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A Boy and his Assault Rifle

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When you find out someone is playing the same game as you, or a game you’ve played, there are delightful shared experiences. “How far are you?” is the obvious question, but since Bioware started making games with kissing, the other predominant question is “Who are you romancing?”

Only recently have I become brave enough to be honest. I am romancing my assault rifle.

I have other companions and partners, based on whatever system the developers have put in place, whether that’s a series of frank conversations, quests, and exchange of gifts, or a single dialogue option that results in 3d models awkwardly bumping into each other. But that love is fleeting. It comes and goes with the benefits my companions give me. I value them, there’s no question of that.

But my assault rifle will save my life.

In whatever game is at hand, I maintain an arsenal of hand-crafted and carefully modified instruments of mayhem, each one deadlier than the last. Often my chatter with companions is idle, checking on relationships or trading gear, but when one over my lovers speaks, it is certain that someone or something is about to have a bad day.

This is a lifestyle choice. I have a particular relationship with weapon crafting and upgrade systems, and have since Hellgate: London. But the powerful depth that a game will go to to let you customize exactly what grip and sight are assembled on your weapon of choice while leaving relationships with any character at four conversations never fails to intrigue me. Still, it makes sense. In Fallout 4 or Mass Effect: Andromeda, your rifle is your lens for viewing the world, and your primary means of interaction with it.

It’s tempting to view the gun as an extension of my character a la Doom or Call of Duty, but as crafting and modification systems get more elaborate, it’s clear that the gun and my character are separate but cooperating. My guns have names, they have stats, and they have clear paths of progression. They can be modified for different situations, and if I’m so inclined, I can maintain a sort of arsenal polyamory, and have a relationship with weapons that aren’t in my inventory. A dalliance with a rocket launcher for a boss fight, for example.

Lots of games let me customize my companions, but they don’t let me customize my relationship with them. It’s usually three or four conversations which establish forever that we are soulmates, comrades, rivals, or frenemies. Or there’s a background system in place, where our relationship is dependent entirely on what I do around them, so I’m constantly under my comrades’ judgy eye. One of the great things about a weapon upgrade system is the transparency that lets me see the results of my choices before I make them. I’m not experiencing an assault rifle, I’m crafting one. Crafting relationships might not make a lot of sense in real life, but games aren’t real life.

It seems like there’s room for a game that uses your relationships to interact with the world, letting you create relationships between people and using those as your weapon, for lack of a better term. Strategy games with heir systems like Europa Universalis do this to an extent, and in some ways so does Pokemon, though there’s an argument to be made that Pokemon are more like rifles than characters. They’re acknowledged as persons in a limited way, but otherwise treated like weapons.

The Persona games use a social link system to reward you for developing deeper connections with people, but ultimately it’s a set of straightforward upgrades. They offer progression, but not modularity. My dream game lets me adjust relationships to get specific bonuses say, or establish nuance in a relationship beyond the binary option of husbando or good buddy.

Alternately, a game where you can date your weapons. Boyfriend Dungeon (targeted for 2019) is a dating sim where you do exactly that, and looks pretty exciting. Weapons are people, and you explore your way through a dungeon with them, but also play a visual novel style dating game where you can get close and personal with your scimitar.

Whether on far off planets or in the nuclear wasteland, my companions come and go, they get left behind, or even die, but my rifle is always in my hands.

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