Today is hated Valentine’s Day, that one day out of the year that you are either 1) forced to recognise that the act of being in a relationship with another human is performative by committing an act of hollow gift-giving, or 2) forced to recognise that you are an entirely unloveable Smiths song of a mammal in a world where worth is measured mostly in proximity to other people’s erogenous zones.
And what if you have to move back in with your mum? That’s only going to even further limit your ability to hang out with hotties.
But fear not. I am a quite contented number 3) drowning in games that simulate the joys and anguishes of human interaction. And with absolutely none of the STIs or the crying. Let me lead you through the interactive playground of wonder. You may leave knowing that you are indeed human, have loved and are loved, and yes, even video games can remind you of that.
How Do You Do It is a free online game by Emmett Butler, Nina Freeman, Jonathan Kittaka, and Deckman Coss that simulates the ridiculousness of sex, which it may be useful to remember if you’re alone today without an interfacing partner. Ostensibly, the game is about a girl playing with her Barbies while her mother is out, trying to work out how on earth grown-ups “do it”, but really just mashing the two dolls together to work out how exactly the body parts are supposed to fit. It looks clumsy and silly, is really fun to play, and the artwork is adorable. At the end, you get a score of how many times you might have done it. (It’s probably hundreds of times by the way, wow.) This game does contextualise sex into a ridiculous prospect. I mean, sex is pretty silly, right? All those flailing limbs? Who needs it? Barbie certainly doesn’t look like she’s having an amazing time.
Save The Date is genuinely very reassuring, in the kind of way that you wish all dating Sims would reassure you that dating is a massive disaster and you’d be better off not even leaving the house; but it’s also a much smarter trip through narrative and the choices we might make. Available online, Save The Date is a free and incredibly witty, smart, and well-thought out videogame Groundhog Day. It’s at least as charming as it sounds, and the replays that are necessary to explore the ever expanding and complex narrative are really fun and occasionally hilarious. Your date Felicia gives an adorable incredulousness to the increasingly outlandish happenings; it’s a date you won’t forget anytime soon. Further explanations would give spoilers. Seek it out yourself and save the date.
Ever since Buffy The Vampire Slayer ended and Twilight made me hate myself for having a greatly increased appetite for men who are possessive, patronising and moody, there’s been a slight hole in my heart for occult-interested scene boys. Have no fear! Lacy Wilson has written an adorable choose your own adventure for iThings and Android called Hex Boyfriends. You get a selection of cute boys to literally enchant and bewitch, and you can choose your gender and input your name to have the story personalise to your taste. Which major you apply for at college affects where on campus you get up to sexy sex. The little stories wind through the occult and the supernatural, and are punctuated with teen hormones. Perhaps my favourite thing about this game is the achievements: I attained the ‘Tall Dark and Handsome’ achievement for romancing a guy called Theo, and I managed to bed him in a graveyard winning me the Monster Mash award. This is a cute teen dating adventure with no explicitness, but role-playing the hottest thing on campus is rewarding. Also available is the first in the Strange Loves series, Vampire Boyfriends.
Gone Home is the multi-award winning, BAFTA-nominated first person exploration game that is perhaps one of the most romantic narrative-led games I’ve played. It is set in 1995, and has the trappings of pop culture surrounding you, with X-Files on VHS and Pulp Fiction on the mind. Initially, it looks like the creepy house that you, the teenage Kaitlin Greenbriar, come home to is haunted or at least malevolent in some way, but the mysteries in Gone Home are purely text-based - on Post Its, notes, and objects. Wind your way through the corridors of your parents’ new home and as you do, uncover the story of two teens who enact their obsessions through diaries, flyers and trinkets. It’s unforgettable, charming, and has a Riot Grrl soundtrack. You can get lost in this story. Who needs anyone else when you can reminisce about teen crushes?
Spare a thought for the poor Japanese love hotel managers today - lovers will be flocking in vast numbers to these illicit bolt holes to get a little privacy and possibly a little horizontal tango. Love Hotel is an amazing Sim Tower-inspired game with adorable graphics where you help run and expand your very own Japanese-style love hotel. Free, and made for a competition where developers tried to produce a Nintendo-style game, it can also be played with a USB NES controller, and is inspired by Nintendo’s early days when they invested in Japan’s profitable love hotel establishments. The best thing about this game is that the Australian creators, 3 Silly Hats, have made it kink-friendly, with diverse couples who are attracted to different sorts of novelty rooms. My favourites are the gay male couples who are “posh” - they have little top hats! As you increase your profit, you can buy ever more extravagant rooms for your little sims to bonk in, including such themed suites as the spooning room, the tropical beach room, and the chocolate moustache. Frisky business indeed. Just remember to hire enough cleaners.
The incredibly aptly-named Christine Love is the western queen of sexy texty games about doin’ it. The uncovering of the hot shadowy affairs between Love’s protagonists is always vicariously erotic in the way of lovers slowly learning new information about each other. She made “love on a 90s BBS” game Digital: A Love Story, and the creepy voyeuristic visual novel Don’t Take It Personally Babe It Just Ain’t Your Story, as well as exploring relationships through dystopic sci-fi AIs in Analogue: A Hate Story. All of Love’s games address how we come to terms with love in a digital age, often in a mysterious, tantalising, titillating way. The discovery and sorting of information about others, and the use of it to negotiate relationships is paramount to her games.
However, it’s Even Cowgirls Bleed that’s the hot torrid affair in a glass: a quick browser experience, it’s about the short intense relationship of two cowgirls, and how quickly the whirlwind feelings of lust can turn to hurt. Short, sharp, and goes down neat. Love is cruel. Valentine’s Day? Not if this is going to happen …
Who needs half a dozen roses? Games last longer. Just don’t put them in water.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010