For reference, when I talk about realism, what I really mean is narrative consistency, or verisimilitude. I don't mean the world needs to be ultra realistic, otherwise I would take issue with magic existing in the first place, but I mean that every effect needs to have a plausible cause. The world needs to "make sense." And yes, even in a fantasy setting this is important. Pretty much all of the best fantasy writers will tell you that it is an important concept. Brandon Sanderson for example has a youtube series on writing and its one of the topics he covers, if you are curious, I can find a link to it. Its incidentally why I think most RPGs have awful writing (including the divinity games), because in many cases they ignore this entirely, when it should be something which is taken into account. I am perfectly fine with ignoring the story and just playing the game for the combat, but I would obviously prefer it if the writing was also good :P
Just because the setting is fantasy, doesn't mean it is allowed to be implausible within the context of that world, otherwise it ruins the suspension of disbelief. Even fantasy worlds need to have rules and within those rules what happens need to be consistent. Once your setting has established rules, you had better make sure everything operates within them.
This here has less to do with my point about narrative realism and more to do with my point about how you view the creative process. There are 2 main arguments, the first is, that the creator should make things to please their audience (for example, if an artist is commissioned to make a painting, their job is to please the person who commissioned them). The second is, the creator should try to make their own vision. The story they should make is the story they want to tell. I personally hold the second point of view, I do not believe that the artist should compromise on their vision for the audience, even if it means that their art does not sell. Not a very practical perspective, I know, but you could say in some ways I am an idealist.
For those of us who hold the second view point, it doesn't matter if someone wants to romance a certain companion and they can't, we aren't making the game to please them, we are making the game to tell our own story. If people do not like that story, it is ok, there is no problem with that, because it isn't their story, it is ours. In some ways you could say it is selfish to think this way, but in my opinion, the only way you can truly see what an artist is capable of, is if you give them free reign to create the piece that they want to create. And yes, the means I am perfectly fine with the game having decisions in them which were made purely to please the artist which I do not agree with, there are plenty of those I can think of :P
You could treat video games as just a form of entertainment and that is fine, but I believe they have a potential to be a form of art as well. I would rather see the genre elevated to the level of high art, than just treated as cheap entertainment.
That would be a convincing argument - provided that making passes at companions is the only time sex comes up with Astarion. He also talks about girls back in Baldur's Gate. When he is talking about his attraction towards characters which are not even present, he only talks about women. Almost everything about Astarion suggests that he is interested in women and there is very little that suggests he is interested in men. He is a very sexually overt character. Even then of course, this does not entirely rule out the fact that he may bisexual, he might just be afraid of the way people would view him if he admitted it and so does not talk about it overtly (if the world of Faerun was similarly prejudiced as the real world), but if this is the case, it should be something brought up!
My issue is not with all the companions being bisexual, being bisexual is not the same as being player sexual. You could have a group where everyone was bisexual and it would be a plausible group. The problem is that there is a disconnect between how characters behave in relation to the main character vs how they behave to the rest of the world. If this disconnect did not exist, they would not be player sexual. It makes perfect sense for all the characters to be bisexual from the perspective of trying to sell the game to as many people as possible, but if you want to do this, they need to be written as bisexual to begin with. This is not how they feel. In many cases they feel like straight characters which happen to make an exception to the rule in the case of the main character and that is what makes them player sexual.
Shadowheart should have a strong bias against a Githyanki PC and probably not treat the player as a romance option. Incidentally, as far as I could tell from her writing she does come across as someone who could be bisexual, but she does have other trust issues and to make her a more plausible companion these should be explored within her romance. Astarion should probably be straight, if he is not, he should have a good reason as to why he puts on a difference face to the world at large to the way he behaves towards the PC and it should be explained. You get the idea. The companions should be consistent. A player sexual companion is not a bisexual companion, a player sexual companion is a companion that only behaves the way it does in order to satisfy the player. If the audience for a game was 100% male and they all hated gay and bisexual companions, the player sexual companion would be characters that behave gay to the rest of the world but act straight in relation to the PC.
I did read Niara's post above. I think I answered some of her points in my post above, but I will respond to some things.
I personally see no issue with the player not having a lot of options in terms of romance, in fact, I am fine with a player having no options at all if it matches the story the writer is trying to tell. If I was to make a game, I would probably not include any romances at all, because I am not sure I could write them well and even if I could I don't think they would fit well within the type of story I was trying to tell. In my opinion, its ok for someone to not be included within the story that an artist is trying to tell. Then it just so happens that that particular person is not the right audience for that particular story and that is fine. I dislike most music, it is very, very rare for me to find music that represents my personal tastes. That doesn't make that music bad, it just means that most music is not for me.
