiden situation. He’s different to Dante but in his unique way and honestly I think I prefer him too.

DMC V takes place in Red Grave City, a London-esque fictional location. A tentacle like flower has erupted through the ground and Dante, Nero and the new character V are on a mission to stop the evil behind this occurrence. This is shown in mission one and we as the player, are jumping into a story already in motion. The very first mission takes place during established conflicts and as you progress in the game you’ll discover character motives and what led up to this point. It works well for this flashy series. There is very little downtime in DMC V and this opening perfectly encapsulates this. The game is broken up into 20 missions with certain missions taking place around the same time but with a different character. This leads to cool moments where you can see V in the background of Nero’s mission, fighting a bunch of demons or upon entering a room, being able to join a fight already in motion. This ties in with the Cameo System but I’ll touch on that later. As you progress through the game you’ll play character specific missions as well as missions that have character choice. As you progress you’ll unlock specific character weapons and earn red orbs which allow you to level up your characters and unlock new moves or buy health or Devil Trigger increases. It’s a simple structure but it suits this style of game. Having the missions broken up into 20-30 minute missions means that you won’t tire of the same character or location if they’re not to your preference.

DMC V isn’t a revolution in storytelling but I had an immensely fun time with it nevertheless. This game is telling a more serious tale, more akin to the original DMC but with a healthy injection of cheese now and then. There is also a healthy amount of past game references which if you’re a fan of past iterations, you’ll enjoy. The Devil May Cry series is known for its bombastic and over the top cutscenes, cringey dialogue and all. DMC V is more retrained in that regard. It’s still stupid and charming but it feels more restrained than 3 or the antics of Dante and the second half of DMC 4. Is this for better or for worse? It depends on what you like. Personally I love the flamboyant and outrageous in these kind of games. It’s why Bayonetta is one of my favourite characters of recent years and why I love the anime/manga Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. The ridiculous has its place in media and the DMC franchise was one of the pioneers of that in gaming. There are still moments but this is a game where the stakes feel substantial and the physics more grounded, it suits what DMC V is going for, without pulling into Spoiler Town.

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Stylish cutscene with slow-mo and an amazing tune? Check

Most people don’t play Devil May Cry for the story they play it for the stylish gameplay and DMC V has that in spades. If you’re at all familiar with Dante or Nero then you’ll feel right at home with them in V. Nero plays very similar to 4 but with his new Devil Breaker functionality. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock new mechanical arms for Nero. Each arm offers a unique functionality with some specialising in crowd control, evasion or dealing large amounts of damage to a single enemy. Nero can only equip one arm at a time and can only hold onto a certain amount. If you get hit when using a Devil Breaker, the arm breaks. Each arm has basic functionality and a one time use function. You could go through an entire mission using the electric palm blast of Overture or you could use its one use feature to latch a high damaging sticky bomb to an enemy. Combine this with Nero’s ability to yank enemies towards himself and you’ve got a fun and unique character. Dante is a more varied combatant. Dante has 4 fighting styles that you can switch between with a touch of the D-Pad. He has his fast moving Trickster, the added melee abilities of Swordmaster, the extra ranged oomph of Gunslinger or the risky but rewarding counter style of Royalguard. Each of these styles can be upgraded to higher levels which unlock extra features for each style. As you progress in the game, you’ll also unlock new weapons which will in part will mesh with your upgraded styles too. These weapons range from a simple rocket launcher or set of gauntlets to the crazy weapon that is a motorcycle and cowboy hat. As you can see, Dante hasn’t lost his panache. Dante also has his Devil Trigger ability which lets him enter into his demonic state and inflict greater damage to enemies as well as gradually recover health. Overall, a character with a lot to learn but a fun character to play as.

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Sure, why not!

Then there is newcomer V. V is a great addition to the cast of characters. He fits in well, even though he is a mysterious individual. In cutscenes and in his overall aesthetic, I must say that I am a fan of him. Gameplay wise though, I waver a bit. I think the idea behind his gimmick is really interesting and for the most part it works surprisingly well. V doesn’t fight like Dante and Nero, instead he utilises the help of Griffon, Shadow and Nightmare, 3 demons that he conjures to support him.  Griffon is a bird which acts as his ranged attack, launching projectiles and electric based attacks at enemies. Shadow is a panther-like creature which acts as V’s up close and personal attacks. Then there is the huge lumbering Nightmare who uses V’s Devil Trigger meter to appear. Often falling from the skies like a meteor or bursting through a wall (often revealing hidden secrets), Nightmare is the big bruiser of the gang and one that you don’t need to control. Just summon him and let him go to town on foes. The only thing you need to do with V is evade and finish enemies off with a killing blow. You can also make V read his book which will generate a steady amount of Devil Trigger. Griffon and Shadow you control with your range and melee attack buttons. Both companions have a health gauge though and if they take too much damage, they’ll retreat into a dormant state, represented by an orb on the ground, while replenishing their health. By placing V next to his inactive friends, they’ll regenerate their health faster. All this together creates a character where you are essentially hanging back from the fight and making your minions do your bidding. It’s a fantastic idea and suits V’s personality but when you add complex systems like this, complexities tend to arise too.

