So, I am going to summarize some of the arguments being presented and try to deal with them in an even handed and general way. I think a lot of this has to do with art and how we see it, and perhaps to a degree some misconceptions on what art is and why it even applies to this conversation.
Let me start by making it clear where I stand on the topic for those of you who haven't seen my thoughts in previous romance and writing threads on this board: I have no interest in romances personally. I cannot see, and absolutely cannot conjure up, the interest in hitting on a character. Its just not for me. I can see other people are very much attached to them, however, and that concerns me a great deal. Slash fiction has existed for at least five hundred years that I know of, probably longer than that. A couple weeks back when we were discussing armor styles I mentioned that when Mallory penned Le Morte d'Arthur in the mid 15th century nobility across Europe commissioned their own side stories, reiterations, and companion pieces inseparable from the original story but with unique variation. A number of them were also erotically charged. Most concerned Guinevere, sometimes she was chaste, sometimes she was faithful, often she was not, and in many of these bespoke works her relationship dynamics were the only thing which was altered. All of this is simply to say that personal feelings aside a significant number of individuals will always be concerned with interpersonal relationships and tales of seduction. That makes this important, regardless of our own predilections.
Set that aside for a moment, I intend to elaborate on Guinevere a bit further a bit later.
Lets speak on someone specifically who very much lived and breathed to make this matter less theoretical. It is good to consider the abstractions, but often we can be lured by specious thought into the realm of the purely imaginative. There is quite a lot to admire about the masters of art, all of them, from Meade Shaeffer to Leonardo da Vinci. You know da Vinci never finished a commission, spent a considerable amount of his life being sued by his patrons for accepting their wealth and never giving them anything in return. He liked to spend every clear morning riding and his evenings in a nearby tavern where he would drink with the locals and draw caricatures of them, as well as any passing strangers and merchants, for nothing more than their delight. If I recall correctly he refused any coin or compensation. He could draw with one hand and simultaneously paint with the other, and both works would be completely different studies. His manservant was illiterate, so when he sent him to the market it was armed with sketches of those things he wished for the man to procure and when he was 24 he was arrested along with a few other youths at an orgy and charged with sodomy. He may have been gay. May have been bisexual. May have been experimenting and unsure. May have been drinking in another room by himself waiting for his friends and their imminent flagrante delecto to resolve themselves. None of it matters. The only importance in such a matter arises from our interest in him, it can become important but only when he is important to us -and perhaps not on even then. One's sexuality is but the smallest facet of whom they are as a person, the least part of a compelling whole.
If knowing da Vinci may have been queer alters your perception of him, it is not because something fundamental about he himself has changed only your own feelings about him. It isn't in and of itself important, merely important to you. There can be great comfort and satisfaction, I imagine, for some people who wish to explore those aspects of another's sexuality, but ultimately they are trivial. As inconsequential as how one might prefer their eggs. Our value, as human beings, is not tied to those things which we consume. In order for that to become the measure of someone they have to have nothing else. Nothing they have created, nothing they have accomplished, nothing at all.
That would be tragic.
Now let us return to Guinevere. She is often, and best, known for her internal, titanic, struggle between the man she loved with her very being and the other she loved with her tortured heart. . .And it was all a later invention reflecting the trends of courtly -and theoretically platonic but always true- love in ascendance at the time, as with Lancelot's chastity. In the earliest poems and tales we have of each, some four centuries earlier than the best known story with which are all familiar, she was faithful while Lancelot would wed Iblis. Does this change their characters? Very much so. Not because whether they had sex with one another was important in and of itself rather because of the struggle not the sex. We are all ultimately what we do, it wasn't their attraction that was interesting, it was their attempts to resist it and their failure and what would happen as a result.
Were we playing a video game telling their story and playing one of them, whether we chose to experience that story with heterosexual preference or homosexual it would not change a God damn thing that matters
This is a very nice post, filled with thoughtful commentary and analysis, and with a lot of information to share as well. There's really only one sentence that I take specific issue with, but we'll get to that.
I'm now probably going to use the word "fucking" a lot. When I say "fucking", in this context, I don't necessarily mean just fucking. I don't necessarily mean fucking at all. I mean all romantic or sexual interaction between two people, whether it includes actual fucking or not. It's just a shorthand I'm going to use for a wide range of experiences, mostly because I just like the word "fucking".
For me, the reason I prefer RPGs to have romances is because when they are absent, it feels completely wrong. The whole dynamic of the group feels fake and weird. I don't know about anyone else, but in my life experience, people like fucking. They like it a whole lot. In fact, it's one of the main things they think about, talk about, and seek to do. In any group of people I've been a part of, whether social, professional, educational, or other, people within that group were flirting, thinking about their relationships with each other, talking about their relationships with each other, hooking up (whether secretly or openly), dating and breaking up, and in general, doing a lot of fucking. Theoretically, co-workers aren't supposed to fraternize in that way, in a lot of cases, but let's be real: they do. In my life experience, you put some people together (who are capable of being attracted to one another) for any length of time, and at least some of them are gonna start fucking each other.
