For many, video games offer the best approximations of feelings and experiences we've never had before. They can show us what it's like to explore deep space, solve a mystery, play beach volleyball, and even fall in love. Yes, there are amazing sex scenes and even hotter characters spread throughout the video game world, but there are also those better suited to making you feel as though you're actually in a relationship.
It's a bit complicated, but imagine the feeling of having your affections returned to you as you give them freely to characters in said games. It's difficult to achieve, but these games did an admirable job of transcending the boundaries between game and player, offering situations and characters that, in a way, emulate romance as we know it. Whether you date a virtual young woman in LovePlus or woo an alien crew member in Mass Effect, these games ensure the affection you feel for your characters is returned in many rewarding ways.
If that sounds confusing, consider this: You don't go to games like Grand Theft Auto, despite its various sexual encounters, to feel emotionally fulfilled – but a night with your LovePlus girlfriend talking and hanging out might fill that requirement nicely. See what these games can do for you – and don't knock it until you try it.
You've likely played dating sims before, where you start courting a character, choose the right dialogue decisions, and head down a path that leads to romance. The same premise prevails in LovePlus, which follows three high school students: Manaka, Rinko, and Nene. You're a student as well, in your second year of high school, and many of your encounters with each girl during the game build into a veritable "girlfriend" situation before you know it. Each has their own unique backstory and personality, as well as hopes and desires. They have everyday problems, and they connect with you as you work with them to solve them. Little by little, you become invested in their problems and you soon realize you're falling with them. Your chosen girl will eventually confess their feelings to you as well, which will end up in you feeling as though you've won the lottery – it's seriously something you've got to experience before you start saying it isn't possible to develop feelings for a virtual girl.
BioWare's Mass Effect series has been the poster child for the developer's excellent romances (minus the abhorrent Mass Effect Andromeda) since the beginning of the franchise, and it's all thanks to excellent writing and encounters that feel truly believable. There are plenty of different relationships to pursue, with characters of various species and beliefs, and while there's obviously a physical attraction between your Commander Shepard and the person of your choosing, there's an emotional one, too. Perhaps you fancy Garrus, who takes you out on fun dates. Maybe you opted for Tali, who's shielded by an important suit that keeps the poisonous outside world out, and are enjoying getting to know her. Whatever the case may be, Mass Effect lets you delve deeper into relationships than other games do, and if you make one mistake – you could potentially lose it all, for good. There's a sense of tension that goes along with each relationship as well, which makes you want to try much harder.
Florence isn't your typical game, and can hardly be called one at all in the same terms as the other titles on this list, but it's an interactive experience that still leaves you wanting more, and truly understanding what it's like to be in a relationship. It follows 25-year-old Florence Yeoh as she goes about her daily life and meets a cellist named Krish, with whom she falls in love. You watch the two interact, grow together, share awkward moments, and even move in together – then watch it all unravel eventually as they go through more dire phases in their relationships as normal people do. But while you're experiencing the highs of the new relationship, the game is staggeringly prescient, from the way Krish cleans his room ahead of Florence visiting to making room for each other's belongings after moving in. It's a stoic reminder that relationships aren't easy, but they're fulfilling just the same.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Much like Mass Effect, CD Projekt RED's The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt gave players a romance worth fighting for. Despite the fact that Geralt of Rivia can have several casual partners, you'll likely fall in love with the main suitors Yennefer or Triss based on your relationships with the two and how they blossom in-game. Both are romantic interests that draw you in so that the two of you are inexorably linked. You can't choose both of them, and the way you get to know both women ensures that you wouldn't want to. Falling for one or the other is an involved process that you'll feel as though you're investing time into just like a real relationship, from first kisses to finding your true love.
The Persona series is already like reliving your school days, especially in the friendship and romance department. Making friends requires commitment, like hanging out with people after school, making sure you don't make them upset, and doing nice things for them. It's the same with being in a relationship. Occasionally, you can take your friendships to places beyond that of a platonic nature, but when you finally get there, you'll feel like you have put a massive amount of effort into doing so. Piece by piece, little by little, you're building something fantastic – and when you finally make it there, you'll feel as if you're on top of the world. In Persona 5's case, this particular entry represents the distillation of every great bit of relationship-building the series has introduced in the past, which makes it all the more special when you arrive at that point once more.