Welcome to another edition of The Casual Gaymer, an occasional column from AIPT Gaming where I share my questions, comments, concerns, and other unsolicited thoughts about gaming and the games industry as a queer player.
Last year, I wrote about how I feel like I can never access the feelings I had playing World of Warcraft. I’m still trying to recapture my glory days turning looks in Silvermoon City, but I think the itch is starting to feel the beginnings of a scratch with Final Fantasy XIV. After two sittings with the free trial version of the game I already hit level 20 in my first Job — admittedly with the help of an XP bonus I was pleasantly surprised to find hovering at the top of the game’s busy UI — and pulled the trigger on upgrading to the complete edition of the game. The hooks are in. The brainworms are feeding.
I decided to give Square Enix’s MMO a shot after listening to one of my favorite critics talk about their experience with the game on a podcast. They talked about tolerating the early game grind full of quests in which you kill a dozen of the same beast or deliver a JPEG of a crate across town only to be sent back across town again, with a JPEG of a knapsack to return to the original quest giver. I was practically drooling at the idea. World of Warcraft is packed with repetitive busywork like that and I missed being able to power down my brain so that only enough energy was being used to pay attention to a podcast and click hotkeys to perform spell rotations to kill a dozen of the same beast. That has absolutely been my experience in my first handful of hours on Eorzea and I am thriving. Oh, also there’s Nier: Automata crossover content, so there was no way I wouldn’t get around to trying the game at some point.
Besides my weird penchant for repetitive nonsense in games which leads me to loving games like Hyrule Warriors, I’ve also been trying something a little new with FFXIV. As I mentioned in my piece on WoW, I played as a hot female Blood Elf because I wanted to be a pretty woman and fully dove into western beauty standards when I made her in middle school. The real tea is I wanted to make Cinderella. Please see the name of this column if you have further questions. Like many a gaymer who assumed they were a man growing up, I always made women in games with character creators; mained Sheena in Tales of Symphonia, rejoiced at being able to play as Peach and Zelda when Melee came out, etc. The age old tendency of the queer youth exploring femininity in virtual spaces when they felt incapable of accessing it in real life. I still tend to play as women in games when given the choice, but now it’s (mostly) less a reach for femininity to fulfill a lack, and more as a means to escape any vexing masculinity that might come with playing a man.
However, in trying FFXIV, I decided to change things up. I decided to play as a man. Was a major factor in this choice a desire to try new things? Yes. Was an equally big factor the fact that Final Fantasy characters are always designed to be hot and I want to look at a hot guy while playing and I was able to essentially create a hot(ter) Ganondorf? Yes. Was there also an equally big third factor in my feeling unable to recreate my WoW character because the elves in this game seem vaguely shaped like Taylor Swift? Absolutely.
I like my Ganondorf expy a lot. They’re very large and as a thaumaturge, their story starts in a city run mostly by Lalafell. It follows that there have been a number of cutscenes made unintentionally comedic by the camera being situated at my character’s knees to better frame the speaking Lalafell. However, letting desire be a motivating factor in creating my character was not only new, but for a critic like myself who thinks too much about what bodies are considered desirable, sexual capital, objectification, and so on, was complicating as well.
My decision to play as a Roegadyn was one born out of a kind of blend of compromises. There’s no body diversity within each race, so while I couldn’t play an overweight character, the Roegadyn are at least the closest to serving a bara fantasy. Once I was deep into the creator, I realized I could make Ganondorf and that was that. But I can’t help but over analyze my decisions to the point of discomfort as I mull over the compromises made in creating my character. I would love to play an overweight character and this is the closest choice. However, the male Roegadyn is arguably the most masculine choice with the biggest muscles and squarest jaws. I use they/them pronouns for my character, injecting some bits of myself into them regardless of the degree to which I end up investing in roleplay, but I still had to choose between male and female in their creation. I plan on making them a dancer, but that decision is motivated as much by desire as it is some attempt at defying expectations to have such a macho character play a big strong warrior or some such.
I used the word “overanalyze” here with great intention. I realize I am thinking too much about something that is simply not that deep. Final Fantasy character designs have a penchant for being horny and that is no different in XIV, nor am I going to jail for wanting to make a character I find attractive. However, I’ve always been interested in how people represent themselves (or decidedly don’t) in games, and as I continue to process my gender or lack thereof, character creation takes on an added layer of awareness it hasn’t for me before. Since coming out as nonbinary, I feel much more cognizant of my choices when creating characters. Am I conforming to gender norms by choosing this hair? Am I bending an expectation here, but in doing so, only drawing more attention to that expectation in my defying it? How do I present? How will the other players perceive me? Is the below screenshot where my character is wearing earrings required to complete a quest ridiculously apropos to this piece?
As I’ve written about before, there’s just more that queer players have to grapple with in games as we compromise and compartmentalize our way into having fun. Do I have to think this deeply into creating a bara Ganon expy for an MMO where you ride big chickens and fight sentient cacti? No. However, as a person who, like many, must endure the harrowing daily trial of being perceived, I will always think too deeply about perception and presentation. Just wait until I progress far enough into XIV to really get into glamours and start fashioning together looks. The spirals.