When I see a party of adventurers in an RPG and there's no romantic stuff, I feel like these are strangely asexual beings. I mean, if being asexual is specifically part of their character, then that's fine. Nothing wrong with being asexual. But most of the time, these people are not presented as asexual. They're presented as regular old red-blooded (usually) young, (usually) good-looking men and women. And they're facing death together. Every day. Narrowly escaping death. Every day. And saving each other's lives. Every day. And spending all their time together. And sleeping in close quarters. Probably treating each others' wounds which will often involve some state of undress and touching. Possibly changing clothes in front of each other, possibly bathing in front of each other, But even if neither of those things are true, in some respect being in a party like that involves a certain level of intimacy. By my assessment of how human beings behave, there's just no way some of those adventurers wouldn't be hooking up. Unless they're some highly-disciplined unit of intense professionals or some monastic group with a strict religious or philosophical proscription on "that sort of thing".
From a story perspective, I find it weird when a story is willing to go into extreme amounts of depth, detail, and quantity about who is killing who, but not who is fucking who. (Should some of those have been "whom"? I dunno.) In my casual observation of the human species, we do a lot more fucking than killing. I think if we didn't, we would be extinct. Most people (probably everyone I know) have fucked more often than they've killed. Probably a whole LOT more. And they've definitely TALKED a lot more about fucking than about killing. I think it's safe to assume that in the privacy of their thoughts, they've also THOUGHT about fucking more than killing. There could be some exceptions, but I have to think (and hope) that they are rare. So why are stories about killing more interesting than stories about fucking? A story that dwells at great length on violence, but not at all on love, seems like a very inhuman story to me. And one that does not represent the actual motivations of people as I understand them.
So when you're in a party with these people going through all this shit together, and literally NO ONE in the group is ever like, "Hey, we should fuck off some of this stress, eh?" or "Hey, our close proximity and shared intense experiences have caused me to develop some feelings for you", for me it hugely strains credulity. It breaks my immersion. It makes me think, "this is not how the dynamic would be in any believable group of people". So that's why I think RPGs, in particular, should have at least a little bit of intra-party romance as part of their stories. Because without it, the characters don't feel real to me. The situation doesn't feel real to me. Like an entire (major) dimension of humanity has been stripped away from these characters, and its absence is glaring.
Now, it doesn't HAVE to be romance involving the PC. It could be NPC + NPC romance, and that satisfies my verisimilitude test. In The Outer Worlds, you can't romance any companions, but one of the companions DOES have a major subplot entirely devoted to her love life, and her budding relationship with an NPC outside the party. It's cute, and more importantly, it forestalls the feeling of "why don't ANY of these people have genitals and/or hearts?" because at least one person is showing a normal, relatable interest in fucking. (Although, the specific character and specific questline in that game is so sweet and wholesome it kinda makes me feel bad for using "fucking" there.) I think it's probably BETTER, in a lot of cases, to have some of the romance involve the PC, though, because that's something that draws their character more into the story and particularly into the sense of relationship with these party members. Also, if you have all the other characters hooking up, but no one wants to hook up with the PC, it kinda makes you wonder what's wrong with your character. "Am I playing an uggo here or what?"
Obviously it can be overdone. It can be done badly. It has definitely been done VERY badly at times. And particularly ham-fisted romance is generally worse than no romance at all. But I don't think it takes MUCH to make it at least passably decent. The NPCs don't need to be overly aggressive about it. They don't need to hit on the PC. For various reasons, it's probably best to let the PC do all the initiating. (Some people already receive too much unwanted sexual attention in real life, and don't want to deal with that shit in a game, too.) So when people say, "man this party scene where suddenly all my companions tried to get in my pants felt really weird and bad", I can totally see why. It's not well-done. It needs improvement. But at least it's somewhat believable, to me. I've been to plenty of parties IRL where practically everyone was trying to get laid with SOMEONE, and desperately so. Especially when everyone's drinking. But the scene is still too much.
Now, Stranger, to the one thing you said that I was like "hold up, there" to. It was this: "One's sexuality is but the smallest facet of whom they are as a person, the least part of a compelling whole."
That's painting with a pretty broad brush there, my friend. That . . . assumes a lot. Maybe that's true for some people, but for others, their sexuality is a very large facet of who they are, and much more than the least part. Especially people whose sexuality has been demonized or outlawed or subject to social opprobrium. People who have been hated specifically for their sexuality, people who have had to fight for basic rights denied them specifically due to their sexuality, people who have been in fear for their life, just because of their sexuality. For such people, their sexuality is not some trivial little detail, some irrelevant line on a form somewhere. It could be pretty central to their whole life experience.
And of course, sex itself is of greater or lesser importance to different people. You have asexuals and demisexuals, who mostly don't give a fuck about fucking, and then you have nymphomaniacs and sex addicts and sexual predators, whose thoughts may be almost entirely consumed with matters of fucking. Sexuality, AND the importance of it, is a deeply individual thing, and I don't think we can blithely say that it's just "the smallest facet of a person" indiscriminately.
I object to that sentence, but I don't find it, or you, offensive. I'm sure you didn't mean anything harmful by it. So we cool.