Writing Asexual and Aromantic Characters


#1

This discussion’s for people wanting to write asexual and aromantic characters, and include them in their games. If you’ve any questions, thoughts, want to share how you’ve implemented things yourself, etc then post here.

https://forum.choiceofgames.com/t/asexual-characters is for pre-existing characters and representation in the media.

And https://forum.choiceofgames.com/t/where-are-the-aces-asexuals is our other discussion on the topic.


Asexual Characters
One sexual orientation left out
The Underground Society-WIP
Sexuality and how it's perceived
Cupid's on a Rampage(WIP) 18+
Life and Death in Tropeland (potential collaboration?)
#2

I might be overthinking this, but today I was looking back at the date coding for my WIP. Early in the game, I check for the MC’s gender preference (if there is one; this is also when they can say “Nope, no interest at all.”) Whether preference can change over the course of the game, how to code in more than two genders, etc. is a coding headache, but not the topic of this post.

Aromantic or asexual I’ve been checking for the first time the MC interacts with someone they’re interested in. Then I set a flag that says “aromantic”, “asexual”, or “romantic/sexual” (in more abbreviated forms.) I apply that to how they interact with anyone else they fancy for the rest of the game.

But is that right? Is it possible for a person to be completely aromantic or asexual in one relationship, and completely different in another one? Is there an entire category of grey-aces who are attracted to one type of person and not to another and still desire romance with both, and vice-versa with greyromantics, or am I hypothesizing a type of person who is either very rare or nonexistent? At this point, am I creating super-representative characters or just being pedantic?


#3

I know asexuality/sexuality is considered a sliding-scale within the ace community, so it can get pretty complicated.

I think the closest category/label to what you’re describing is demi-sexual. It means somebody does not experience sexual attraction until they have formed an emotional bond with them. This is different from people who simply refuse to sleep with a person unless a bond exists; demi sexuals are incapable of thinking about a person in a sexual way until they become emotionally attached.

This may be an oversimplification of what you’re thinking of, but I hope it helps nonetheless. :slight_smile:


#4

It is helpful to remember that no set of categories is going to perfectly describe everyone, and that there are more in this subcategory than “asexual”, “aromantic”, and the grey versions. But that’s not quite what I was asking, so let’s see if I can rephrase this a bit better.

Hypothetically, I write an option for a character who generally operates without any sexual desire, but wants relationships (a romantic asexual person) but who, in the presence of certain potential partners, experiences it. This switch is natural to them; their asexuality with one partner does not preclude their sexual desire for another partner.

I write another option for a character who generally doesn’t feel romantic love, but wants relationships (an aromantic sexual person). But in the presence of certain potential partners, they experience these feelings; again, this is not a contradiction to them.

Rather than being strictly aromantic or asexual, or having a general rule that helps define the boundaries (demisexuals: “if I emotionally engage first I may then feel attraction”) it is felt on a case by case basis. These characters could be naturally romantic with partner A and aromantic with partner B at the same time, or asexual and sexual with different partners.

Is this at all realistic to how some people in the grey area of the spectrum might behave? And if people like this do exist, is it worth including options for them, or would that too strongly risk playing into stereotypes that A’s can be “cured” if they found the right kind of partner?


#5

Ah, I see. I don’t think the “curing” stereotype is a problem here, since it sounds like people won’t run into that option unless they’re actively looking for it, and can take a different route if they want to.

I think what you’re talking about sounds realistic. A lot of straight people have felt romantic and/or sexual attraction towards someone of the same gender at some point in their lives. Same with homosexual people having a strange and sudden attraction towards a particular individual of the opposite gender. They didn’t suddenly switch orientations; it was a one-time occurence. This has happened to aces and aros in the past, too.

Long story short, yes, what you’re programming for is real and you are not overcomplicating things. :slight_smile:


#6

I think from the stand point of somebody that generally picks the not intrested in sex option, the game asking me more than once about if I’ve changed my mind comes across as patronizing.


#7

Building on what @Mirabella said, and if you also wanted to keep away from potentially upsetting readers as @Shockbolt mentioned:

Would it be possible to have an option that says something like, “I’m mostly not interested in intimate physical relationships, although on some days - or with some people - I feel more interested than others.” And the same thing for romance - what would you think of writing an option that’s intentionally grey-aro? (Either of those would describe the way I play a lot of my MC’s in ChoiceScript games, too.)


#8

The danger with trying to include too many options is that after a certain point you reach branches that it would be very hard to handle tactfully.

I wish I could find the post, but in another thread discussing a similar subject somebody pointed out that if you include the option to have kids in the game you could end up bending over backwards to deal with every possiblity – and memorably, at least to me, pointed out that to be all inclusive you could end up asking questions like “do you have a functional uterus”?

