Thoughts about Game Design

Another Way to Handle Relationships

Relationships are an essential part of many video games, especially those more geared towards a personal story. Yet, in most games, relationships with various characters are handled with a single attribute, which increases or decreases with certain actions, if they do not do away with such a concept entirely. While it works well for many of them, it can be insufficient to portray the complex world of human relationships and especially for those games which are interested in complex relationships during hard times. Or are generally interested in a more nuanced way to portray interpersonal exchanges.

The key feature of this system would be the splitting of the general relationship meter into three stats, firstly Relationship itself. How much you like a person. This progression indicates how much a person enjoys interacting with another person, whereby the lowest value would be one where one loathes spending any time with a given person and the highest value being a person they very rarely fail to enjoy the time spent together. Hereby the relationship can either be platonic or romantic.

The second metric would the Trust. This is the measure of how at ease a person is in the vicinity of another person. High Trust means that the person doesn’t expect the other in the interaction to act against them. Or rather not act against them in unexpected ways. For example, two opposing soldiers could have high Trust, and still, use all manners of traps against each other. Or one can have high Trust of a kleptomaniac person, as the stealing is expected and can be accounted for beforehand.

The last metric is Respect. Respect is generally how highly the competence of the other person is perceived. It is the least solid of the three metrics as it can vary wildly depending on situation and context, but still, one can have a general overview. High Respect means a character will listen to suggestions and seriously consider them, while low Respect means even reasonable suggestions are likely to be denied out of hand.

This system, in general, allows for far more complex relationships then a simple like/dislike meter, allowing you for example, someone who hates your guts but still respects and trusts you, or someone who likes you a whole lot, but in the end doesn’t think highly of your input. Or a skilled enemy whom you like and respect a great deal, but still wouldn’t trust father, then you can throw them.

While many games will not require nuanced changing of relationships and will choose to portray them on a more linear path, games that wish to allow the player to create freedom in his interactions or to portray reactions more nuanced this method could offer much.



Relationships in video games often simple like/dislike meters



Works well for most games, lacks in nuance






Three metrics to classify a relationship



A like/dislike meter


Maybe romantic or platonic





Expecting unexpected betrayals


Expected/Expectable antagonistic actions may not lower trust








Expectation of competence


Most fluid of all three

Overview still possible





Allows for more complex relationships








Only useful in some games