Upon its 2020 release after a lengthy early-access stage, indie game Hades immediately captured the love of gamers and critics alike, hitting over a million sales shortly after official release, collecting award nominations from a slew of gaming shows, and appearing on numerous year-end lists. The roguelike from developer Supergiant follows Greek demigod Zagreus as he attempts to escape from the underworld run by his titular father while interacting with a host of other Olympian gods and legendary figures pulled from Greek mythology. Besides tight and enjoyable gameplay and gorgeous art, what really makes Hades shine is its excellent and nuanced writing. This extends to the game’s romance options, which smartly and positively feature elements of relationships rarely touched on well in games, namely depicting polyamory and kink better than many of its peers.
Hades features three characters that players can have Zagreus woo: Dusa, a floating gorgon head residing in the game’s resting area between runs; Thanatos, the Greek personification of death who appears to offer Zagreus challenges and rewards during a run; and Megaera, one of the Fury sisters who appears alongside her siblings as the boss of the first section of the game. Players advance these romances between escape attempts by having conversations with each character and giving them the collectible Nectar, opening up new scenes and deepening their connection.
While this approach to romance is a fairly standard video game trope, Hades provides a seldom-seen story here, as Dusa will explain at the end of her storyline that, while she has tried, she does not have romantic feelings for Zagreus, and the duo agree to a more platonic but just as deep friendship.
This leaves Thanatos and Megaera as characters that Zagreus can enter a romantic relationship with. Players can pursue both or neither character at their own pace. If players do enter a relationship with both, a short time later a scene will occur with both Thanatos and Megaera showing up in Zagreus’ room together with an offer to all sleep together, after which Megaera states the three characters have “reached an understanding here,” effectively entering the three into a polyamorous relationship.
Put simply, polyamory means having romantic or sexual relationships with more than one person, with all parties consenting to the arrangement. (It’s also important to note that while Zagreus, Megaera, and Thanatos all sleep together, this is not a requirement of being polyamorous, which is not inherently sexual in nature.) With the conversation they have together, this becomes the status of the Hades trio for the rest of the game.
What’s so noteworthy about this depiction is just how rare it is still in any media, let alone in video games. In many games with romances, choosing one partner will lock you into that romance with no way to explore another at the same time. Players might be able to flirt with more than one character at once, but they will be forced to choose a single partner at some point and must break up with them to be with someone else, like in the Mass Effect series or Stardew Valley. Manda Farough, cofounder of F-Squared and a Twitch streamer who is herself polyam, recalls picking up Hades and being amazed by the representation. “It was really, really wonderful to be able to look at these two characters and be, like, I don’t have to choose, because they’re both beautiful,” she says. “And they’re both strange and scary and wonderful in their own very different ways.”