I think there’s a reasonable case to be made for accepting “close enough” in choice games. I’m reasonably certain that there’s never going to be an option even in the best, most inclusive, game that would exactly fit what I want.

Heroes Project 2 gave you the option to be asexual, but still romantic, and it literally asked me what felt every single scene if I was intrested or not and I ended up starting over and just picking asexual not intrested because the game wouldn’t stop nagging – and there in I think is the other difficulty with making tons of splinter options – how it’s brought up in context matters essentially as much as having the option.

Something that has been brought up over and over again is that games tend to jump from ‘hey I just met you’ to ‘let’s sleep together’ simply for the sake of plot and time. Unless there’s multiple options for romantic/sexual encounters – which I’ve found is the exception in most stand alone games – you’re still going to alienate people because maybe they said no the first time but would have said yes the second.

One thing that annoyed me in Mass Effect was that if you say “not intrested” at any point it locks you out of the romance path, and there were times when I gut reacted that it was creepy and weird to be propositioned after five minutes but later on I would have totally said yes; and I feel like that’s what would end up happening with romance branches that got too complex.

You’re never going to please everybody, and so the best choice may simply be to be as inclusive as you reasonably can and accept the fact that the world is too messy to include everything in one single story.

Edit: Altho from what I recall from your game (@Sashira) you handle having multiple different sexualities well.

Just want to clarify, since the thread split, that I’m not saying you shouldn’t go forward with your plans, just that in general it may be better to strike a middle ground of giving people something close to how they identify instead of getting bogged down in too many different permutations.


#9

I might be a little off base here but…

The way I try to handle sexuality in my game (still a WIP) is to have valuable and meaningful friendship paths. What I always disliked in some games was that if you didn’t romance people, you cut out such a big part of everything. Like literally, there was no step between sleeping together and being acquaintances, just because everything was done from a “I want them” perspective, not a “I want to get to know them” one.

I also try to have flippable romance tags at several points, so you never have to worry about locking yourself out of content if things doesn’t feel right.

What this post made me realize though, is that I really should have an asexuality talk somewhere in the future…


#10

Regardless of the intensity each person has for romance and sexual relationships, most of the world enjoys friendship.

That is why what @malinryden says in post 8 is spot on about including a “friendship” or two for anyone to follow.

The physical romance part of my WiP is the hardest for me to “get” written correctly because each relationship in life is so unique that no matter how I write it, it will be wrong for one or more of my readers.

It is why I am considering scrapping 5000 words as I type this - every edition of that sub-scene I wrote has not worked for at least one person. Although everyone agrees my actual writing is fine.

I also enjoy the friendship routes in all the stories I read from CoG and Hosted. In Killing Time, my assassin is aloof except for the forced romance at the end - and that one flaw stood out.


#11

So far, I’ve been trying the idea of not asking the player straight-up what they prefer in the beginning and adjusting the rest of the story off of it, and instead letting the player just choose whatever romantic partner will accept them.

I figure if the player cares about roleplaying at all, they’ll decide on their own which relationships, and which kind of relationships, they would go after without me needing to ask them to specify right at the beginning. I think it’s best to remember that if they’re playing this kind of game, then the player is probably going to roleplay on their own and will adjust their own choices without need of the game to guide them.


#12

Honestly that sounds like my asexual girlfriend, besides the last point. I’m not sure if an asexual person can ever feel sexual attraction or any feelings to do with it. Even if they have a partner who they really love. What I can see happening is either sex due to curiosity or because they want to make their partner happy.

Heck for writing you could easily show how the character doesn’t even know what asexual is and thus doesn’t know they are asexual. If anything they would be confused about their lack of sexual attraction to anyone.


#13

Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to anyone, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity. It may be considered the lack of a sexual orientation, or one of the variations thereof, alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. It may also be an umbrella term used to categorize a broader spectrum of various asexual sub-identities. A study in 2004 placed the prevalence of asexuality at 1% in the British population.

Asexuality is distinct from abstention from sexual activity and from celibacy, which are behavioral and generally motivated by factors such as an individual’s personal or religious beliefs. Sexual orientation, unlike sexual behavior, is believed to be “enduring.” Some asexual people engage in sexual activity despite lacking sexual attraction or a desire for sex, due to a variety of reasons, such as a desire to pleasure themselves or romantic partners, or a desire to have children.
(Ninja’ed by @Blazerules)

Researchers generally define asexuality as the lack of sexual attraction or the lack of sexual interest, but their definitions vary; they may use the term “to refer to individuals with low or absent sexual desire or attractions, low or absent sexual behaviors, exclusively romantic non-sexual partnerships, or a combination of both absent sexual desires and behaviors.” Low in this case meaning they can occasionally have sexual feelings for another person.

