This is a very nice post, filled with thoughtful commentary and analysis, and with a lot of information to share as well.
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".
I assume this is for other people reading this because I am rather fond of swearing myself. But for me its usually playful. When I am concentrating I use a lot less profanity. I did appreciate the clarification of terms though, kept me from being distracted by word choice. Sometimes intuiting the intentions of others, especially with no other cues to go off of, can be incredibly difficult. Language is a poor tool for communication, it is at best never more than approximate. Not to pursue a rabbit trail too far, but consider all the ways you might describe a ball. By color, by size, condition, composition or comparative distance, age and manufacture. . . and then consider how to convey how much you love someone. I love you. I love you a lot. Anything beyond the second line is simply another variation of it. Part of that has to do with the fact that emotion comes the limbic portion of the brain, and language from the neocortex, and so emotion exists outside linguistic constraints. Which is interesting, but we were talking about fucking. I bring it up now because I might dovetail back into it, I haven't decided yet, but I really want to get down to fucking.
For me, the reason I prefer RPGs to have romances is because when they are absent, it feels completely wrong.
So my time in the military shaped an incredibly amount of the person I grew into and am now, and will probably persist in being for several decades hence. We probably spent our 20s in similar ways I image, in regard to relationships with others, given your general ease and comfort with the subject when discussing intimacy with total strangers. I think that comes from a certain level of familiarity. I hope that inference won't be taken as a slight in any way. For me however, it was something that became contextualized. Something I thought about and pursued when I wasn't busy with my duties and responsibilities. It was on liberty and leave, it was on those days I was out of uniform and drinking with friends and strangers. When we were tasked, when we were deployed, fuck around time was secured. It was the objective and nothing else. Sure, there was banter, and grab ass, and that happened pretty much all the time, but none it was anything you focused on. In a way it was distant and sort of rote. You did those things because it just part of the rapport you had with those people based upon other moments that would matter again when you weren't operational. But your mind usually wasn't on it even while you were doing it. It was reflexive. Maybe at first, when you are new to the service it is more sincere, but after awhile that sort of thing just kind of evaporates until you are consumed by what is required of you until the point you can pass those burden on to someone else.
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 get it, and I wouldn't want that for anyone. I wouldn't want anyone to even be viewed in those terms because it is our mutual attraction which brings us together as a species -even when it stops far short of assuming any sexual connotation.
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".
You would be surprised. They could be stressed out, burnt up, exhausted, and distracted by other thoughts. The funny thing, there is a certain point that one gets to pretty quickly, usually right after something significant happens, where that fear of death stops being a concern. Its difficult to explain and doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but you really can get to the point where you just arrive at this indifference to the prospect of dying. It also helps when the conditions you are living under aren't all that great to begin with. But you are dead on about the intimacy of that proximity and the subtle sexual tension that can arise, but its sort of like realizing you are hungry while you are busy doing something, it occurs to you, but if you don't stop what you are doing you will forget about it until much later when opportunities present themselves and you are satisfied with the state of what you are doing. For me anyway, individual mileage may vary. Slight aside. The funny thing is, and what most people don't realize about PTSD, is that overwhelming majority of people who suffer from it are those who never actually saw combat. Some people are traumatized by events, to one degree or another, but even more have trouble transitioning from that state of constant readiness to relaxation without experiencing the catharsis of conflict. Its the fear of combat more than the combat itself that often fucks people up -which, again, it goes without saying that experiences in combat can absolutely leave your scarred
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.
We could argue about this next proposition, and I think it would be a lot of fun, but fantasy as the genre we know it began with Tolkien -who was a veteran of World War 1 and was working through a lot of his conflicting feelings and fears which he came away from that war with. Prior to that, its roots are found in the most contentious and violent periods of human history where shit was hard, everything was scarce, and life offered no guarantees. I think it is important to remember the nature of the world we clawed out way out of. We have tamed this planet and put ourselves in very good position as a species, but it is useful to remember our primacy is both precarious and hard kept. Fortunately, RPGs can be many things, which is why I always try to advocate for breadth as well as depth.
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,
Agreed on all points. The engineer was unbelievably attractive in her nakedly honest feelings and the clumsy ineptitude of trying to express them. To be honest, most of my (few, fragmented, and unreliable if) fondest memories of former flames usually concern those things that went wrong which we found joy in anyway, rather than those perfect nights. But I also like a little bit of playful aggression in my relationships. I am the sort of guy who sneak up you in the shower and pours ice water over your head at six in the morning, and I hope like hell you are the kind of girl that will take all of my clothes and all of the towels and all of the linens and even the goddamn curtains and put them in a trash bags hidden in the trunk of your car as you leave for work knowing I won't wake up for my shift for another hour. . .And make me get them myself when you get home (I wore the sheets in a toga like a fuck damn Greecian god).
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.
To be clear, I am speaking less to the specific person and more to the massive scale of human potential. Sexuality certainly is important to some people, dearly so, but its a very personal importance and no matter what one chooses to do with it, it is never going to be rival other things which the human spirit is capable of. I am not so certain we would disagree on that, but as always I take great pleasure in your thoughts.
And I hope we always will be, but really, I can't imagine we would find ourselves in anything more serious than respectful disagreement.