I really should have written this in time for Valentine's Day, but as you can probably tell, this took me a few days to write.
It's no secret that despite heading up a number of relationship advice columns over the years, IGN's own Jessica Chobot has long struggled with the art of digital courting in Bioware's RPGs. Having played and explored the fullness of several Bioware RPGs, and having courted a few real-life ladies in my time, I believe I can offer Ms. Chobot some help in this regard. Here I will address each roadblock she has encountered with real-world advice that - perhaps contrary to 'popular wisdom' - will also work in a Bioware game.
(Strangely enough, these games are programmed by [mostly] men who have interacted with women in real-life. I know, it's surprising! Presumably, the folks at Bioware also did a lot of research before implementing their romantic subplots.)
DISCLAIMER: While I realise that you, Ms. Chobot, are currently assuming the role of a female Shepard, it appears you are intent on pursuing romantic relationships with the female NPCs. I *could* argue that Shepard, whether male or female in appearance, is most definitely a masculine force for change within Mass Effect's greater narrative, but that is unnecessary and the subject of another blog post entirely. We need only make the observation that in any given relationship, whether it be heterosexual or not, one assumes the masculine pole while the other assumes the feminine opposite (and these can be switched between male and female as well). Ergo, these principles of male and female attraction still apply here - as the pursuer (and hero of the story), Shepard is assuming the masculine role. The gender of the pursuer doesn't even matter, to be truthful - the only condition that matters here is that we are trying to bag you a lady-friend, and so we need only look at how to create that feeling we call 'attraction' in a woman.
Without further adieu, here we go:
Problem 1: "Everyone I try to attempt a relationship with is a frigid b*&^%!"
Unfortunately, any woman you are not already familiar with is likely to put up a cold front. The reason? Women are afraid of strangers, for a start. Psychological studies have shown that women are far less likely to let a stranger inside to make an emergency phone call than men. And fair enough - statistics likely also show that women are most likely to be raped and/or killed by strangers. So the other reason is there's a lot of freaks out there, and a woman doesn't want any old freak coming up to her and talking to her. An attractive woman is likely approached by multiple men on any given day - she doesn't have a whole lot of time on her hands - so this frigid demeanour is her way of sifting the men from the boys.
Solution: Only the Hero May Cross the Threshold.
Yes, it's a cliche straight out of Joseph Campbell, but it's a cliche because it works. Deep down, a woman just wants to be loved, but she doesn't want to give it away to just any old guy: the wall of ice is erected by the woman as a challenge. The hero that breaks through the wall of ice proves himself worthy as a man, and as a lover. The man's unconscious goal in all things, is to penetrate; be that the world, their career, this 'wall of ice', and ultimately, their woman. And I'm not just talking physically. I can tell you right now that even once you snare your lady-love's fair hand, the testing will not stop. EVER. If a man instead allows the world, his job, or his circumstances to instead penetrate him, this will have a flow-on effect to your woman. She will sense it, and the tangible result of that is - believe it or not - excessive nagging and complaining. This is not the woman nagging and complaining about the particular subject or topic she's nagging or complaining to you about - this is her way of asking you, "why aren't you being all that I know you can be? Why are you denying me the fullness of your ferocious love?" Oftentimes, you will need to penetrate your woman's mood, no matter how loudly she protests - she might tell you she's "fine" even though you know she's furious; she might be caught in a self-perpetuating loop of negative thinking - it is your job as a man to face this challenge head on, to stand before the storm and yell "do your worst!" and weather it out. She wants you to charge through her mood on your horse and sweep her off her feet, again and again and again. Unfortunately, a man's first instinct is to retreat to his cave instead, and avoid potential conflict altogether. And guess what? It all begins at the pub/club/supermarche/library/spaceship with her front of frigidity. If you prove you can break through that, you're proving you're the fierce hero and not the cowardly cave-dweller.
But how do you go about it? Well, it's called an 'ice breaker' for a reason - go up and talk to her, silly! And when you talk to her, talk confidently. Not like a jerk, but with a bit of cocky humour. Call her out on her icy disposition, she knows she's doing it, and she won't believe you dared to point it out. The girls at school always, always crush on the boy who pulls their pigtails, not the boring, quiet, nice one (and I should know - I was that boy). Making her feel something, even wrinkled-nose annoyed, is better than being utterly forgettable. This is the part that women often confuse: what women logically want (a nice, sensitive, caring boy) versus what women subliminally want (an exhilarating, unpredictable adventure) and primally need (a strong warrior-man to hunt and kill food, and protect her young). This is where the whole idea of 'cocky and funny' comes from; it provides equal doses of adventure and security that a woman wants and needs. If you lack the confidence of 'cocky', you'll come off as insecure, she'll sense it, and as a result you may even creep her out. THIS IS NOT GOOD. Stand up straight, make proper eye contact, and speak clearly for God's sake. Okay, so you may not be able to control all of these factors in a role-playing game, but you need to grasp these principles, so stay with me here.