The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) defines an asexual as “someone who does not experience sexual attraction” … and that “[t]here is no litmus test to determine if someone is asexual.”

Asexual people, though lacking sexual attraction to any gender, might engage in purely romantic relationships, while others might not. There are asexual-identified individuals who report that they feel sexual attraction but not the inclination to act on it because they have no true desire or need to engage in sexual or non-sexual activity (cuddling, hand-holding, etc.), while other asexuals engage in cuddling or other non-sexual physical activity. Some asexuals participate in sexual activity out of curiosity. Some may masturbate as a solitary form of release, while others do not feel a need to do so. Some asexual men are unable to get an erection and sexual activity by attempting penetration is impossible for them. Asexuals also differ in their feelings toward performing sex acts: some are indifferent and may have sex for the benefit of a romantic partner; others are more strongly averse to the idea, though they do not typically dislike people for having sex.

I’ve copied the more relevant parts of this page. If you would like to check it out, here it is.


In my opinion the best way to deal with this is to do what @Interestedparty suggested and not have have an “are you straight, bi, asexual…” Question in your book but rather at every possible RO give the player the option to make it happen or not. I am not aware of the specific conditions of your story, but if any of the diolouge has to do with which orientation the mc has you could make it into a possible start for the romance or romantic intentions for the mc. I would like to remind you that it is possible for a straight woman to be attracted to an ace male so the npc could flirt with the mc even if they are asexual. Or even homosexual.


#14

Sashira has been part of the asexual discussion since the first thread about it, so she knows the basics. I think what she’s having trouble with is portraying realistic grey-aces and accounting for all the different possibilities. In which case, you’re right, it would be easier to just ask the player their opinion about each possible love interest instead of asking them to label their orientation at the beginning. :slight_smile:

Thank you for the guide and the link, nonetheless. It’ll help anyone joining this discussion who doesn’t know much about asexuality.


#15

Demi-sexual/gray-asexual people can feel sexual attraction. I’ll admit it’s something I have a hard time wrapping my head around. I’ve tried to read to learn more about it, and seen an awful lot of judgmental people in regards to it.

http://www.asexualityarchive.com/under-the-ace-umbrella/ has an explanation.


#17

When I was playing The Lost Heir, it frequently asked me if I wanted to steal things. Even though I didn’t want to steal things, constantly seeing the choices there changed the way I thought about the game and my experience of it.

I think though, it depends on how things are done. If I was constantly asked if I wanted to have sex with people, then that might be annoying if I was playing an asexual character. But, it can be done subtly, and/or appropriately.

Maybe it’s just a matter of not taking sex for granted as the foregone conclusion of a relationship?

I’m thinking Heroes Rise, and there’s really not the option to play as asexual. The game tells you how much you’re physically attracted to Black Magic. There is the option, when you’re first with Black Magic though to say that you don’t want to have sex. It’s later over-ridden with the assumption that as your relationship continues you change your mind.

I think in most games, they’re not going to tackle the nuances. There’s so many different variations, that it’s difficult to capture them all, especially in a game where the relationships aren’t the focus.

@Ruhenri I think I made a comment on that when I was testing Choice of Romance 3. I actually tried to play the trilogy with a manipulative, aromantic character, but I don’t think it was truly possible. In 3 you can have sex with de Vega, and even if you pick the option that you’re just using him, the game has you eventually catch feelings for him and your only way out is to call things to a finish.

I think aromantic is tricky for people to implement, especially as a full path.


#18

This might help: If you think of sexual attraction as only occurring when the electrical impulses from the part of the brain that controls perception to the part of the brain that controls attraction fire; they only fire when a strict set of perceptions are met.

The set of “what is sexually attractive” is smaller between these folk and “normal” folk.

So, if the stars all align for a person, they experience attraction; if not they won’t.


#19

First of all, thank you @FairyGodfeather for keeping the threads tidy. As a mod I should know better; I have delivered myself a stern verbal warning.

“Do not patronize people once they’ve told you what they like” - check. The possibility to change your mind is something I’ve been considering coding in before the Big Dance Scene, when you’re being asked who you want to go with and what your intentions with them would be. If someone previously said they liked only men, for example, but met someone female or GQ in the course of the game, the game would give them an option to say “Actually, give me more options.”

While orientation can change over time, particularly when people are figuring out what they like in the first place (my game is set in high school, so relatively young characters) the whole concept is both complicated and potentially problematic. So I’m leaning towards psychological deus ex machina: these 18-year-olds are going to be completely clear on what genders they prefer if any, whether they’re interested in romance, sex, or none of the above, and what gender they identify as themselves.

Interesting. I’ll look into something like that in the next overhaul.

I will never forget this as the shorthand for “not all realistic paths can be coded and/or tactfully inquired after”. Thank you.