For starters, being so far back away from the action at times often leads to mistimed melee hits as your perspective is off. In a lot of games that wouldn’t be a major issue but the DMC series utilises a ranking system and the aim of the ranking system is to keep combat going so that you can raise your ranking. Then there is the fact that Shadow isn’t always where you want it to be. Often times I’ll click the melee button only for Shadow to have spawned next to me a split second before I hit the button. Making his close range attack completely whiff. I wondered if this was to my own lack of skill and to an extent I believe it is but I also saw a lot of people having a similar issue online. Shadow is difficult to orientate at times and in a game where calculated actions and precision yield better results, the experience suffers because of it. Not by a lot, but some. As I mentioned, there is a ranking system for individual battles and for each mission. Your individual battles and other factors will round up to your overall ranking for that level. With Nero and Dante I felt in control of my rankings but with V, I was less confident I deserved that D or even that S ranking. At times with V I was getting SSS’s for what I thought was pretty basic gameplay and then other times I was getting C’s because I couldn’t hit with Shadow. It felt like you ranked up quicker with V and the reason for that is because the developers realised they needed to add that because of his margin of error. Again, I do think I was playing him wrong at times but I tried different tactics with Shadow and I just couldn’t get consistent results. Not a major issue but on harder difficulties where you have to be deliberate, I can see V being a frustration at times. Other than the inconsistent Shadow though, I think he’s a great addition to the franchise.

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Bad kitty! Do I need to buy a leash? Attack the enemy not the air in front of it.

Another part of the rankings I want to mention is the taunting in this game. During combat you can hit a button to taunt. Not only are these taunts flashy or funny, they also can up your style meter and also act as a way to prolong your style from decreasing. These taunts range from V coughing, Nero playing eenie meenie minee mo with enemies and even scaring them away, to Nero putting his hoodie up or V using his cane to conduct an imaginary symphony to the tune of Ride of the Valkyries. Each taunt gives you a glimpse of their personalities and the fact that certain taunts only activate if you have a specific style ranking is a nice touch. It adds incentive to do well in battle and to vary up your moves as you will get less style points if you use the same move repeatedly.  The style system is a fantastic choice in design and I can fully believe the idea that each character is ranking themselves in their heads. It fits the tone perfectly. As does the soundtrack to the game. Each character has a battle theme that really helps to amp up the fights. Nero’s punk/metal Devil Trigger will never get dull to me and V’s goth style look perfectly lines up with his Crimson Cloud song. You get to listen to these great tracks while you pummel the ever increasing array of demons and let me tell you, there is an ample variety on display in this game. Most of the missions in DMC V introduce at least one new enemy and does so in remarkably stylish enemy intros. I never got bored with the cannon fodder in front of me and the end of mission bosses that lay ahead. While I enjoyed the majority of the boss fights, I am struggling to remember them all as I type. There are fantastic fights like the time manipulating knight and horse but a few forgettable entries compared to the likes of DMC 3, where even over 10 years later I still remember Jester, Nevan and most of the other bosses. This is understandable though as I believe there is a boss fight for nearly every mission. You definitely get your money’s worth regarding boss fights.

I almost forgot to mention the Cameo System which is probably because it feels like a bit of an after thought. It’s not a bad system but I felt that I barely saw it in motion during my game. Basically, similar to how in Dark Souls you can see players ghosts run past now and then, in DMC V sometimes you will have other players in your game or their ghost data anyway. I believe it is a live player most of the time but there is a belief that a lot of it is ghost data. For the majority of the missions you will have other people playing as a different character in your game. Most of the time you won’t interact with them. A lot of the time you won’t even see them unless you shift the camera around or go looking for them. You’ll hear the sounds of battle and you might see them in the distance. Certain mission will have your paths merge and you’ll have the opportunity to fight alongside the other player. But you have to be at the right place at the right time. It makes this feature quite lacklustre as I always felt that I was missing out on potential co-op action. Most of the time I’d get to an area to see my fellow player finishing off the enemies before I could even get there and then racing to the next zone. I like to take my time and look for secret missions or collectables in these games and so I wasn’t interested in rushing through the levels. I kept getting people who were doing that though which is understandable but it just meant I had fewer enemies to fight and therefore less of an experience. It’s a gameplay element that I’m sure when it works well, it works really well. I’ve started playing a higher difficulty and so I’m excited to go back through again and hopefully meet another player who is open to having a more co-op experience than racing to the end goal. But that’s a personal hope and maybe I was just unlucky with my experiences.

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*Sighs* Wish I could be that cool.

All in all I really enjoyed my time with DMC V. It had some of the best player-action gameplay I’ve had in a long time and features super satisfying gameplay systems. Not only that but the sound design on the weapons is great and the locations and graphics look amazing. And even though I would have appreciated a bit more cheese in cutscenes and dialogue, what was on offer was very pleasing to my eyes and ears. And that about does it for my review on DMC V. Feel free to let me know what you thought of this game in the comments. Thanks for reading.