To summarise: be challenging, not boring. Be the rugged bad boy, not the goody-two-shoes. Respond to her fronts and jibes with 'cocky and funny' dialogue, and BAM! You have what is commonly known as flirting! Flirting is essential! (Most women, including Chobot, probably already know this.) It takes a bit of effort to melt a woman's icy disposition - it's all part of the test.
Problem 2: "Where does this chick get off telling me that she’s perfect and questioning my authority?"
Solution: Hold Your Ground!
Can you not see that this is the perfect beginning to a flirtateous repartee? She says she's perfect? Well, that's the perfect opportunity for a little teasing! Have a go at her for something trivial - if she gets even the smallest thing wrong, there goes her whole argument - and congratulations, you've just posed an interesting challenge! By backing down and retreating to your man-cave, you've effectively validated her shitty attitude.
As I said before, her complaint isn't actually about your leadership - well, it is, but it isn't. She's actually challenging you to be all you can be. What she's really saying is, "why do you deny me the fullness of your presence?" Your heart's not in it, and she can sense it. You're not going to demonstrate your authority by running away with your tail between your legs; you need to face the storm head-on even if it's a frightening squall of feminine anger. If you're still standing at the end of it, she'll love you for it.
Problem 3: "Just as things were going well and Jack was starting to open up, I went in for the kill and straight off the bat, she told me to politely eff off and that she didn’t want 'to play.' ARGH!"
Solution: "Two Steps Forward, One Step Back"
"Always Leave a Little Mystery."
Never, ever, EVER, go straight for the kill. She's using it as bait to see how quickly you'll succumb, and guess what? You just failed the test! By all means, act interested, but you need to give the impression you could take it or leave it. You're a very busy person (have to save the galaxy and all that); you're in high demand (plenty of NPCs in the sea...); and you've got plenty of options (at least, dialogue-wise). You're kind of a big deal around here. Of course, you don't go around trumpeting that from the rooftops (lest you sound like a jerk), but you need to believe it to carry it off. They can smell the fear! They can smell the desperation! Going in for the kill at the first opportunity reeks of desperation.
Always, always, always tease, tease, tease. Two steps forward, one step back. For women, attraction is always about anticipation, and you don't get anticipation if you go for the whole hog at once. Run your finger across the back of your hand - she'll want to hold it. Let her hold it, but after a while, just let go. She won't know why, but that's the point: she won't know what's coming next, but she'll desperately want to know. Maybe play with her hair, behind her ears. If she lets you do this, then she'll let you kiss her. Lean in close, so there's that classic movie-distance between your faces. Then don't. Pull away. She won't know why you just did that, but you've just upped the intensity. She'll be left wondering when you're going to kiss her. If you're a woman and you're reading this, you're probably getting turned on right about now. That's because this is the way romance novels are written: two steps forward, one step back. Maybe this time you'll go in for the kiss, but it'll just be a peck on the cheek. Then go back to just hand-holding. This will infuriate her to no end. Pretty soon you'll have her so frustrated she'll grab you by the shoulders, give you a long, passionate kiss, and suck the air out of your lungs. Mission accomplished. See what happened there? You made her want it by dangling it there, and then pulling it away. She wants what she can't have, not what's readily available. If you go straight in for the kill, you're readily available. And while videogames haven't evolved quite this far as yet, the principle still applies when it comes to dialogue options.
Always leave a little bit of mystery. Women are very good at this, and it drives men crazy, but it works just as well the other way. If you tell her your life story in one hit, what have you left to intrigue her with? Nothing, that's what! You've effectively put yourself in an all-too-convenient box, and she'll lose interest. No, you need to dodge questions, give vague answers - this is why women call men liars, but this is also why they love male liars. Besides, they hate it when we get in on their trade, because they're so damn good at it themselves. Sure, it'll frustrate her to no end, but it will also drive her crazy. Pretty soon, her one obsession will be to unravel the mystery that is Captain Shepard. And that's exactly what you want.
Problem: "...she’s only used me to buy her dinner..."
Solution: "Go Dutch."
For those unfamiliar with 'going Dutch', that means split the bill. Let your date pay for her meal, and you pay for yours. By paying for everything, you're saying "I need to provide incentives to make you want to hang around me." This is not what you want. She should want to hang around you for you. Hanging around you should be such an amazing time, that she doesn't care where you go. It's okay to pay for things every know and then, as long as it's clear you're doing it because you want to - on your terms - not because society has thrust it upon you.
I think that about covers it for now. If you have any dating questions for me, ask away, and I'll do my best to answer them in my next post. Until then, go get 'em, Tiger!