The way I’ve been handling it is with different relationship “type” flags, e.g. “friend”, “flirting”, “dating”. How often the chance comes up to change that is affected by the character (one is easy to make an enemy of, one is open to being asked out any time) and your character type (if you’re not interested in dating, that won’t appear as an option.)

Even if you really like someone in a game, it would be boring to date them every time you play. The game I’m working on is relationship-heavy and I like writing scenes with people talking, so I’ve got what I’m calling a “date” and a “friend date” with all of the major options. One that’s more sex and/or romance oriented, one that’s hanging out.

You mean, sex scenes? It’s a tough question to answer, but fading to black for the details and giving people options for who and what to be attracted to doesn’t hurt.

It’s not about whether the player can keep up, it’s whether the game can. I want the game to know who the player is, and redecorate for them before they ever walk into the room.

Hi, my name is Sashira, and I’m one of the people making games around here. I’m aromantic and I’m happy to meet you. :slight_smile: The aromantic/asexual/not interested split will go live with the next update to my WIP in early May.


#20

[quote=“ruhenri, post:16, topic:16860, full:true”]
I think that CoG has been very good at integrating the asexual community in the games. But it steel needs to take the next step, trying to integrate the aromantic (but not necessarily asexual) community. The “category” that you might call sexual aromantics, [/quote]

I’ll be completely honest. This is a category I have difficulty wrapping my head around.

I have little patience for romantic comedies and don’t believe in “the one” either, but IMHO that makes me realistic, not aromantic. Forming and reinforcing a strong emotional connection with your significant other can feel good without it getting sappy. I don’t think I’m that much different than most men in this regard, and it seems to me that increasing numbers of women have been adopting this mindset as well.

Not everyone who considers themselves romantic “needs romantic dinners” , wants to hold hands, or “have babies”. “Romantic dinners” and “holding hands” are just two of the many ways that exist to nurture and reinforce an emotional bond. And a lot of people would say that babies have less to do with romance than unprotected sex, although I suppose it’s a way to emotionally bond through a shared experience, like work, but far more intense. So it appears to me that you’re saying that an aromantic has no interest in emotional intimacy with their sexual partner. And yet, I know there are aromantics who will argue that they enjoy emotional intimacy too. And that leaves me confused about what exactly it means to be sexual aromantic.

The word “friend” can mean anything from a casual acquaintance who you barely know to a life-long companion who you know better than a lot of people do their spouses. Sex with the former is little more than casual sex, while sex with the latter could well entail a very strong emotional bond.

This sounds like a lot of stable marriages among romantics after the initial sexual infatuation has worn off.

The stereotype is that romantic dinners and the occasional romantic comedy are the price that (straight) men need to pay in order to get laid. I’m not saying that what you’re describing matches this stereotype, but I can’t help but see the strong parallels, and I’m struggling to pin down a distinction.


#22

I’m one person, so I don’t speak for all aromantics. But let me see if I can help with some of these points.

It’s not about preferred means of expression (though I am fairly uncomfortable with non-sexual touch, which isn’t a shared trait among aromantics, some are physically affectionate.) It’s not only that I dislike sappiness. I just don’t experience that emotion. I do not feel love, other than the sort that people have for their friends and pets.

I have been in a relationship for the last 13 years with a man I’m now married to (our 7th anniversary will be in August.) We have one of the most stable and happy marriages I have ever heard of. But I conceptualize him as my trusted ally and partner, not my beloved. When I make romantic gestures it’s to show that I care about him, they don’t directly do anything to make me happy. If I could keep the same man, and magically make him aromantic without changing anything else, I’m sure that would be simpler.

We’ve been talking about adopting since before we got married. I’m still not sure whether I’d be a good mother, but I know that my aromanticism would have nothing to do with my parenting skills.

What kind of emotional intimacy? It’s a little difficult to say what’s romantic and what isn’t - unless you don’t feel it. Then the world becomes full of these things that other people automatically understand, and you do not. At one point in my life I was worried that I was a sociopath, because when everyone else would be thinking and acting and bonding in certain ways, I had to mimic it. And yet I was a loyal friend, I loved my cats. Just this one thing was missing, the decoder ring to love songs and romantic gestures and dating rituals.

While romantic humans go from attraction to flirtation to developing a more stable emotional bond (sometimes more than one, not as seriously, etc.) our process looks different. I get a sort of hormonal rush when I meet someone interesting, then they become my friend and/or we sleep together, or we don’t.

This story confused me so much when I was younger. I couldn’t understand why people I flirted or slept with might want to see me again, or would get upset if I didn’t fall in love with them, especially men. Weren’t they supposed to want things convenient? The realization that men had feelings, one bonding instinct in particular that I lack, helped clear that up.

Incidentally, if you personally feel that any romantic gesture is the price you pay for sex, you might be aromantic.