This summer, Larian Studio’s Baldur’s Gate III (BG3) took the world by storm with its immersive world, mechanics and game engine, and of course, the cast of attractive characters. The game quickly attracted its expected audience of RPG fans and Dungeons and Dragons players, but it has unexpectedly also drawn a crowd of individuals just wanting to romance the hot vampire.
Within the game, there are six main characters that can join the party (and be romanced). Gale, the wizard with a crazy ex, Wyll, the warlock with a hero complex, Shadowheart, the cleric with religious trauma, Karlach, the barbarian with a burning engine for a heart, Lae’zel, the fighter with the expectations of her whole people on her shoulders, and Astarion, the sassy vampire with a tragic backstory. All of these characters are well-fleshed out and have stories that change depending on the player’s choices. It’s no wonder that, with the myriad of problems each character faces, the players would get attached so quickly. The “I can fix them” phenomenon is strong in this game.
The interesting thing about this game is the stark difference between the joy of getting to know the characters and the complicated and rigorous turn-based gameplay of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. Combat is a large part of the game, with large-scale battles with dozens of participants being a common occurrence. For someone like myself, the combat is a delight to go through, as I can visualize and strategize using mechanics that I’ve gotten to know for half my life. I enjoy how complicated things get, planning my own turns and reacting to the enemies around me. The other mechanics, like roleplaying, making decisions, sneaking, and even potion crafting makes this game wonderfully complex.
While we have people who came for the gameplay and were graciously met with a wonderful cast of characters, we see people who came for the romance and were faced with mechanics like spell slots, initiative orders, actions, reactions, bonus actions and more. I’ve seen memes and posts from women buying the game specifically for the juicy romance now being forced to learn crazy combat skills. The romance is also more slow-paced, as certain events only happen through progressing the story. I would hesitate to call BG3 a romance game (instead it is a game featuring romance), but it is interestingly being played as one. This begs the question: is this a bad thing?
I don’t think it is. There are lots of ways to attract players. If you ask players their favorite parts of the game, you will get a variety of answers. I personally love the way the player’s decisions shape the world around you. Some enjoy just the combat. Or the exploration. Or the relationships. None of these are wrong answers, by any stretch. When making such a large and diverse game, it’s going to attract a large and diverse audience. There have been many popular cozy game streamers now playing something outside of their typical genre. The character creation is allowing for people to design a character that looks like them. There are diverse sexualities and even the option for polyamorous relationships within the game. Hopefully, those who are coming just for one factor are enjoying the other aspects that make this game what it is.
Another question we can ask ourselves is “why.” Why are so many people being attracted to the romance in this game? There are a few reasons I can think of. The first is that, as I mentioned earlier, the characters are so well done. I still have yet to finish my first playthrough, but I’m already getting excited for my next one, where I will romance a different character. I chose Shadowheart my first time, as I feel connected to her development and enjoy her character. But I’ve also found myself drawn to characters like Gale, who I normally would have looked over at first glance. The cast is well-developed and feels real, as their struggles and growth seem personal and important. Another reason could be the ability to make yourself in this game. Player-inserts are a very real aspect of BG3, with people directly making versions of themselves in the game. Being able to personally see yourself interacting with a character you feel invested in (and attracted to) makes the connection even stronger for many.
This is closely tied to my last point; that this game is very important for LGBTQ+ individuals. Not only does this game allow for customization of the character’s appearance, but there are also options for picking pronouns, voices, and even genitalia, allowing for transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming individuals to not only make a character that feels like themself but also allows for one to romance whichever character they want to, regardless of these chosen traits. All of the romance options are available regardless of gender and presentation, making this game extremely unique in its freedom of gender and sexuality. There aren’t that many games with options as free as this one, so it is new and exciting and welcome to queer players.
This is not the first game to be turned into a dating game by the fans, as games like Fire Emblem and Stardew Valley also have attracted a crowd of players who play it primarily for the romance. I’m not immune from this. While I love the gameplay of both of these examples, I won’t lie and say that part of the reason I’ve played them so much is to romance other characters (so much so that I’ve ranked all the Stardew bachelor(ettes) before, and have multiple FE relationship spreadsheets). These examples are also ones with large queer audiences, due in part to the inclusion of same-sex relationship options.
This just goes to show that video games are for everyone. There is a game out there for everybody. Finding aspects of games you enjoy, like romance, can allow you to find more games that have those elements. People can also find games with snippets of the parts they like, enabling them to branch out and try totally new things. Regardless of how or what you choose to play, know that there is no one way to consume content or participate in gaming. Whether you like romance, combat, roleplaying, exploration, simulation games, or all of the above, there’s something out there for you.