This is what I dislike about player sexual companions, it is arguing that the purpose of the world should be to please the player, as opposed to what I believe, which is that the world should exist to tell a story and if the story it tells is not one that the player likes, then it is not a story for them. This incidentally is also why I dislike the changing of shadowheart's personality to make people happy, because it is taking the line that, "the player's internal canon is more important than our own."
I am of the opinion that sometimes, less is more. Sometimes by taking away player choices and forcing them into a narrow box, you can tell a better story.
Sure, I get that verisimilitude is important. When I'm playing games, I complain all the time about ludonarrative dissonance, asking time and again, "Why is this this way? This makes absolutely no sense
! A real world wouldn't operate like this! This is so stupid and gamey!" Why the fuck does every RPG have very small sums of money tucked away in thousands of crates and barrels randomly strewn through every environment? Who is stashing all these tiny deposits of gold in all these places, and why isn't anyone else collecting them? Why can I waltz into random people's homes (in many games) and just start taking their shit, with no argument from them? Why is every Tom, Dick, and Harry bandit in the world some kind of fanatical zealot who never surrenders or flees even when their side is getting wrecked? These sorts of things, to me, destroy verisimilitude.
Personally, I don't hold video games to the writing standards of novels. Especially not to the standards of the best
novelists in the genre. Usually, in a video game, the narrative plays second fiddle to the gameplay, and is often just there to support and contextualize the gameplay. There are games where the story has primacy, but they are rare, and most often smaller indie titles. I love the idea of artists not compromising their vision and all that, but I accept that that is not really possible for any game which has a big team and a big budget. A painter or a novelist can make exactly the art that springs purely from their own creative soul, because they're not investing millions of dollars into making that thing. They don't have a ton of other
creatives also working on it with them, each with their own ideas. Video games can be art (I think Disco Elysium, Planescape: Torment, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Kentucky Route Zero, and others are art), but I'm skeptical that big
video games can be pure art.
I agree that some more narrative underpinning should be given to Astarion's attraction to the player, but how early does it need to be given? What if you go through almost the whole game thinking that Astarion is into you, only for him to reveal near the end that he was just manipulating you, because he's a vampire and that's what he's learned to do to survive. Maybe he was straight originally, but hundreds of years as a vampire have shifted his sexuality for purely strategic reasons. Also, some people have complicated sexualities where they are almost
entirely attracted to one gender, but occasionally
attracted to a different one. I have a friend who is a 43-year-old gay man. He has been gay since he was a child, totally gay, unequivocally gay. He never even questioned his gayness. Attracted only to men, that was for his whole life. But just this year, he met a woman and was attracted to her and now has a girlfriend. He doesn't even understand why! (But yes, if my friend was a character in the game, it would of course make sense for all of that to be explicitly part of the story.)
I agree that making characters feel very inconsistent with their apparent attractions should be avoided, unless that very inconsistency is addressed in the narrative. I also agree about the Githyanki thing. I have no problem with characters being racially prejudiced when it comes to romance, as I don't think players care nearly as much about the fantasy race they picked as they do about their gender. (Most people do tend to play characters of their own gender, at least for first playthrough.)
I'm okay with some characters not being romanceable, or with no
characters being romanceable. Lots of RPGs that I love have no romances. But I think if they're gonna have them, they might as well write them in such a way that they work no matter what gender a player picks. Sure, if they have a specific sexuality, and you make that sexuality part of the actual story, then there can be more depth there, but I don't mind a little loss of potential depth for the increased choice on the player's part. At least in a big-budget, mass-market, broadly-focused RPG like this, where the story is about other things and the romances are honestly just tacked on as a feature.
I think taking away player choices can absolutely tell a better story, if you have the luxury of making "telling the best possible story" your primary design pillar. I'm a bit of a game designer myself, and one of the projects I'm working on is an RPG in which you can only romance one character, and in fact you don't even have the option to not
get into a relationship with her, as it's one of the main things the game is about
. The whole story revolves around it, so player choice is not given in that instance. But I don't have to worry about the commercial viability of my product (my livelihood does not depend on it), and don't care how many people like it or don't like it. Larian Studios simply cannot afford to think that way.