 

 

Marriage In Gaming And The Lack Thereof

I am married! Officially off the market and happy to be so. Currently on last day of honeymoon and been craving to write and so I thought I’d talk about what’s been on my mind predominantly the past month, marriage. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with my day. I’m talking about marriage in gaming.

When I decided to write about this topic I started to think over my 1/4 of a century gaming knowledge and I quickly realised how little marriage is in games. Considering marriage has been around for seemingly ever and is a tradition across most of the world, it sure doesn’t come across that way in video games. I can understand this to an extent though. Game publishers want the player to feel a connection to their protagonist or to want to play as a fantastical protagonist. Marcus Fenix from the Gears Of War series doesn’t look like an average gamer but the boulder in armour appeals to that fantasy element. Who doesn’t love pretending to be a badass? Marriage would only hold that fantasy back. Then there is the classic, regular person finds out they are the chosen one or falls into a situation where they save the world. I would be lying to say that I haven’t daydreamed about that in work now and then. Commitments like marriage, a job and family would also lessen that fantasy. Not saying I wouldn’t like that to be an element in games, but from a publisher stand point I understand. The average age of gamers is rising but I don’t think I’m far wrong in saying that the majority of game revenue is from the teenager to early 20’s demographic. As I’ve been ageing my game buying has decreased, as have my friends spending habits too. In my early 20’s I bought games willy-nilly but there is a reason I had more money and free time back then. I was devoid of commitments and any commitments I had were minor compared to today.  So I understand publishers aiming for that larger revenue.

As I said though, the age of the average gamer is rising and so I believe it’s time we see this being reflected in games. Not in all games it’d be a good way to distinguish your game from the crowd. Games like Mass Effect where you get a template character and a choose your own backstory section would bode well to have a marriage life option included. A checkbox that allows you to include a married life package or even create your spouse and children in a character creator. It would allow players to a wider range of character depth and for those that have a family, it’s nice to be able to experience that in a fictitious setting too. It doesn’t even have to be anything major in that marriage package. Could just be a home on a distant planet that you can visit now and again and have supper with the family. Or emails that you receive now and then about young Jimmy being bullied at his new school. In today’s games where we have an overabundance of things to do on the map, a little subplot about married life shouldn’t be hard to implement. The ability to play Commander Shepard as a family war hero rather than the swinging bachelor war hero would be a welcome change to some games. Is it necessary in all games? Absolutely not, stories function better at times if the protagonist is single and ready to mingle but in games where that doesn’t matter, a choice would be a welcome one.

Most games where marriage is a component, the marriage aspect is usually a story point. FFX and FFXV both have key plots that revolve around a marriage. The original Gears Of War trilogy has Dom’s personal mission of trying to find his wife Maria. Uncharted 4 has Nathan Drake struggling to adapt to a stable married life instead of his daring and dangerous past. While I enjoyed each of these, they are generally end goals or things to push the story in the right direction. Dom’s search is the exception there but it’s never the main story thread. There can be hours before Dom pipes up about his wife and even though I enjoyed that plot, it is a sub plot. What I want is a more natural married life situation. I want it to be there and to have meaning to the whole story or a majority of it. It doesn’t have to be the main focus but it should be there and not just something that dips in and out to add stakes or to propel a story beat. Even though those things are fine to do in games as well, I just would like to see it more fleshed out. When I was thinking about games that I’ve played that featured well done couples, I really struggled to remember any. There is one that I instantly remembered and one that I remembered really appreciating when I played it and that was Lost Odyssey.

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Lost Odyssey was a JRPG that came out on the Xbox 360 in 2008. It centres on Kaim, a member of the Immortals, a race of….well immortal beings. For some reason the Immortals lose their memories and what follows is a quest to recover Kaim’s memories and to save the land from disaster. Not a wholly original plot but what makes it for me is the introduction of the rest of the party. Specifically Sarah, Cooke and Mack. Sarah is also an Immortal who has lost her memory but it is revealed that Kaim and Sarah are husband and wife. Not only that but Mack and Cooke are Kaim and Sarah’s grandchildren. For the majority of the game, these 4 are together, traversing this world and trying to prevent disaster from happening. How often can you think of a game where husband and wife are a team in combat situations? How often are the children or grandchildren of these people involved? Not only are they an integral part of the combat and its mechanics but also the story. The kids and Sarah aren’t just chucked in for a bit of drama or aren’t the driving force at the start of the story. They all go on an adventure together as a family and I’ve hardly seen that in games. There are quite a few games where it’s brothers off on a mission together so why not couples? There is room to do a lot of creative things with marriage in gaming and not for it to be a basic mechanic in Fable 2 or some subplot to overcome. And while I don’t want those mechanics to disappear, I think it’s time we start seeing more representations of married, family or couples life in gaming.

Who knows, maybe I’m just high on married life. It’s only been a week since the day. Ask me how I feel about this in a year’s time. Maybe by then I’d vote to keep reality and fantasy as far from each other as possible. But until then, let me know your opinion and if you can think of any well done couple/marriage elements in gaming, feel free to share them as I’m quite interested in seeing more examples. Take it easy.